SOUTH BEND – Gov.-elect Mike Pence pledged to work with both parties to improve Indiana's economy but sidestepped potential political minefields as he hit the road Thursday for a two-day trip to thank supporters who helped him win the governor's office.
Pence's first stop was at the Top Notch Restaurant in South Bend, where he met with Republican supporters in a back room before greeting diners. He also made a stop in Fort Wayne and planned others to Evansville and Terre Haute today.
The stops were a rare public appearance for Pence, who has spent the month since the election largely out of the public eye as he builds his cabinet and focuses on the transition from Gov. Mitch Daniels' administration to his.
He said the two-day swing was designed to say thanks.
“I'm here to pay a debt of gratitude,” Pence said. “My family has been humbled and amazed at the opportunity that we've been afforded.”
Pence won the election with slightly less than 50 percent of the vote, making him the first Indiana governor in nearly a century to win the office without support of a majority of voters. Even though Republicans hold supermajorities in the state Senate and House of Representatives, Pence said he will try to work with Democrats to get things done.
Pence avoided reporters' questions about how he would handle social issues such as a ban on gay marriage if they come up in the legislative session that begins in January, stressing that that the job creation he campaigned on as part of his “road map” for Indiana is his priority.
“The Legislature will have agenda items they want to consider. We'll take them one at a time. But our focus is going to be on bringing our road map to the Legislature and to the people of Indiana,” he said.
“We have 8 percent unemployment in Indiana, we've got a quarter million Hoosiers out of work. ... We're going to work with legislators of both political parties to do everything we can to get this economy moving in Indiana and make Indiana even more attractive for investment in ways that it will create jobs,” he said.
Mike Gleissner, 59, a furnace operator at Honeywell, said he hoped Pence could deliver on his jobs promise. He also hopes to see more of Pence in northern Indiana once he takes office.
“I hope he keeps making trips up here so we can keep voicing our opinions to him.”
Bruce Eaton, a 65-year-old retiree from South Bend, said it was good to see Pence out in the community and had a bit of advice for the incoming governor.
“If he don't raise our taxes, he might get a second term.”