INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence faced a firestorm of criticism three years ago
after signing a "religious freedom" law critics decried as anti-gay.
Now emails released this
week to The Associated Press illustrate similar backlash from fellow
conservatives when the eventual vice president agreed to change the law in
the face of widespread boycott threats.
"Indiana is fronted by a
coward," reads a March 31 email to Pence's office, which was among more than
1,400 pages of documents obtained under Indiana's public records law. "I
just watched your boss throw the ENTIRE Christian population in America
under the Left's Gay Extortion Bus."
The correspondence from
Pence's official and private email accounts, which the AP first requested
when he joined President Donald Trump's campaign, offer a window into one of
the most challenging periods of his political career.
It was a time when Pence -
who describes himself as "a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in
that order” - came under intense pressure from moderate Republicans, as well
as the state's business community to act in the face of a growing public
It's unclear how many of
Pence's emails are being withheld, including those sent from a private
AOL.com email address he used to conduct state business. Indiana's open
records law gives government officials wide latitude to do so. More than
1,300 pages of records that were previously released largely consist of
correspondence from staffers sharing press releases, news articles or
laudatory notes from Pence's fans.
Many of the messages
between Pence and his top aides are redacted. But emails spanning from March
to July 2015 do offer a glimpse of his administration's efforts to battle
back against negative headlines from the "religious freedom" law, while
closely tracking what conservatives had to say about Pence, who harbored
"It has been a challenging
week," chief of state Jim Atterholt wrote in an April 2 email response to a
Pence supporter who criticized the changes made to the law.
Days earlier, Pence had
signed the initial version of the law during a closed door ceremony that
included several well-known social conservative activists. Simmering
criticisms exploded on social media and in national headlines.
It metastasized after Pence
struggled to explain in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos
whether the law did - or didn't - allow discrimination against gay people.
Celebrities called him out,
left-leaning states threatened to ban officials from traveling to Indiana,
while businesses and trade groups ratcheted up threats of pulling out of the
Amid the criticism, Pence
received emails of encouragement from across the country, urging him to
stand his ground.
"I would like to voice my
support for Gov. Pence's unpopular stand on Religious Freedom," wrote one
woman from Troy, Alabama. "It takes courage to stand for what is right and I
pray he does not succumb to the noisy, obnoxious people who are threatening
But there was a notable
shift in tone as reporters from national news outlets swarmed the Statehouse
and Pence, under intense scrutiny, called for a "fix." The changes sought to
make clear business owners couldn't invoke the law to discriminate against
"If Governor Pence has any
future presidential aspirations he'd better remember the choices he makes
now follow him tomorrow," wrote one person, identified only as "SVO."
Steve Defilippo, of Tampa,
Florida, was even blunter. His email read: "ACT LIKE A MAN AND LET THE CHIPS
FALL WHERE THEY MAY DESPITE ECONOMICS."
Once Pence signed the law,
the vitriol only grew.
"Will Governor Mike
'Spineless' Pence announce his resignation today and end this calamity?"
wrote Garry A. Clark.
Randi Riley from Edgewater,
Florida, wrote that Pence raised "the white flag of surrender to a ruthless
horde of sexual jihadists."
Staff scrambled to change
the narrative and shift the conversation to the state's improving economy.
"Why are you sending (news)
clips around?" Pence asked in an email to his longtime aide, Matt Lloyd.
Lloyd, who is currently a
spokesman at the Department of Health and Human Services, wrote back: "I'm
sending them to other media and stakeholders to help drive narrative."
Later, after landing a
favorable story, Pence praised it as a "Homerun."
Lloyd quipped back: "We're
punching back hard like this every single time."
Still, even after the
uproar, Pence's polling numbers sagged and he faced a difficult re-election.
In July of 2016, however,
Trump picked him to shore up his evangelical base. Before long, social
conservative flocked to Pence rallies around the country, gushing over his
calm demeanor and Evangelical beliefs.