Pence involved in Indiana matters; some wonder for how long

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INDIANAPOLIS — Since Gov. Mike Pence was tapped as Donald Trump’s vice presidential running mate, he’s been to Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Arizona; Nevada, Manhattan, four days in Cleveland.

The national campaigning is just beginning, and he’s been everywhere — but hasn’t spent much time in Indiana.

The governor’s office says Pence is in daily communication about state government issues and is available when needed. That matters because unlike some other states, no one becomes acting governor for Indiana when the governor is out of the state or in another country, not even Pence’s lieutenant governor, who has designs on the top state office.

Pence, who spent Friday morning at opening events for the Indiana State Fair before flying to campaign with Trump in Iowa and Wisconsin, has told his staff that he would drop his campaign schedule and return to Indiana in case of any emergencies, spokeswoman Kara Brooks said. And part of the Fridays since being tapped as Trump’s vice presidential pick on July 15 have been devoted to state-related activities.

“With today’s technology it is easy for anyone, including the governor, to be anywhere in the country or world and stay engaged,” she said. “So he’s able to stay engaged with the staff and what’s happening in the state.”

But such assurances don’t satisfy Indiana House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, who says state government will lack leadership for rest of the year with Pence’s extended campaign absences and his lame-duck status after having to drop his re-election bid.

“It’s pretty evident that we’re going to be without an active governor,” said Pelath, a Democrat from Michigan City. “I don’t care what party the governor is in, you need one.”

It’s unrealistic to think that Pence will be very involved with state government affairs while campaigning for national office, according to Tom McKenna, who was a deputy chief of staff for former Democratic Gov. Joe Kernan.

“He is now under an incredible heated light,” McKenna said. “There is only so much time in the day — and this is not his focus.”

He said that if Pence, instead, was running a gubernatorial re-election campaign, he’d be deeply involved every day in state issues, adding that: “People sometimes need the guidance, the leadership and that’s not happening no matter how electronically wired they are.”

Brooks disputed that assertion.

“We have agency heads and we have 28,000 state employees that continue to do daily operations of state government,” she said. Plus, Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, the replacement Republican gubernatorial candidate, might fill in for Pence at some events which the governor would normally take part, Brooks said.

State Senate Majority Leader Brandt Hershman said he wasn’t concerned about state government operations during Pence’s travels and that he was confident the governor would be available whenever necessary.

“The fact of the matter is in most day-to-day activities, work is done at the staff level,” said Hershman, a Republican from Lafayette.

Pelath, the House Democratic leader, said he thought Pence’s work at damage control that he’s undertaken on Trump’s behalf must be causing even more distractions.

“If you have your typical Republican nominee and Mike Pence has to be on the national ticket, I might be able to understand how he could sort of dog paddle amid both responsibilities,” Pelath said. “But this is not a usual situation. He is being expected to put sparkles on the mess that is Donald Trump.”

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