Get smarter about the intersection of Indiana politics and business in the Trump era—and beyond.

Jim Banks' new gig—Holcomb's State of the State—Pence on the sidelines

What's happening—and what's next—at the intersection of Indiana politics and business?

By Adam Wren and design by Kris Davidson

Days to Mayoral Election: 295

Days to 2020 Election: 659

MAJOR MOVES: The Republican Study Committee named Rep. Jim Banks the incoming Chairman of the Budget & Spending Task Force. The RSC is the largest conservative caucus in Congress. Banks is seen as a figure who could one day chair the committee. Vice President Mike Pence chaired the committee, as has former Rep. Dan Burton. “Chairing the RSC Budget and Spending Task Force is a tremendous opportunity to bring the fiscal responsibility used by Hoosiers in their everyday life to the federal budget,” Banks said. “Our government spends too much, and improperly prioritizes how people’s hard-earned money should be allocated.”

Good Monday morning, and welcome to Importantville. The Indiana House and Senate go into session at 1:30 p.m. today. In D.C., the House of Representatives has votes scheduled at 6:30 p.m. It’s Day 24 of the shutdown. Here are five ways it might end.

WHERE’S VEEP? He’s in D.C., where he has no scheduled events.

WHAT THE INDIANAPOLIS STAR NEWSROOM IS READING: “Hedge-Fund-Backed Media Group Makes Bid for Gannett,” by Cara Lombardo in The Wall Street Journal—“A hedge-fund-backed media group known for buying up struggling local papers and cutting costs has made an offer for USA Today publisher Gannett Co.”

  • The company owns newspapers in Evansville, Indianapolis, Lafayette, Muncie and Richmond.

HAPPENING TOMORROW: Gov. Eric Holcomb delivers his State of the State Address at 7 p.m. It’s expected to be less than 30 minutes. How much time will Holcomb use to support a hate crimes bill, and will he renew his call on it to protect specific classes of Hoosiers, similar to the state’s 2005 employment handbook?

Importantville Soundbites

  • “This has now become a moral issue for many Democrats. They are sort of opposed categorically to any border funding,” Sen. Todd Young told Fox 59's Dan Spehler on FOX 59’s IN Focus.

  • “I’m hoping we reach that resolution as soon as possible but it’s happening because we’re not getting any serious attention to the issue of border security,” Sen. Mike Braun told Spehler.

Around Importantville

  • Pete Buttigieg huddled with his national comms strategist, Lis Smith, in South Bend this weekend.

  • Rep. Greg Pence nabbed his official account on Twitter.

Importantville Reads

Jill Colvin, Lisa Mascaro and Laurie Kellman, AP: “Pence’s pickle: How to bargain when no one speaks for Trump

Progress made, said one.

Not so, said the other.

We’ll meet again, said one.

Waste of time, said the other.

Such has been the life lately of Mike Pence, the loyal soldier dispatched by President Donald Trump to lead negotiations over the partial government shutdown .

The vice president has been one of the administration’s most visible emissaries during the shutdown fight, meeting with lawmakers, sitting for interviews and leading staff-level talks. But he’s been repeatedly — and very publicly — undermined and contradicted by his boss, who’s demanding billions from Congress to build a wall along the southern border.

Lawmakers and aides in both parties say it’s become increasingly clear that, in this White House, no one speaks for the president but himself, leaving Pence in an all-but-impossible position as he tries to negotiate on Trump’s behalf.

“He doesn’t really have the authority to make a deal,” said Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, who worked alongside Pence back when Pence was a member of Congress. He said legislators respect the vice president even if he is just “the messenger.” But he adds: “Trump is the one who’s going to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.'”

Even before the shutdown began, Pence was in an awkward spot in the wall debate — quite literally. When Trump hosted then-incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer at a heated Oval Office meeting in December that ended with the president saying he’d be “proud” to own a government shutdown, a stone-faced Pence sat by, speechless in his chair, drawing quips on social media comparing him to a statue or the “Elf on the Shelf.”

Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Maggie Haberman, The New York Times: “Mercurial Trump Has Made Path Out of Shutdown Much Harder to Find

The president has now repeatedly undercut Vice President Mike Pence, to whom he has delegated the task of negotiating an end to a seemingly intractable stalemate.

Mr. Pence denied on Thursday that he had ever told lawmakers that Mr. Trump would sign the bill, pressed personally by the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, to keep the government open without funding for the wall.

“I said the president hasn’t made up his mind,” Mr. Pence said.

But that is not how Republicans remembered it. “He got off to a bad start; he kind of pulled the rug out from under McConnell’s feet there with that one,” said Representative Francis Rooney, Republican of Florida.

Barbara Brosher, WFYI: The History Of A Hoosier Favorite: Pork Tenderloin

Bloomington resident Melissa Bower wanted to know more about Indiana food, so she met us at Come 'N Git It in Martinsville.

“My question was what foods are Indiana originals?” Bower says. "And, the reason why I asked that question is because I'm originally from Maine, and when I moved here I noticed all the foods that I was used to were created a little bit differently out here."

She’d heard of Indiana favorites like sugar cream pie and persimmon pudding. But, somehow, the sandwich many Hoosiers consider synonymous with the state never came up.

“People are so used to tenderloins that they just don't realize that this food is part of Indiana history," she says.

We set out to find out how pork tenderloin became so popular in Indiana. And, everyone kept pointing us to the same place: Nick's Kitchen Known As Home Of Indiana Tenderloin.

Thanks for reading. That’s all for today. As always, send scoops to Have a good week.

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Importantville: 19 questions that will shape in Importantville in 2019

What's happening—and what's next—at the intersection of Indiana politics and business?

By Adam Wren and design by Kris Davidson

Days to Mayoral Election: 302

Days to 2020: 666 (!)

19 Importantville Questions for 2019: 1. Will Vice President Mike Pence ascend to the presidency based on political fallout of the Mueller probe? 2. Will the Mueller probe implicate Pence with any wrongdoing—and will Mueller even sit down with Pence? 3. How will South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg fare in the six DNC presidential debates slated for 2019, beginning this June? 4. Who will Indiana Democrats run for governor? 5. What will be the next Indianapolis company to go public? 6. Will Indiana congressional Republicans stand up to Trump in a substantive way? 7. How will Sen. Todd Young’s turn as chair of the National Republican Senate Committee benefit Indiana? 8. Will Republicans mount a credible campaign against Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett? 9. How will Indiana Democrats fare in municipal elections across the state? 10. Will Indiana get a hate crimes law? 11. …And experience a RFRA-like backlash in the process? 12. What will be the year’s banner economic development announcement? 13. How soon will Rep. Jim Banks become the chair of the Republican Study Committee? 14. Is Joe Donnelly done with politics? 15. What office will Democrat Christina Hale seek next? 16. Will Attorney General Curtis Hill primary Gov. Eric Holcomb ahead of 2020? 17. Will Indiana Republicans move to block a possible primary challenge to Trump ahead of 2020? 18. Will Indianapolis stem its record homicide rate? 19. How many presidential and vice presidential visits will Indiana receive?

Good morning, and welcome back to Importantville. This is the first edition of 2019. It’s day 17 of the federal government shutdown. Flags are at half staff today in Floyd County to honor former state Rep. William Cochran.

WHERE’S VEEP: He has lunch with the president at 12:30 p.m.

SHUTDOWN PROVISIONS: Indianapolis restauranteur Neal Brown is giving away free meals at his establishments to federal government workers affected by the shutdown, writes Indy Star’s Sarah Bahr.

DRIVING THE WEEK: Hundreds of members of Indiana Forward, a campaign that includes a cross section of the most influential members of the business and non-profit community, will gather at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday in the South Atrium at the Statehouse to lobby legislators to “pass a clear and inclusive hate crimes law in 2019.”

THE PLAYERS: Ann Murtlow, president and CEO, United Way of Central Indiana, which is a lead organizer in the Indiana Forward campaign; Michael Huber, president and CEO of the Indy Chamber, whose Indiana Competes coalition supports the Indiana Forward campaign; State Rep. Tony Cook (R-32), author of House Bill 1020; Scott Fadness, Mayor of Fishers, Indiana, and Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry.

Elsewhere in Importantville

  • Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott plans to run for re-election, the Democrat writes in the Times of Northwest Indiana.

  • Congresswoman Susan Brooks lands on the front page of USA Today in a piece examining the influence Republican women will have on the 116th Congress. "There are just some incredibly deep friendships that some of my female colleagues have with others across the aisle,” Brooks told Maureen Groppe. “And I think we’ll still be able to get things done.”

  • Sen. Mike Braun told The Washington Post that Mitt Romney’s op-ed criticizing president Trump last week was “a clumsy way to get started,” and that he disagreed with its “timing” and “content.”

Importantville Reads

Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times: “A Trump County Confronts the Administration Amid a Rash of Child Cancers

JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. — The children fell ill, one by one, with cancers that few families in this suburban Indianapolis community had ever heard of. An avid swimmer struck down by glioblastoma, which grew a tumor in her brain. Four children with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer. Fifteen children with acute lymphocytic leukemia, including three cases diagnosed in the past year.

At first, families put the illnesses down to misfortune. But as cases mounted, parents started to ask: Could it be something in the air or water?

Their questions led them to an old industrial site in Franklin, the Johnson County seat, that the federal government had ordered cleaned up decades ago. Recent tests have identified a carcinogenic plume spreading underground, releasing vapors into homes.

Now, families in a county that voted overwhelmingly for President Trump are making demands of his administration that collide directly with one of his main agendas: the rolling back of health and environmental regulations.

On Wednesday, a group representing dozens of concerned parents called for a federal investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General — the same watchdog that examined the government’s slow response to the water crisis in Flint, Mich. — into why Franklin’s toxic plume of trichloroethylene, or TCE, persists.

Major Moves

  • Rep. Jim Banks’ former Chief of Staff Matt Lahr will join Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats as a comms staffer this week.

  • David Keller, of Fort Wayne, becomes Banks’ new chief.

  • Peg McLeish is the new chief of staff for the Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry.

The Sunday Show

I joined FOX 59's Dan Spehler, IndyStar columnist Tim Swarens, Republican Mike Murphy and communication strategist Lara Beck to talk about the new Congress and this week's winners and losers. You can watch that coverage here and see my winner and loser here.

That’s all for today. If you’re a paid subscriber, I’ll be back in your inbox later this week. Have a good one.

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Importantville: Buttigieg inches closer to 2020—Hogsett commissions oppo research on Merritt—Pence's next chief of staff?

What's happening—and what's next—at the intersection of Indiana politics and business?

By Adam Wren and design by Kris Davidson

Days to Mayoral Election: 323

Days to 2020: 687

NEW: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg will make an announcement about his future in South Bend as early as tomorrow. And on Thursday, he’ll visit Iowa for the Progress Iowa Holiday Party.

DROPPED TODAY: Buttigieg’s first glossy magazine profile—I spent several days with Buttigieg in South Bend over the last few months on assignment for Indianapolis Monthly. The story went live this afternoon. You can read it here.

Buttigieg has checked four key boxes on FiveThirtyEight’sWho’s Behaving Like A 2020 Presidential Candidate” rubric. Until now, left unchecked: A visit to New Hampshire, a poll, and a magazine profile. He’s now checked that “magazine profile” box.

Pete Buttigieg is running. Today, it’s along the St. Joseph River on a crisp and gray October morning in South Bend, as the mayor tried to clear his mind in the middle of a packed day. A meeting with the NAACP. A meeting with staff to discuss the city’s $368 million budget, which is scheduled to go in front of the City Council in a few days. And some political time. He’s trying to get back into shape. He’s working his way up from 5 miles a day to 9. That’s what he ran when he was deployed with the Navy as a counterterrorism intelligence officer in Afghanistan, where he set his half-marathon personal record of 1:42 back in Bagram, a pace of about 7:46 per mile. “It’s actually a hauntingly beautiful place, and the daylight started to come up over the mountains and it was March or April so it was still snow-capped peaks,” Buttigieg says. “The best race of my life.”

In the very near future, Buttigieg might be running less literally, on the campaign trail in Iowa or New Hampshire. Right? I asked him, as his slim 5-foot-9 frame was bounding over still-green grass yet to turn brown ahead of another unforgiving Northern Indiana winter.

“I don’t know,” Buttigieg answered. It’s a question he’s been getting a lot lately. These are heady times for the South Bend mayor and possible 2020 Democratic presidential contender. You’ll be forgiven if the juxtaposition of those two makes you scoff. Buttigieg has become a dark horse for the Democratic nomination, one who trades calls with former Vice President Joe Biden, lands plaudits as the future of the Democratic Party from former President Barack Obama, emails with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, keeps counsel with former Obama strategist Axelrod, and has Lis Smith, the New York City–based, celebrity Democrat-communications guru, on a five-figure retainer.


  • After Election Day’s results, Buttigieg has all but sworn off an Indiana race. “It complicates any path for me in Indiana more than what was already the case,” he said.

  • Fundraising could be a challenge: He has roughly $70,000 in his Hitting Home PAC. But he has a record of earning contributions from big players such as Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, a Harvard University classmate.

  • A Buttigieg campaign would be headquartered in South Bend and would focus on Iowa—a state his team thinks is similar to Indiana, and where they think he can perform well.

Read more here.

IMPORTANTVILLE TAKE: “Even if he runs in 2020 and loses the Democratic primary, many see him landing a plum cabinet position. You don’t have to try too hard to imagine the former management consultant running a federal agency like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development—or even the vice presidency. Indiana, after all, has produced more of those—six—than any other state except New York, which claims 11. “Any president would benefit from his gifts,” says [David] Axelrod. Buttigieg is seven years younger than John F. Kennedy was when he became president. If he runs and wins, he’d be 39 when he was inaugurated. He has an entire political lifetime to win the plush toy of the presidency. There’s time. But you can tell he hears the electronic carnival music of running for national office getting faster in his head.”

Good Sunday afternoon, and welcome back to Importantville. Thanks for your patience as I acclimated to dad life.

FIRST IN IMPORTANTVILLE: Here’s a photo of our daughter, Adison Elise Wren. Her name is a portmanteau of Adam and Alison. To be honest, we didn’t know whether we’d have a boy or girl. For me, now, the future is female. Thanks to Importantville denizens Heather and Davey Neal of Heather Tees for the t-shirt.

WHERE’S VEEP? He has lunch with the president Monday.

PENCE’S NEXT CHIEF OF STAFF? In the wake of news that Pence COS Nick Ayers is headed back to Georgia, Pence is looking for a new chief. One possibility, Jarrod Agen, a former aide to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Pence’s current deputy chief of staff and communications director. Politico Playbook named Agen to their Power List 2019:

In the two years since he signed on to Pence’s team, Agen has become one of the vice president’s most trusted advisers — and the vice president a constant presence in Agen’s life. Colleagues joke that one of the only times Agen has managed to escape weekend phone calls was one Sunday last month, when he was busy running in the 43rd annual Marine Corps Marathon and left his work phone at home.

BANKS MOVIN’ ON UP: Rep. Jim Banks drew No. 1 in the office lottery for the congressional sophomore class, so he had the top pick amongst incoming sophomores. 

MERRITT FOR MAYOR? State Sen. James Merritt made news Friday, resigning from his perch as chairman of the Marion County GOP, a move that could signal a serious run for mayor—or a step back to focus on lawmaking.

MERRITT told Fox 59’s Dan Spehler he’ll consider a run over the holiday season.

Dan Spehler@DanSpehlerBREAKING: Jim Merritt stepping down today from his post as Marion Co. chairman, says he will ponder a potential run for Mayor of Indianapolis over the holidays #INfocus @FOX59 @CBS4Indy

HOGSETT THINKS MERRITT IS RUNNING: Mayor Joe Hogsett has commissioned an opposition research report against Merritt, which you can find on page 14 of his expenditures in his latest filing—a $7,552.09 job with Point Loma out of San Diego.

  • Ted Feeney told Indy Politics he will not enter the mayoral race.


“THE TOLL”—A COOL NEW INDY STAR PROJECT by James Briggs and Ryan Martin. Briggs and Martin, two of the city’s best reporters, will tackle Indianapolis’ crime problem in a weekly newsletter. They’ve been given freedom by editors to pull back from daily deadlines to explore what’s behind “years of growing violence.” Subscribe here. It’ll debut in January.

Tunku Varadarajan, The Wall Street Journal: “College Bloat Meets ‘The Blade’”

Mitch Daniels teaches a course on World War I at Purdue University, where he is president, and loves to talk about Woodrow Wilson. Wilson left the presidency of Princeton in 1910 and was elected governor of New Jersey the next year—“sort of the opposite of the thing I did,” says Mr. Daniels, who served two terms as Indiana’s governor (2005-13) before taking his current job on campus: “Explaining his decision to abandon the academy for a statehouse, Wilson said, ‘I can’t take the politics anymore.’ ”

I’ve just asked Mr. Daniels—who, unlike Wilson a century earlier, decided against seeking the U.S. presidency in 2012—how running a university differs from running a state. The silver-tongued Mr. Daniels offers a quip that must play well at the meet-and-greets that clog up a college president’s calendar. “I use an old line,” he says without missing a beat, “which is that in my last job it was dog-eat-dog, and here it’s just the opposite.”

Mr. Daniels, 69, is the most innovative university president in America. Like his counterparts at other schools, he believes higher education has been “a competitive advantage” for the U.S.—“a nice little export industry, if you add up all the dollars that come here to purchase the education of students from other places.” He regards the rumbling in Washington about curbing visas for foreign students to be “very shortsighted.” But he also thinks American higher education has grown fat and complacent. He’s making inventive, even radical changes in the way his institution finances itself and imparts an education.

Dan Carden, Northwest Indiana Times, “Holcomb eyeing 2020 re-election bid, but focus now is on upcoming legislative session

Gov. Eric Holcomb is laying the groundwork to run for re-election in 2020, but the Republican insists that for at least the next four-and-a-half months he's solely focused on enacting what he considers to be a "bold" agenda.

State campaign finance records show Holcomb is poised to end the year with close to $3 million in his campaign account, an amount similar to the fundraising totals of his two Republican gubernatorial predecessors as they entered the third year of their first terms.

In an exclusive interview with The Times, Holcomb said he can't think of any reason why he wouldn’t run for re-election.

“We’re in a strong position to do so,” he acknowledged.

Though Holcomb quickly added: "That is a long commitment, and one that won't be made by just myself. As a matter of fact, my wife may have a higher percentage of the decision than me."

No Hoosier governor has chosen not to seek a second, four-year term since the constitution was amended in 1972 to permit consecutive terms, a record Holcomb knows well as a student of Indiana history and 2008 campaign manager for Gov. Mitch Daniels.

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