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Indiana's Pence changes running mate before election

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BRIAN SLODYSKO

Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann said Tuesday she is stepping aside as Gov. Mike Pence’s running mate in an unusual move that allows a former state Republican Party chairman to join the ticket with the governor for a tough re-election campaign.

The result is that for the first time in more than a decade a woman will not be part of the GOP ticket for governor, going against a practice of both parties.

Taking her spot will be Eric Holcomb, a longtime aide and political operative, who was a candidate for the U.S. Senate until he withdrew Monday. He has previously run for elected public office but never won. The last time a new lieutenant governor was selected in the middle of a term was 2003 after Gov. Frank O’Bannon died in office.

“Eric is perceived as solid, honest, dependable good guy,” said former Fort Wayne Republican Mayor Paul Helmke, who is now a professor of public affairs at Indiana University.

But he cautioned that Ellspermann’s departure could play badly because “the woman is leaving” and “a white guy from central Indiana doesn’t seem like the thing that would normally pick you up votes.”

While both Pence and Ellspermann deny a rift, differences between the two were highlighted in September when Ellspermann said she supported LGBT civil rights protections.

“Did we ever have policy disagreements? Sure.” Pence said while flanked by Ellspermann and Holcomb at a news conference Tuesday, chalking it up to his “executive style” encouraging robust debate.

The issue of LGBT rights has divided the Indiana Republican Party following uproar over the state’s religious objections law and Pence has said he favors religious freedoms over protections for anyone who has been declined service, fired from a job or denied housing over sexual orientation or gender identity.

Holcomb says Pence has “struck the right tone” on LGBT rights and added that issues like infrastructure improvements, education and job creation are what the focus should be.

When asked if differences over civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people played a role in her departure, Ellspermann said she supports the governor but avoided the question, saying: “there’s very little additional to add there. So, thank you.”

Viewed as an ambitious rising star in the Republican Party, Ellspermann holds a doctorate in industrial engineering and ran her own consulting firm before she was first elected to the Indiana House in 2010. She was tapped in 2012 to join Pence’s gubernatorial ticket.

She leaves office with no guarantee of a job, though Pence has suggested that she would be an “ideal” candidate for president of the state’s embattled Ivy Tech Community Colleges system, which faces declining enrollment and flagging graduation rates.

Ellspermann’s spokesman said in December that college officials approached her about the position, which could solidify her credentials if she were to turn the school around. Pence appoints the school’s 14 trustees, who are currently conducting a nationwide $120,000 presidential search.

Holcomb is well regarded by many Republican Party officials and toured all 92 counties during his 11-month campaign for Senate. That could help Pence drive turnout in the November rematch with Democratic former House Speaker John Gregg, who supports LGBT rights.

Holcomb and Pence both attended Hanover College and were members of the same fraternity, though at different times.

An aide and campaign manager to former Gov. Mitch Daniels, Holcomb could help unite the social conservative and Chamber of Commerce wings of the party, which are at odds over LGBT rights. And he was tapped to lead the state GOP in 2011 and held the position until 2013, after which he became U.S. Sen. Dan Coats’ state chief of staff.

But Democrats point to his 2000 campaign for state representative, which drew widespread attention when he ran a newspaper ad accusing his Democratic opponent of voting to fund Indiana University, which houses the human sexuality research group Kinsey Institute.

The ad accused the Democrat of forcing “taxpayers” to fund the school’s “sexual related art, studies on bestiality, obscene photographs of children and its apparent support of homosexuality.”

When asked about the ad Tuesday, Holcomb said he would “let the body of my work and experience speak for itself.”

“I don’t spend very much time looking in the rearview mirror. I tend to focus out front,” Holcomb said.

 

 

Posted 2/10/2016

 
 
 
 

 

 

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