- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana lawmakers plan to vote to confirm a replacement for former Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann who stepped down from her position as the state’s second-in-command, leaving the position vacant.

Gov. Mike Pence announced three weeks ago that Eric Holcomb __ a former state Republican Party chairman and political operative __ would be his new running-mate, replacing Ellspermann. Pence faces a tough election in a rematch with Democratic candidate John Gregg, whom he narrowly defeated in 2012.

The incumbent hinted at the resignation in December when he suggested Ellspermann would be an “ideal” candidate to lead Ivy Tech Community College. Ellspermann said she resigned to pursue the position.

But both Pence and Ellspermann deny there is a rift between them, though differences between the two were highlighted in September when Ellspermann said she supported civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The party has been divided over the issue since the backlash against the religious objections law that the Republican-led Legislature passed last year before watering it down under heavy criticism from big business. Pence has said he favors religious freedoms over protections for anyone who has been declined service, fired from a job or denied housing over sexual orientation or gender identity.

But Holcomb has openly said he backed the governor’s stance. Holcomb previously served as chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Dan Coats and worked as campaign manager for former Gov. Mitch Daniels __ experiences that could make him an effective attack dog for Pence during the upcoming election. He also brings wide rapport that would serve as a bridge for Pence to unite the business-oriented moderates and tea party-backed conservatives who have clashed over the LGBT debates.

The nomination by Pence took Holcomb from a nearly year-long U.S. Senate candidacy where Holcomb sought to replace Coats, who is retiring this year.

According to the Governor’s Office, Holcomb will be sworn-in after the confirmation vote Thursday. Lawmakers said they wanted to make the transition before the legislative session is over on March 10. Otherwise, the Legislature would have to return for a special session to confirm Holcomb.

___

Follow Aric Chokey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aric_chokey

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