INDIANAPOLIS — Republicans typically invoke Ronald Reagan’s “11th Commandment” when they’re fighting within the family, and there’s been plenty of infighting recently over Gov. Mike Pence’s tax cut at the Statehouse.
Reagan made famous the rule that no Republican shall speak ill of a fellow party member. Pence invoked it at the Marion County Reagan Day Dinner last week as he looked down from the stage at his sharpest critic of late, House Speaker Brian Bosma, and asked Republicans to cool their heels.
That Bosma and Pence can’t agree on the governor’s proposal to cut the personal income tax 10 percent is hardly news. Bosma threw cold water on the idea one month before Pence was elected governor and has done everything he can to dissuade Pence since then, including passing a $30 billion budget that doesn’t include the cut.
Pence has refused to consider any alternative to his cut and has conducted a statewide campaign asking residents to press lawmakers to support it. A concurrent ad campaign launched by tea partyers Americans for Prosperity against House Republicans has only angered Bosma and other Republican lawmakers. But throughout the battle, the two Republican leaders had been cordial, if a bit coy, in public.
That changed last week after some tense moments involving the two at the Indianapolis fundraiser.
Pence spent much of his 20-minute speech pitching his tax cut with the same lines he’s used at other fundraisers throughout the state. But his applause lines raised only modest support throughout the room. Bosma clapped lightly, while the guests at his table held their applause.
So Pence added the “11th Commandment” to the end of his pitch.
“As we work through these challenging issues at the Statehouse, wherever you are on this issue, if you’re `fer it’ or you’re `agin it,’ or if you’re somewhere in between, let me say from my heart, especially to my friends and allies, near and far: We will not build up our state by tearing each other down. It is essential that we stay positive in advocating our positions.”
Bosma walked on stage a few minutes later, after Pence had left, and hit back with a zinger: “I would have said this with the governor here still: I was going to start off with saying `I’m from Americans for Prosperity and I’m just here to help.”’
Both men downplayed their remarks in the following days.
Pence told reporters that his plea for civility was directed at AFP. “Earlier this week, I encouraged that organization to consider a more positive approach,” he said.
And Bosma, who called a news conference to denounce the AFP ads as “erroneous,” said he did not believe the Reagan rule was meant for him. “Actually, I thought it was self-analysis. I was there when he said it, and it seemed to me a mea culpa.”
Still, the open tension is a bit of a shock for a party largely immune to it. With the exception of last year’s Senate battle between former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar and state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, and the ongoing court battles of former Secretary of State Charlie White, Indiana’s Republicans have largely been able to join hands in public.
Democratic control of the House of Representatives and governor’s office through the past few decades helped drive Republicans together.
Pence’s invocation of the “11th Commandment” is a clear call for peace at a time of distress and not necessarily a sign that either he or Bosma will back down in this battle.
Even Reagan might agree. Before he became the much-celebrated intraparty peacemaker, Reagan fought through two nasty presidential primaries and buried a few foes along the way.