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Gov. Pence discusses diversity, presidential bid

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As Republican Gov. Mike Pence enters his second year as Governor of the State of Indiana, his actions have attracted great attention. From establishing the state’s first funding for pre-kindergarten education, to his latest nine-day trip to Israel in hopes of expanding economic ties.

While Pence, who earns $111,688 a year for his service, has at times bathed in the sun during his duration in office, he has also weathered a few storms.

In September of 2014, leaders of several domestic violence shelters spoke out against funding cuts.

While Pence, the 50th governor of Indiana, has defended his policies, thousands of Hoosiers expressed their anger.

In early December 2014, he dissolved a controversial state agency, which caused an ongoing war between himself and State Superintendent Glenda Ritz.

He also announced a “core principle” policy for 2015 that will enable stricter guidelines for the state’s food stamp program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which will possibly disqualify thousands of Hoosiers from receiving assistance.

The Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper recently sat down with Gov. Pence to learn his future plans for the State of Indiana, his outlook on diversity at the state’s highest level; and to address speculation about his presidential aspirations.

Indianapolis Recorder: What are some of the specific goals you have for 2015?

Pence: Last week we outlined what I think should be the focus of the upcoming session of the General Assembly and that is education. Other than making sure we’re promoting policies that keep Indiana’s economy moving, seizing this opportunity at the upcoming session of the General Assembly is to build upon the momentum of education in Indiana. It should be of first importance. At the center of that, I articulated a very specific goal.

We’ve made great progress in our schools in recent years, but we still have more than 100,000 kids who are attending underperforming or failing schools in Indiana. I want to see 100,000 more children attending ‘B’ or better schools by the year 2020. To accomplish that, we are calling for increased funding for our schools, increased performance funding but more flexibility so we can pay good teachers more and get more dollars in the classroom.

I want to expand choices for career and vocational education in our high schools, expand opportunities for people around the state to have public charter schools and also support our educational voucher program, which is the largest school voucher program in America. Beyond that I want to continue to fund excellence and choices but it’s also important we fix what’s broken at the highest levels of education and that’s the reason I proposed we do two things to restore harmony and trust at the highest levels of education in Indiana. I’ve taken action to dissolve an office I established called The Center for Education and Career Innovation.

I did that in the hopes that people will see it as a sincere first step toward restoring trust because while that office has done very good work with the Department of Education, we have people in the state in a broad range of areas where they’ve become a subject of some controversy and friction. By dissolving that office in connection with that also is giving the state board members of education an ability to elect their chair. I think we could go a long way toward restoring the ability of the State Board of Education to move forward on the bases of consensus.

Our goals are to grow the economy and improve schools but in the midst of that, I want to have a session of the General Assembly that lays a strong foundation for that growing economy to create all new avenues, resources and policies.

Your administration appears to have a good balance in regards to gender. How do you plan to increase diversity this year?

We have always looked for the best people to serve the State of Indiana and we’ve been very fortunate to have people in our administration, people in our agencies that represent the rich diversity of our state. For me the focus always has to be on excellence and finding people who are best suited to do the jobs they’re doing. The good news is, in the State of Indiana, we have an enormous amount of talented men and women who are willing to serve in public life for a season and be a part of the success story of our state.

In March the state’s first funding of pre-kindergarten education was signed for pilot programs in five counties. Was this an original statewide effort?

We will seek full funding for our pilot program at $10 million per year. I’m very proud of the fact our administration worked with Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly this year to secure the very first public funding for pre-K education in Indiana history.

It was an important step. I have become convinced that while I believe the best pre-K program is a prosperous family that can provide enrichment every child deserves in the home, the reality is for too many Indiana kids, that’s just not the case.

I went to the General Assembly and worked hard for Indiana to join the majority of states that provide some public funding for quality pre-K programs.

I’m very confident as we deploy those resources, we’re going to be doing two things. Number one we’re going to be helping kids, that’s point of the need in those five counties, but we’re also going to be learning about the most effective way to get resources to the point of the need. I do expect in the future we’ll look for that opportunity to expand to more Hoosiers.

What would you call your biggest accomplishment since 2013?

It’s a tough question for me to answer because I think of what the people of Indiana have accomplished. I have the privilege of being governor of the best state ever. I mean, there are 49 governors that wish they could be me. The people of Indiana are hardworking, generous, caring, strong-willed, resilient people that are always looking for ways to come along side a neighbor in time of need. Or to reach out and make their dreams come true.

When I look at the fact that when we came into office unemployment was over 8 percent and it’s 5.7 percent today, when I look at (the fact) that our test scores and graduation rates are up, when I see the way people are talking about Indiana with our balanced budgets and strong credit ratings and seeing the innovation in this state, I don’t see that as my accomplishment, I see that as the accomplishment of the people of Indiana.

What would you say has been your biggest regret?

I believe in servant leadership and a servant leader always aspires to the humility that you try and learn, listen and adjust what you’re doing. But you never adjust your goals. When I ran for this office I said I wanted more Hoosiers going to work than ever before, I wanted our schools to work for all of our kids whether they are headed off to college or headed off to a career. I wanted to improve the health and wellbeing of Indiana’s families; especially children and we’re driving relentlessly toward those goals. We’ve learned along the way the last two years and we’re going to keep on learning.

Steve Forbes recently said you would make a great presidential candidate. How do you feel about this recognition? Is this something you are considering?

I’m a small town guy from southern Indiana, I grew up with a cornfield in my backyard and a small house on 31st Street. Anytime I’m mentioned for the highest office in the land, it’s very humbling to me and very flattering, but I actually think I get mentioned more because of the success of the people of Indiana than because of anything I’ve done.

The state of Indiana is the fiscal envy of the country. My attitude is I’ll take the compliment on behalf of the people of Indiana but I’m going to stay focused on their future. My focus is Indiana. We’ve certainly taken steps to be in a position to seek reelection as governor but I’m going to spend all of my energy on the Indiana General Assembly.

At Recorder press time, Indiana’s top legislative Republicans submitted a proposal, which Pence calls a “well- intentioned distraction” that would permit him to appear on the Indiana ballot twice, once for reelection as governor and another as a 2016 presidential candidate.

Pence’s accomplishments as governor

  • Created the largest state tax cut in Indiana history at 5 percent
  • Lowered the business personal property tax and corporate income tax
  • Expanded school choice through school vouchers
  • Signed into law the first state funding for pre-K education in Indiana
  • Invested more than $800 million in new money for roadways
  • Helped Indiana maintain its AAA credit rating

Pence fast facts

  • Married to First Lady Karen Pence since 1985
  • The couple have three adult children, Michael, Charlotte and Audrey
  • Nicole Pence of Fox 59 is Gov. Pence’s niece
  • Born and raised in Columbus, Ind.
  • Attended Hanover College
  • Elected to serve Indiana’s 6th Congressional District in Congress in 2000
  • Was elected unanimously by colleagues to serve as House Republican Conference Chairman and Chairman of the House Republican Study Committee
  • Manages a state employee workforce of approximately 28,000 and a state budget of $30.6 billion

Source: in.gov/gov.

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