Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Ellspermann Out, Holcomb In; House of Cards, Indiana?

(some optional music as you read this blog post)

As I read the news today of the announcement of the pending resignation of our state's Lieutenant Governor, Sue Ellspermann, sometime in the near future, I only thought of the behind-the-scenes machinations of one Frank Underwood on House of Cards.

Then again, Mike Pence is no Frank Underwood.

Ellspermann was widely seen as something that was right about Pence's Administration.  She was credited by many on both sides of the aisle for being above politics, and she even seemed to have understood that Pence's position against LGBT civil rights was the wrong position.

Conventional political wisdom (or is that gossip) is that Pence began looking for a subway stop to push Ellspermann off his train just as Underwood might have had Doug Stamper do with a disloyal Lieutenant Governor.

When the Ivy Tech Presidency opened, well, that job was a perfect landing spot.  So, with a slight push, Ellspermann suddenly became interested in the job.  Whether she gets it or not remains to be seen, but I think she has the inside track seeing as Pence appointed the Trustees.

So, it was now time to find just the right person to replace Ellspermann to bring the plan full circle.  Pence couldn't select anyone in the same political place as she was.  Oh no.  He needed someone that would be transparently loyal.  Someone that would be willing to put aside his or her own aspirations and join the team.  Someone like former Mitch Daniels staffer and Dan Coats aide, Eric Holcomb, who, up until Monday, was running for U.S. Senate.

Holcomb dropping out of the Senate race would allow his support to coalesce around the establishment choice for that seat, Todd Young, instead of the Tea Party choice of Marlin Stutzman.

All in a day's work for Frank Underwood Mike Pence.

But, here's the thing.  As a former State Party Chairman, Eric Holcomb is not your normal nominee.  While Holcomb generally is seen as liked, you don't become a party chairman without spoiling a few tubs of egg salad.  In fact, Dan Parker, former Indiana Democratic Party Chair, once told me that there was no greater disqualifier for public office than being a major party chair.  Holcomb arrived in that role by playing the political game well but also playing the role of game master well.

Thus, as Frank Underwood might say, "I wonder if our dear Governor, in his haste to get one wolf out of his hen house, let another come in the back door."

Holcomb might be bringing an even bigger wolf with him in the form of his former boss, Daniels, who still casts a huge shadow in this state.

Whatever the case, Holcomb is not the answer to stabilizing this situation for Pence.  You don't appoint a party boss to your Lieutenant Governor position if you want to appear to be above politics.  It's going to be an interesting run to November.

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