With all the clean shots available these days at Gov. Mike Pence — need a “Pence Must Go” yard sign, anyone? — how did a flavorless letter to the organizers of last week’s Circle City IN Pride festival make him a marked man?
The governor has to be asking: What does a guy have to do around here?
This time he was getting it from both sides, with a one-time ally and a longtime foe each getting it so wrong for different reasons. And both sides came off looking equally ridiculous, overplaying hands when there really was no need.
One rant, you’d expect.
Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, couldn’t have been more offended that Pence would send a letter touting Hoosier Hospitality to the guests traveling to Indianapolis for the LGBT festival that concluded Saturday.
Never mind that Pence’s letter did little more than to hope participants checked out the restaurants, museums and everything else that make Indianapolis a great place for a convention. “So, once again, welcome to Indiana. We hope you enjoy your stay,” Pence wrote.
Clark wasn’t having any of that.
“Why Gov. Pence would welcome this at all … just boggles my mind, and it breaks my heart,” Clark wrote to supporters. “This is happening right when social conservatives and people of faith are already disgusted with the Republican Party, politics and many politicians. This is like a stick in the eye, and for many, this will be a bridge they can no longer cross again on Election Day.”
Why Clark is willing to burn a bridge over this is no big secret.
What Clark is selling is a narrow product that offers no ground for the LGBT crowd, no matter the situation. He was a leading voice in efforts to carve a gay marriage ban into the Indiana Constitution. When that fell apart in 2014, Clark was standing behind Pence in March during a private signing ceremony for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a measure that critics claimed was merely a political sop for the losers in the constitutional amendment campaign. And he was among those most peeved when Pence went along with a fix to RFRA, one that clarified: This isn’t intended to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
So you can get why Clark’s so riled over Pence’s letter to Indy Pride, the same way Clark was riled when former Gov. Mitch Daniels sent an even more welcoming letter a decade ago. He’s wrong. But at least Clark’s wrong so consistently that you understand where he’s coming from in this case, too.
The criticism from the other side is simply baffling — and in the hands of the Indiana Democratic Party, opportunistic in ways that you should, well, feel free to not get.
Pence’s letter comes on the heels of the RFRA debacle and the $750,000 already committed to a New York City public relations firm to shore up the image of Hoosier Hospitality to business, convention and tourism planners who threatened to shun Indiana over hints of discrimination implied in the new law. So his gesture to Indy Pride was bound to be dissected.
But at some point, it is what it is. Anyone expecting Pence to volunteer to be grand marshal of next week’s Circle City IN Pride Festival parade was cracked or just looking for a hilarious target to hurl verbal abuse.
Then enters John Zody, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, who parlayed the governor’s stock letter of welcome into a fundraising moment.
“The governor fell way short of showing true Hoosier Hospitality,” read an email signed, “Democratically yours, John Zody.” “His letter is just another bland, ill-fated and out-of-touch attempt at trying to restore his favorability after he nearly cost Indiana its reputation and millions of dollars in its economy.”
Here’s an idea, if Democrats are serious about capitalizing on RFRA in 2016: Save the fundraising campaigns for the day Pence reiterates his stance that equal protections for gays and lesbians in the state’s civil rights codes still aren’t part of his agenda, as he’s repeatedly said. There will be plenty of other opportunities to take potshots at Pence leading into the 2016 campaign.
But on a day when the governor’s office sends a note of welcome to the LGBT community and invites festivalgoers to check out the restaurants and the sights? Step back and celebrate even the blandest attempt at reconciliation from the governor’s office.
It’s the tiniest of victories.
Dave Bangert is a writer for the (Lafayette) Journal and Courier. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.