Mike Pence recalls RFRA, Capitol Insurrection during Indianapolis book talk

Former vice president Mike Pence praised his Hoosier roots and shared memories from his home state during a short talk at the Indiana Historical Society Tuesday evening.

The previous Republican Indiana governor additionally recalled critical moments in his career, from serving as a representative in the United States Congress and later earning the top seat at the Statehouse, to spending four years in Washington, D.C. as vice president to former President Donald Trump.

Pence returned to Indianapolis to promote his new book, “So Help Me God,” in which he recounts his journey of growing up in Columbus, Indiana, to the vice presidency. Pence also details personal conversations with Trump, both during their time in the White House and on the day of the U.S. Capitol insurrection.

An “incredibly blessed” Hoosier upbringing

Under the backdrop of Christmas trees and holiday tunes, Pence and his wife, Karen, started the evening by greeting hundreds of eager guests during a book signing. Many who came were from Indiana, but some told the Pences they had come from neighboring states — even as far as Florida.

The former vice president then sat down for over an hour with former Republican state lawmaker Mike Murphy.

Pence began by talking about his childhood and being raised in what he described as “a wonderful, big Catholic family … with lots of kids.” He also pointed to his deeply-rooted Christian faith, which he said began in 1978 at a Christian music festival in Kentucky. 

“I made my own personal decision to put my faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. It changed my life forever,” he said. “I still consider myself a growing Christian. I learned some hard lessons along the way.”

Pence said that included his multiple failed runs for a congressional seat. He attributed his eventual victory in 2001 to his trust in God.

“The fact that I had 10 years to think about what I would do if I was ever elected to Congress, I was just determined to do it,” Pence said. “Some people come to Congress and you’re trying to calibrate, ‘How can I vote as close as possible to what my ideals are?’ I always tell people, ‘Just vote right and go home for dinner.’ To me, that is what the Congress is about.”

The ‘humbling’ RFRA experience

Thinking back to his time as Indiana governor, Pence said he was especially proud of to have spearheaded Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP) 2.0, a consumer-driven health care coverage program for low-income adults that replaced traditional Medicaid for all non-disabled adults.

“We stood firm with the Obama administration. I said I didn’t want to expand Medicaid. However well intended, Medicaid literally fails Americans every day,” Pence said. “But we were dug in, in our administration, with the belief that you could empower people to make their own health care choices. Just because people were starting out on the first rung in the ladder of life, they still care about their families, care about their health. And then 2.0 was created.”

Former vice president Mike Pence meets with guests during a book signing Tuesday evening at the Indiana Historical Society in Indianapolis. (Casey Smith/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

But when Murphy asked about the fallout of Indiana’s contentious Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 2015 — which he said was a failure of the Indiana General Assembly, not of the former Indiana governor — Pence attributed much of the backlash to a “misunderstanding.”

He noted that some 30 states already had such religious freedom “protections” in place, but because the country was approaching a decision from the Supreme Court about the legalization of same sex marriage, “the national media just came down on Indiana.”

Pence maintained that his administration “supported same sex marriage” and said there was “nothing in this bill” preventing such. But Indiana’s reputation was on the line, he continued, forcing him to return the issue to the state legislature “to clarify that nothing in this legislation authorized discrimination.”

“We’ve got our values. I believe that marriage was ordained by God. I believe marriage is between one man and one woman. I also believe that you love your neighbors as yourself. And to know our family … I can tell you, we treat everybody with respect, whether we agree with people’s views or values or not,” Pence said. “I wanted every Hoosier to know that their rights, their privileges, were respected in the constitution and by all people in Indiana.”

In closing, Pence also briefly commented on his final days as vice president, specifically after the November 2020 election and allegations of election fraud by Trump.

Pence said “there was never evidence of widespread fraud” however. He said he conveyed that to the president repeatedly in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

“I made it very clear to the president over and over in the days leading up that I did not have the authority to reject or return electoral votes, that no vice president in American history had ever served that authority,” he said. “Frankly, there was probably no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president — the presidency belongs to the American people.”

Returning home to Indiana

Last year, the Pences moved back to Indiana — into a nearly $2 million home just north of Indianapolis.

Pence emphasized, numerous times, how happy he and his wife are to be back in the Hoosier state.

“It’s great. We go to Kroger — we’re just Mike and Karen here,” he said, further joking that while one of the great parts about no longer being vice president is getting to drive your own car, “the bad part is you have to pay for your own gas.”

He also shared a bit about his new hobby — mowing his lawn with a new John Deere tractor.

“I love it — every chance I get. I really enjoy it,” he said about cutting his grass. “It’s just an incredible blessing just to be home.”

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