Pence to make his case in State of the State speech

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Gov. Mike Pence will deliver his fourth annual State of the State speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday night — an opportunity for him to turn the page on a tumultuous year while laying out his case for re-election in November.

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Over the last twelve months, a number of Pence’s policy stances drew widespread and mostly negative attention to the state. Perhaps most notable was his support for a religious objections law that critics argued would sanction discrimination against gay people. The backlash prompted Pence and other GOP leaders to hastily change the law. Still, others have also criticized his objections to welcoming Syrian refugees trying to settle in Indiana, as well as his initial opposition to a needle exchange program intended to combat an outbreak of HIV among intravenous drug users in rural parts of southern Indiana.

Republicans argue the firestorm of criticism obscured Pence’s accomplishments, including expanded access to health care for low-income Indiana residents and additional funding for education.

They expect Tuesday’s address will focus on new jobs from companies either expanding or moving into the state, an improving economy and planned infrastructure projects.

But Pence has also hinted that he may address a social issue sharply dividing the state: whether lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people should have statewide civil rights protections. Those groups are not protected from discrimination under state law, though some local governments have approved their own ordinances.

Pence has spent months “studying” the issue, but it is unclear to what degree he might lay out a clear policy position. Recent public opinion surveys suggest most people in the state support such rights, but conservative evangelicals, which make up much of Pence’s traditional voter base, remain vocally opposed.

Minority Democrats say they do not anticipate much in terms of leadership or vision from Pence.

“I’m not expecting a great deal. I’m not expecting anything exceptionally bold or shocking,” said House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City.

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