What Trump’s Veep Choice Can Teach Us About Coalitions

Mike Pence
Mike Pence appears at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

With Donald Trump’s tweet this morning that he has chosen Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate for U.S. president, a lot of non-Hoosiers and non-wonks could be forgiven for asking “Mike who?” The one-term governor and former congressman is seen as shoring up Trump’s hazy conservative credentials, but he certainly lacks the starpower that has been the one constant for Trump as an individual.

But Pence – who had considered his own presidential bid last year — did enter national headlines in 2015 as when he first signed, then backed away, from Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That law prevented local and state governments from “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability” – say by refusing to serve gay customers despite an anti-discrimination statute. The backlash to the new law was fast and furious, and fearing boycotts and other economic protests he soon signed a revised law “to clarify that this new judicial standard would not create a license to discriminate or to deny services to any individual as its critics have alleged.”

America the Users ManualThe whole incident was a case study on several fronts, and the new edition of a book by former Senator Bob Graham (himself a two-term Democratic governor of Florida) and Chris Hand uses the controversy as a case-study. Given the title of their book, America, the Owner’s Manual: You Can Fight City Hall—and Win, the pair focus on the coalition of rights advocates, businesses and even the NCAA that came together to push Indiana’s politicians to retreat. (Graham, by the way, is back in the news today as the full 9/11 report he fought to be made public has been released.)

The case, written for the book by the co-founder and CEO of Equality Florida, Nadine Smith, looks at several coalitions built up to oppose official actions seen as discriminating against the LGBTQ community, including the furor over North Carolina’s now notorious bathroom law. America, the Owner’s Manual doesn’t come out until August. You can read the full case study in PDF form by clicking here.

The collateral damage that Indiana suffered from its passage of the first bill is vividly described in the case, which shows a cascade of economic and eventually political blows that both led to the revised law and essentially scuttled Pence’s home-state re-election hopes. The chance to joining the Trump ticket is widely seen as a lifeline for a once-promising political career

The takeaway message from the case study is explicitly universal:

Whether you are a utility ratepayer concerned about new federal air quality regulations, a developer frustrated with the local zoning process, a farmer who wants the state to invest more in research to prevent agriculture disease, or a small businessperson worried about the impacts of a nearby proposed mega shopping center, you are much more likely to succeed if you have the active support of a broad base of citizens and interests.

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