Several years ago, on a flight bound for our nation’s capital, I found myself sitting next to the House Republican candidate for the Indiana 6th district, Mike Pence. I do not remember the specific details of our conversation. What I do remember is that I was struck by his unbridled, infectious optimism and the openness with which he cherished the opportunity and responsibility of representing his constituents and his country. As our flight descended into Washington we could see the Capitol rotunda brightly illuminated against the clear darkened sky. The soon to be congressman looked at me, pointed out the window, and in an almost a giddy fashion chuckled and said: “That’s my office.”
Fast forward to 2015 where we see now Indiana Governor Mike Pence reeling from the backlash over his state’s controversial Religious Freedom law. The law is facing withering attacks from activists, politicians and major corporations who see it as providing legal protection for those who chose to discriminate against members of the LGBT community. The Governor has been adamant that he will not take steps to rescind the law: “That’s not on my agenda” he said.
Defenders of the Indiana law say it is the same as the federal statute signed into law by President Bill Clinton…the same law that is currently in force in 19 other states. Those statements simply are not true. I would suggest that supporters take the time to read those other laws for themselves before alleging such comparisons.
In an effort to clarify the legislature’s intent, Governor Pence appeared on ABC’s “This Week” with host George Stephanopoulos. To his credit Stephanopoulos bored right in to the key question…is the law discriminatory against gays and lesbian.
STEPHANOPOULOS: “And so yes or no, if a florist in Indiana refuses to serve a gay couple at their wedding, is that now legal in Indiana?”
PENCE: George, this is where this debate has gone…with misinformation…
STEPHANOPOULO: “It’s just a question sir. Question sir, Yes or no?”
The Governor refuse to answer; preferring to find cover in talking points that sited similar laws in other states and blamed the media for the misinformation.
Stephanopoulos gave the Governor another chance to respond:
STEPHANOPOULOS: “So when you say tolerance is a two way street does that mean that Christians who want to refuse service or people of any other faith who want to refuse service to gays and lesbians, that is now legal in the state of Indiana?” That’s the simple yes or no question".
Once again the governor refused to provide a direct answer. Once again he referred to his talking points.
The Mike Pence that I see in that interview is no longer the wide eyed optimist who wants to put his constituents and country first. The Mike Pence I see is a hardened politician who has one eye firmly on a run at the White House.
The civil servant who resides in the Indiana governor’s mansion today is not the same man that I met on that Washington flight so many years ago.
That’s a shame.