UPDATED: January 27, 2015 2:25 p.m.
By John Dodge
CHICAGO (CBS) — Welcome to the State Of Indiana, Emperor Mike Pence presiding.
Officially, Mr. Pence is the governor of Illinois’ neighbor to the east, but lately he has hardly been behaving as a man elected to serve the best interests of the populace.
The Indianapolis Star reported on Monday that the Pence administration has plans to launch a state-run news service in February.
“At times, Just IN will break news — publishing information ahead of any other news outlet. Strategies for determining how and when to give priority to such ‘exclusive’ coverage remain under discussion,” according to a document obtained by the paper.
If this sounds like those state-run news services in China or North Korea, it is.
The problem here is that Pence is pushing his agenda under the guise of independent news.
The role of an independent media is to do exactly what the Star’s Tom LoBianco did with this story: Keep a close watch on what government does. Politicians and public workers are elected to serve the people, at taxpayer expense, not serve themselves.
Illinois has a taxpayer-funded news service, called Illinois Government News Network.
Notice the key word there? GOVERNMENT. It’s clear where this information originates.
Under the Pence plan, the news service will be called Just IN–an obvious ploy to make this sound like news.
One target audience for the governor’s stories would be smaller newspapers that have only a few staffers, the Star reported.
Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
And perhaps it won’t. Star columnist Matthew Tully ripped the idea in a column and got a call from the governor, according to Tully’s Twitter feed.
Later on Tuesday Pence tried to backpedal, telling reporters: “My understanding is that the website that has become a source of controversy was simply to have a one-stop shopping website for press releases and information. It’s meant to be a resource, not a news source and we’ll be clarifying that in the days ahead.”
However, a Just IN planning document released Tuesday refers the content on the site as “daily news stories.” In fact the reference to “stories” (not “press releases”) is mentioned multiple times.
Consider, for example, what a Just IN news service story would say about Pence’s education budget. In a news release, Pence touted a big increase in spending for Indiana’s schools. Presumably a “news story” on Just IN would say the same.
Closer examination by the independent media revealed a few important facts: The increase wouldn’t keep pace with inflation and a whopping 43 percent of the proposed budget increase would go to publicly funded charter schools. About three percent of the state’s children attend a charter school, and many of them have received failing grades from the state’s education department.
That brings us to another problem with Emperor Pence.
Mr. Pence doesn’t agree with the thinking of the state’s education superintendent, Glenda Ritz, a Democrat with a strong background in education.
Ritz is an elected official and a constitutional officer. She has clashed with conservative lawmakers and Pence over Indiana’s education policy.
So, Pence is having his GOP lawmakers push a bill that would change the game, allowing the state Board of Education appoint the superintendent.
Aside from the fact that the elected leader of the state is trying to re-write the rules by ignoring the voice of the electorate, there is an even bigger issue.
Why should we care about a governor from a small state like Indiana? Because Emperor Pence has his eyes on a bigger prize: The White House.
His governing style bears close examination by an independent press.