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June 25, 2013

BRADNER: Pence given chance to make his mark

INDIANAPOLIS —

The vacancy atop the Indiana Republican Party gives Gov. Mike Pence the best chance yet to make his own mark on the state’s most powerful political party and to get some real distance from his predecessor.

State GOP chairman Eric Holcomb announced last week that he is resigning, effective July 9. He will take an Indiana-based job with U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, likely positioning himself to steer officially or unofficially the senator’s 2016 run for re-election.

Holcomb’s sharp political mind and effective fundraising skills suited him well for the role of state party chairman. But the reality is, he got the chairman’s job due to his work with former Gov. Mitch Daniels. He agreed to stay on for a while longer to help Pence’s transition and see his first legislative session through, but he wasn’t picked by Pence in the first place.

Republicans have the political power to do anything they want, but there are a number of areas of disagreement within their party. The next party chair will have to maintain the peace, and that task could be harder than it has been.

So far, Pence hasn’t truly been confronted with those splits. The Statehouse has felt for the first five months of Pence’s tenure, and partly by the new governor’s design, like a building in transition.

A number of Daniels’ cabinet officials were held over, and several 2012 campaign aides were brought on board for the early days even though they intended to transition out quickly. Those folks are now leaving.

Meanwhile, Pence’s communications shop for better or worse is tightening up, working to centralize responses to media inquiries that previously would have been farmed out to the experts working for state agencies.

And Pence’s budget director, Chris Atkins, last week announced a new series of measurements on which 2 percent of state agencies’ budgets will depend. It’s a step toward carrying out Pence’s campaign pledge of “performance-based budgeting.”

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