Sustained Outrage

When Mike Pence came to West Virginia

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence joins Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally in Westfield, Ind., Tuesday, July 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence joins Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally in Westfield, Ind., Tuesday, July 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

This is a guest post by the Gazette-Mail’s political writer, David Gutman:

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who Donald Trump chose as his vice presidential candidate on Friday, was in Charleston last month to fundraise for state Senate President Bill Cole, the Republican candidate for governor of West Virginia.

Pence’s Charleston visit was not highly publicized. Among media, only the Gazette-Mail and the Associated Press attended.

Pence spoke to about 70 supporters in a hotel ballroom, touting recent conservative changes in Indiana – right-to-work, regulatory reforms and charter schools.

West Virginia Republicans have put similar policies (save for charter schools) into place since taking control of the Legislature in 2014.

But neither Pence nor the Cole campaign were eager to talk about what Pence was best known for (before becoming a vice-presidential candidate) — passing a controversial “religious freedom” law, another policy that state Republicans would like to mimic.

Republicans in the West Virginia House of Delegates (with some Democratic support) passed a similar Religious Freedom Restoration Act last spring, which opponents say is a license to discriminate against gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender people.

The bill failed in the state Senate, despite Cole’s support.

In Indiana, after a national uproar over the religious freedom law, with major businesses and organizations threatening to boycott the state, Pence signed a revised version which explicitly bars businesses from denying services based on sexual orientation.

Nonetheless, Visit Indy, a tourism group, estimated that the law’s passage cost the city of Indianapolis up to 12 conventions and as much as $60 million in economic activity.

Pence never mentioned the law in his speech and was in no mood to talk about it after, when he took one question from the media.

Politicians, to varying extents, are always good at taking questions, gesturing at a responsive answer, and then steering the conversation to more comfortable topics.

But Pence’s response, when asked about Indiana’s religious freedom law and lessons for West Virginia, was remarkable in his utter unwillingness to even hint at a responsive answer.

Here’s the full transcript:

Gazette-Mail: Governor you have time for a quick question?

Pence: Yeah, fire away.

Gazette-Mail: I’m wondering if you’d recommend West Virginia try again to pass a religious freedom law like you guys did in Indiana?

Pence: You know I’m here, I support Bill Cole strongly. I think he provides the kind of leadership that will really put this state on a path for real prosperity. I mean winning the majority in the state Legisalture, being able to become the latest right-to-work state in the country. Now I think the rest of the story is strong Republican leadership that can provide the kind of direction to West Virginia that will attract investment and create the kind of jobs that we’re seeing in the state of Indiana. Indiana’s been succesful because we’ve balanced budgets, we’ve cut taxes, we’ve kept regulations sensible, invested in education and infrastructure, but that’s all been a result of a dozen years of Republican leadership, four years of which I’ve been privileged to lead. And it’s resulted in record investment, record employment in the Hoosier state, and I think that’s what Bill Cole’s going to bring here.

Gazette-Mail: So would you recommend that West Virginia try again to…

An aide to Pence interjects, ushering the governor away: Thank you, appreciate it.