Red State Rep. Mike Pence Mixes Amiability with Conservatism

Article excerpt

Rep. Mike Pence is as red state as it gets. The Indiana Republican's official biography notes that Pence is "a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order."

That he hosted a radio talk show in the nation's heartland for eight years before winning election on his third try in 2000, and that prior to that he ran the Indiana Policy Review Foundation (which exists to "exalt the truths of the Declaration of Independence, especially as they apply to the interrelated freedoms of religion, property and speech") might lead the casual blue state observer to conclude that Pence is, well, a yahoo. A Bible-thumping, holier-than-thou representative of an America that sophisticated bicoastal types don't recognize.

That caricature, however comforting, is mistaken. An ideologue? Perhaps. But the soft-spoken Pence, 45, is no yahoo.

In fact, the prematurely gray three-term congressman demonstrated a wry sense of humor and a healthy view of current Capitol Hill controversies at an informal Jan. 5 breakfast with a dozen Washington reporters. He takes the issues, though not himself, seriously. Which is an accomplishment in itself, particularly because Pence--leader of the 100-plus member House Republican Study Committee--may prove to be one of the most important members of Congress over the next two years, in addition to being a not-insignificant thorn in the side of Speaker Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader Tom Delay, and President George W. Bush.

As the unanimously elected chairman of the Republican Study Committee, Pence represents a breed of Republican not in favor with the big spenders of the current administration. "Reagan proved deficits don't matter," Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly told former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.

Pence, by contrast, not only says he opposes "big government," he actually votes that way. He opposed the Republican-backed Medicare prescription drug benefit (the "entitlement" portion of which he's hoping to repeal this year), he voted against the "No Child Left Behind Act" (which sought "to make Washington, D.C., a national board of education"), and regrets his support for the $462 billion farm bill.

Principle, however, doesn't necessarily come cheap. House leadership --Hastert and Delay--rewards friends and punishes those who stray.

Pence's opposition to a gas tax hike to fund transportation improvements, he joked, was "totally unrelated" to the miniscule allocation his congressional district received in the 2004 appropriations bill.

Meanwhile, Pence is planning to offer a proposal to have the federal government establish a "rainy-day fund"--money that would be used to deal with emergencies. For the past century, he said, the United States typically experiences three or four hurricanes annually. "We budget for one" and then approve an emergency appropriation to meet the needs resulting from the two, three or four that inevitably hit. …