By Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
Moments after taking the oath of office at his outdoor inauguration, Gov. Mike Pence called on Hoosiers to do their part to boost the state’s economy, education and quality of life, saying “each of us has a role to play.”
“Whatever it is you can do, do. Improve yourself and you will improve your state,” Pence told a crowd of about 1,500 supporters bundled against the cold Monday morning.
“Invest in Indiana with your time and talent. Tell Indiana’s story,” he continued. “If you have a job, work at it as never before. If you serve the people, serve with all your heart. If you can build a business, do. If you can start a business, try. If you have a dream, reach for it.”
Pence, sworn in by Indiana Chief Justice Brent Dickson, delivered a 12-minute speech that included quotes from both Abraham Lincoln and the late, legendary basketball coach John Wooden. Pence took the oath with his hand held on the Bible that Benjamin Harrison used when he was sworn in as president in 1889.
The six-term Republican congressman who became Indiana’s 50th governor praised his predecessor, Mitch Daniels, for leaving the state in good fiscal shape — which includes a $2 billion budget surplus.
But Pence warned against becoming complacent. “With so many Hoosiers hurting in this economy, we must meet this moment with resolve, determined to leave our state more prosperous, our children more prepared, and our communities and families stronger than ever before.”
In at least one nod to policy, Pence signaled his support for the state’s expansion of charter schools and what’s become the largest school voucher program for low-income families.
“There’s nothing that ails our schools that can’t be fixed by giving parents more choices and teachers more freedom to teach,” Pence said, before adding: “As my schoolteacher wife often reminds me, Indiana has some of the best teachers in the world.”
Pence wasted little time getting to work. By Monday afternoon, he’d met with Republican and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly and signed 15 executive orders, including one that put a temporary halt on all new state regulations until the state Office of Management and Budget can assess the costs and benefits of current regulations.
Another executive order that Pence signed Monday requires the state Family and Social Services Administration and several other agencies to develop “family impact statements” for any potential new regulations.
According to the statement released by Pence’s office, the family impact statements “are tools that agencies will use to ensure that new regulations do not discourage the formation and well-being of intact married families ....”
Other executive orders signed by Pence include one that sets a goal of procuring 3 percent of state contracts from veteran-owned businesses; another that requires every state agency to designate its own ethics officer; and one that establishes a separate Office of Energy Development.
Pence also rescinded a previous executive order, moving the reporting structure for the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board out of the hands of the Superintendent of Public Instruction — a position currently held by Democrat Glenda Ritz. The executive order moves the board’s oversight back to the governor.
In past speeches on the campaign trail, Pence has said repeatedly that jobs, the economy and education were his top priorities for the state, and not the social issues he championed as a social conservative while in Congress, which included defunding Planned Parenthood.
During his inaugural speech Monday morning, a small group of protesters gathered near the Statehouse held signs that said, “Gov. Pence: We’re watching you.”
“We’re just going to be paying attention to his policies, specifically around women’s, immigrants’ and workers’ rights,” said Erin Polley, with the pro-labor Central Indiana Jobs with Justice organization. “We feel like they’re going to be under attack the next four years.”
The Indiana Democratic Party was quick to send out a post-inaugural statement wishing Pence well, but also poking him as well.
“We wish Governor Pence the best on his first day in office, and we look forward to seeing his full legislative agenda soon,” said party chairman Dan Parker. “We hope it will focus, as he pledged, on jobs and the economy and not on issues that will divide our state and put certain Hoosiers at a significant disadvantage.”
Also sworn in Monday were Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, Pence’s running mate and former legislator from Ferdinand, and Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who was re-elected for a second term in November.
In his speech, Zoeller said Indiana needed to do to more to “push back overzealous encroachment by the federal government.” He didn’t say what that “encroachment” was, but said Indiana should do more “to re-establish our state sovereignty.”
Pence’s first State of the State speech, delivered to legislators and other state officials, is scheduled for Jan. 22.