Five Questions with Mike Pence
American Outlook spent some time with Governor Pence in the days leading up to the Indiana Conference on Citizenship to get his perspective on the state of our state, what it means to be a Sagamore of the Wabash, and how no other place does citizenship better than Indiana.
AO: What does it mean to be serving as Indiana’s governor during the state’s bicentennial? You were a history student at Hanover College and later became a lawyer. With that background especially, you likely have given quite a lot of thought to what happened under the Constitution Elm in Corydon 200 years ago.
Pence: You’re absolutely right. As a matter of fact, one of the treasures in my office is a slice of the old Constitution Elm. And yes, I often reflect on those 43 delegates who crafted such an elegant constitution in 1816. They gave us universal public education right from the start and they established the first-ever charter outlawing slavery in American society. As a matter of fact, Thomas Lincoln moved his family here in the days leading up to statehood for that explicit purpose: to live in a place where all men and women were free. It’s quite awe-inspiring to consider how that decision shaped his son Abraham who preserved our nation 50 years later.
I’m also enthused about the Bicentennial’s role in helping us all brush up on our history. As evidenced in the Thomas Lincoln account, Indiana’s story is quite a page-turner! Before this interview, I was addressing a 4th grade class at Longfellow Elementary School in Delaware County. As you know, it’s required to study Indiana history in the 4th grade but it’s not just students who need to learn about how Gov. Oliver P. Morton earned a telegram simply stating “Well done, Indiana” by President Lincoln’s government in thanks for our volunteers sent to preserve the union. Or, to learn about the Golden Age of industry and literature that marked Indiana’s contributions to the emerging auto industry and great books and jazz.
AO: This interview will be published for distribution at the Indiana Conference on Citizenship and you’ve been quoted as saying that national government is not the nation. Can you tell us what you mean by that quote and reflect on the role of citizens in American society?
Pence: Ronald Reagan used to say that we are a people with a government and not the other way around. The story of Indiana is a story about its people. People like Colonel Eli Lilly who built a company that gave the world reliable medicine and helped build the state’s economy at the same time. Or Madame C.J. Walker who was the first female self-made millionaire in America and who so powerfully smashed barriers standing in the way for both women and African Americans in business. It’s also people like former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton who is receiving a Presidential Medal of Freedom today for his many contributions to our republic. Just think about Hoosiers like Lee Hamilton and Dick Lugar who represented us in congress so ably. They were committed to making Indiana better and helping America play a positive role in the world at the same time. And then there are the countless stories of citizens across the state who live for something bigger than themselves and make their places better through countless acts of service.
AO: One particular group of Indiana citizens is called the millennials. You are the father of three of them. As that generation rises, what shape will they give to Indiana’s future?
Pence: I’m so pleased that you mentioned my children. I couldn’t be prouder of them. I have a 23-year-old son who graduated from Purdue and is now serving as a US Marine. My two daughters are still in college and both are active in mission trips. One daughter is serving in Central America over the Christmas holiday and the other participated in an education co-op in the Middle East and Bosnia.
I marvel at their uniqueness, even within the same family, yet also at the common threads I see for so many millennials. They are better informed, more interested in things, obviously more connected thanks to technology, and so willing to serve. Our future is very bright thanks to their character and compassion.
AO: Speaking of the future, some are claiming our best days are behind us and that the American Dream is fading. How do you define the American Dream and do you have confidence in its longevity?
Pence: Indiana demonstrates that when you have a government as good as its people, you can educate the next generation with excellence and grow the economy while balancing budgets. All of this adds up to an ever-improving quality of life and increasing opportunities for future generations. So the American Dream is alive and well at home just as its fruits are desired by more people worldwide. When I was elected to the congress in 2001, I was privileged to sit on the Agriculture and Foreign Affairs committees. I always thought that combination was so appropriate given our long history of helping feed the world through our magnificent farms. Indiana has always had an eye toward the wider world adding great benefits to other societies just as it made us better at home. In addition to my Longfellow Elementary School visit this morning, I joined NTN Driveshaft in announcing a 510-job factory opening in Anderson. NTN is one of 250 Japanese companies doing business in Indiana totaling 52,000 jobs.
AO: The Sagamore of the Wabash award is given to Indiana citizens for high character, wisdom, and commitment to our state. Their parchment also reads that they will serve as counsel to the governor yet you’re the first one to ever assemble them for that purpose. Can you give us some insight into how the Sagamores could help you govern?
Pence: This is an idea whose time is long overdue. I can’t describe the enthusiasm that is expressed every time I share this very high honor on Indiana’s most deserving citizens. The Sagamores are deeply touched that a governor is aware of their contributions to neighborhood, state, or nation. But I sense something much deeper: they’re not done yet. This is a group that hungers for engagement and is not content with the status quo. They are change agents and I am very excited to put them to work as counsel to my administration and by giving them a new call to action in their spheres of influence.
In addition, I really want them to tell their citizen stories. We’ll all be inspired to hear about their sacrifice and innovation. I’m especially hopeful that the new Society of Sagamores will arrange school visits so that the award recipients can encourage the next generation to live lives of service as well. We have a lot to discuss at the Indiana Conference on Citizenship and I’m eager to roll up my sleeves and go to work with my fellow citizens to make Indiana the best place in America to live and work.