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Pence: He's ready for election fight

Protesters say Pence must go

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Gov. Mike Pence announced his reelection bid Thursday night a Republican dinner in Indianapolis.  - PHOTO BY LESLEY WEIDENBENER, THESTATEHOUSEFILE.COM
  • Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, TheStatehousefile.com
  • Gov. Mike Pence announced his reelection bid Thursday night a Republican dinner in Indianapolis.

By Max Bomber

Republican Gov. Mike Pence said in a speech to launch his reelection bid Thursday that Hoosiers won’t “tolerate discrimination against anyone.”

But Pence said the state’s gay rights debate can’t be about “winners and losers.”

“We should protect freedom,” Pence said. “Period.”

Pence was speaking to­ the uproar over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, even though he never mentioned it by name. Pence signed the legislation into law last spring, saying it protected Hoosiers’ rights to practice their religious beliefs. But critics claimed that would lead to discrimination against people who are gay, bisexual and transgender.

The state is still dealing with the backlash – and Pence acknowledged Thursday that “as governor, I bear some responsibility for that.” But he has resisted calls to back legislation to add sexual orientation to the state’s civil rights law, which bans discrimination based on gender, race, religion and disability.

Speaking to more than 800 Republicans gathered for a party dinner, Pence said that “in the changing tides of popular culture, there must be room for faith.”

“We will find our way forward as a state that respects the dignity and worth of every individual,” Pence said. “And we will ensure that no government intervention, no government coercion will interfere with the freedom of conscience and freedom of religion enshrined in our state and federal Constitution.”

The governor’s reelection announcement comes against a backdrop of poor approval numbers that show Hoosiers are frustrated about his handling of gay rights and education.

A survey conducted this month by Republican pollster Christine Matthews shows Pence is in a statistical dead heat in head-to-head matchups with the leading Democratic candidates. And more than half of the respondents said they support adding sexual orientation to the state’s Civil Rights law.

Earlier Thursday, Pence dismissed the poll, saying the only numbers that matter will come on Election Day in 2016. But he acknowledged that he will be judged by the actions in his first term.

“When you’re an incumbent in reelection your results in office are all fair game,” Pence said.

And Democrats say those results won’t satisfy voters – particularly when it comes to gay rights.

“Now Republicans say things are fixed. Is our reputation fixed? Why has the governor had to engage the services of a PR agency possibly at the expense of maybe $2 million to try and restore their reputation?" said Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, on Thursday.

Protestors outside the Primo Banquet Hall on the south side of Indianapolis chanted and waved “Fire Mike Pence” signs.

About 70 people protested against Gov. Mike Pence on Thursday evening outside the Primo Banquet & Conference Center where he was announcing his reelection bid.  - PHOTO BY LESLEY WEIDENBENER, THESTATEHOUSEFILE.COM
  • Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, TheStatehouseFile.com
  • About 70 people protested against Gov. Mike Pence on Thursday evening outside the Primo Banquet & Conference Center where he was announcing his reelection bid.

But inside the hall, Republicans – who paid $150 per ticket – gave Pence a warm welcome. And he promised them he’d fight to win reelection – despite past promises never to run a negative campaign.

“For those expecting a campaign like 2012, they will be disappointed,” Pence said of an effort that included only positive television messages. “I have long believed that negative personal attacks have no place in public life and I hope our opponents feel the same way.

“But elections are about choices and Hoosiers deserve to know the records of those who would lead our state,” he said. “If our opponents choose to talk about our record, we will return the favor. And we will make sure that the choice in this election is clear.”

Pence said Indiana’s economy was among the best in the nation. “With General Motors announcing a $1.2 billion investment in their Fort Wayne plant just few weeks ago, our policies represent three years in a row of record investment and more than $3 billion this year alone,” he said.

But Democrats argued earlier Thursday that Pence’s record on economic growth, education reform, and providing health care for low-income Hoosiers doesn’t match the governor’s rhetoric.

“The problem is that we have a leader that doesn’t even recognize we have a problem,” said House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City. “We need to have the type of state where our kids want to stay and prosper along side of us.”

Max Bomber is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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