Whether you hate him or simply don’t hate him yet, it would be hard to argue against the idea that Donald Trump’s tenure as president has a better chance of ending before its printed expiration date than all previous commanders in chief. Combined, I suppose, if that made any sense. Such a declaration hardly seems controversial.
Maybe he’ll become too toxic for the Republicans in Congress (or the Democrats grab control of both houses) and he’ll face impeachment. Perhaps he’ll quit in a fit of pique when Congress, narrowly, rejects his request to send troops into CNN. Or, given his age and lifestyle, it’s possible he could be struck down with a fatal case of Acute Thumbosis, the third-leading fictional cause of death among early a.m. Twitter users.
At any rate, a premature evacuation from the White House is a distinct possibility, which makes it necessary for us to take a look at who’s poised to become 46. Unless he goes all Agnew on us, that’s Mikey Pence, who reports say is already sizing up a run for the big desk in 2020, if not occupying it sooner.
That’s where I come in. As a longtime Hoosier, and former resident of Indiana’s sixth congressional district, I have more of a firsthand look at the career of one Michael Richard Pence than your average Internet idiot.
Full disclosure here: I have met him. I asked him a few questions in a GOP debate when he was running for his House seat, and I later walked around Greensburg High School with him in a one-on-one setting, asking him about his plans for his first term. And I’ll say this, as I have since that afternoon, he struck me as a hell of a nice guy. Very pleasant, respectful. Basically decent, which made him an outlier in Indiana’s House delegation at the time. Some of those dudes were meaner than that nun I had in CCD back in third grade.
So, having established my personal fondness for the VeePee, I’ll also point out that as a governor, he was frigging abysmal. Just awful.
Obviously, he’s a devout Evangelical Christian, and his policy positions tend to derive from there. But whether you love you some Pat Robertson, Tim Tebow and Stryper, or recoil in horror at that brand of religiosity encroaching on the public sphere is irrelevant to the fact that he was simply a terrible leader who had a very good chance of losing his re-election bid in Republican Indiana.
Here are six examples of just why he belonged in any discussion with Paul LePage, Chris Christie and Sam Brownback on The Worst Governors of 2016 list (you won’t believe No. 7), none of which is directly related to his hard-right ideology.
- Hoosier Pravda. Midway through his tenure, Pence announced plans for a state-run news organization in the bowels of the Capitol. Across-the-board condemnation of the plan scuttled it before it got off the ground, though I suppose it might have caught some longing Manafortian eyes a few hundred (or thousand, depending on the day) miles east.
- His illegal, and decidedly not Christian, approach to the Syrian refugee crisis. Already fully vetted and approved-for-relocation Syrian refugees were bound for Indiana and the Christian organization that was planning to host them. He announced they wouldn’t be allowed to enter the state, a decidedly and undeniably illegal act (and probably difficult to enforce, given the complete absence of the long-sought border wall separating us from those dirty Buckeyes to the east). The refugees ended up in Connecticut, where they have managed, as all evidence pointed, to not blow anything up.
- His dreadful handling of the Scott County AIDS crisis. Yup, that’s right, we had ourselves a bona fide AIDS crisis in Indiana in the two thousand and teens. Scott County, a rural, economically hard-hit community in Southeastern Indiana was in the throes of a drug crisis, which morphed into an AIDS epidemic. Pence’s first response was to try to pray the issue away. Then he dragged his feet on even going there, as local leaders pleaded for help from the state. Finally, after weeks of health professionals and others in the community begging to initiate a needle exchange program to at least curb the spread of AIDS, he last-resort agreed. His management of the situation was blasted from all sides. Oh, and it’s quite likely that his policies helped create the problem in the first place.
- Pence was given a second chance to respond to a health crisis, this time on the other side of the state in East Chicago in Northwest Indiana (my current stomping grounds), which was facing a lead crisis not unlike what happened in Flint, Mich. Pence demonstrated he had learned from his original mistake with Scott County. This time, he simply pretended the situation didn’t exist. He never visited, and barely acknowledged there was a problem. In his defense, it did overlap some with his run for vice president. You can understand how defending Trump’s latest Twitter feud on the Sunday morning shows was a little more important than sick babies in a county that always votes for Democrats.
- The Keith Cooper case. Perhaps his most despicable turn as governor. In 1996, Cooper was convicted of armed robbery in Elkhart, Ind. He served nearly 10 years before new evidence was discovered that cast considerable doubt on the case. The prosecutors gave him a choice – plead guilty and accept time served, or take a shot at another trial. Given he had a family struggling at home, and his previous luck with the justice system, Cooper took the deal (his co-defendant went back to trial, and was acquitted). Fast forward a few years, and the gentleman was finding it difficult rebuilding his life with a felony conviction still on his record, and asked for the state to vacate the guilty verdict. By now, the original verdict was not just in doubt, but was known to be a miscarriage of justice. The actual perpetrator had been located. Everyone associated with the case: the original prosecutors, police and witnesses who wrongly identified him, plus the state Parole Board, asked the governor to grant this man his freedom. Pence wouldn’t, perhaps frightened that looking soft on crime wouldn’t play well during the presidential campaign. In his first month in office, Eric Holcomb, the Republican who followed Pence into the governor’s mansion, did what Mike Pence was afraid to do. He did the right thing, and granted complete freedom to a man who spent almost a decade in our prisons for a crime he had nothing to do with.
- And finally, the RFRA, the issue that first thrust Governor Pence into the national spotlight. Now, whether you side with the anti-gay bakers or the anti-anti-gay bake shop customers is kind of beside the point here. Mike Pence completely screwed that thing up. What’s often forgotten about the case is the Indiana legislature passed the bill a few days before Pence signed it. In the meantime, the outcry had begun, and was obviously going to get worse. Companies and conventions announced they would cancel plans to come to Indiana if the bill was signed into law, and business leaders throughout the state pleaded with the governor to back away, recognizing the fecal storm on the horizon. This was a forwardlash, not a backlash. But Governor Mike needed to reassure his friends at the Indiana Family Institute and all the other places they go to hate the gays that he was their man, and he signed it anyway. All hell broke loose over the course of a week, leading the state’s leading newspaper (the Indianapolis Star, a historically right-leaning publication once owned by the family that gave us the original Pence, Dan Quayle) to run an issue with three words screaming across most of the front page: “Fix This Now.” Pence and the legislature had to revamp the bill to curb the mass exodus of business ventures and travel that was taking place, so the religious conservatives didn’t even get the bill they wanted. The entire mess was predictable and preventable, and Mike Pence still blew it.
So there you go. Fills you with confidence, doesn’t it?