Indiana Gov. Mike Pence already has achieved most of his early agenda, barely 18 months into his first term.
Mr. Pence has signed into law $643 million in annual tax relief and has presided over a state economy that managed to lower its unemployment rate to 5.9 percent from the 7.9 percent that burdened the state when he took office in January 2013.
"Passing a budget that lets us live within our means and funding our priorities in roads and schools probably is my proudest accomplishment," Mr. Pence told The Washington Times as he was leaving a fundraiser for Colorado GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez on Thursday.
"On top of that, we finished our fiscal year with $2 billion in reserves," Mr. Pence added.
His administration can also take credit for the creation of 50,000 jobs since the former congressman took office.
Like his predecessor, former Gov. Mitch Daniels, Mr. Pence, 55, has the reputation of being one of the GOP's brainiest political stars. But unlike Mr. Daniels, Mr. Pence has not picked a fight with the religious conservative activists in his party. It's not just that he thinks inviting cleavages in the GOP coalition is bad politics — Mr. Pence happens to be an evangelical Christian and a down-the-line social conservative on preserving traditional values.
Also somewhat unusual for a state governor, he has a long-held interest in foreign policy. During his 12 years as a member of the U.S. House, he rose to leadership of the House Republican Conference and served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
He once confided that he regards himself as a "Zionist" when it comes to his devotion to Israel's security and continued existence.
Fellow Hoosiers and former congressional colleagues say Mr. Pence, a possible 2016 GOP presidential contenders, is modest and unassuming, almost to a fault. At a large national meeting in Indianapolis recently, Mr. Pence arrived without a retinue of aides and handlers, talking quietly with his wife until some attendees realized the governor of the host state was in their midst.
But it was as a classic free-market, pro-growth conservative and a moral traditionalist that he made his mark in Congress.
The lightened burden that he secured for Indiana taxpayers came in the form of $313 million in their earnings they were able to keep in their pockets, thanks to a 5 percent cut in the state's income tax. An additional $170 million of the $643 million in relief came from cuts in corporate-tax rates — which dropped to 4.9 percent from 6.5 percent.
Indiana families also benefited from being able to keep $125 million — that otherwise would have gone to state government — by the legislature's killing of the state's widely despised inheritance tax in May 2013.
Finally, the new governor has approved some $35 million in relief for banks and other financial institutions.
Mr. Pence is one of the class of relatively new GOP governors who argue that it's not enough for the party to say "no" to what it considers President Obama's rush to "socialism," be it Obamacare or other federal intrusions into state, local and individual prerogatives under the Constitution.
For instance, Mr. Pence is proposing market-based reforms to deliver quality coverage to the Medicaid-eligible population of Indiana, and earlier this year, he told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington about his ideas for using more traditionally conservative ways to help Americans who can't afford health care insurance.
Based on health savings accounts, his Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 builds on a program that Mr. Daniels first introduced in Indiana.
He said the big difference with Obamacare is that states will have the flexibility to set up health care plans of their own design.
"In Indiana, we have learned that the way to change Medicaid is to base the program on what we know improves health and lowers costs, namely consumer-driven health care using health savings accounts," Mr. Pence said.
Mr. Pence is also at ease sharing the credit for his state's reforms.
"Beginning in the early 1990s, Indiana became a centerpiece for the discussion about consumer-driven health care," he said.
"Today, Indiana has more public employees — 96 percent in our state government — enrolled in health savings account plans, more than any other state," he said. "And our private marketplace has a higher percentage of people enrolled in consumer-driven plans compared to many other states.
"So the Healthy Indiana Plan, built as it is on health savings accounts and on consumer-driven health care, makes the most sense, being launched and piloted and expanded in the state where consumer-driven health care, in many respects, was born."
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