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
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
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
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
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,”