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What you need to know about Mike Pence

Tonight’s vice presidential debate will pit Tim Kaine and Mike Pence against each other for their only formal public debate of the election cycle. It’s easy for many people to forget the vice presidential candidates in an election year, but especially this one, with two dramatic high flyers at the top of the Republican and Democratic tickets. The vice presidency in general tends to be treated as a sinecure — the heartbeat away from the presidency, and the periodic tiebreaker in the Senate.

These are both very important things, though, and vice presidents also advance their own political and social policy (in addition to going on to make bids for the presidency in some cases). Vice President Joe Biden, for example, is deeply engaged in his ‘cancer moon shot.’ Vice President Al Gore ran for president in 2000 and won the election, only to have it snatched away from him by the Supreme Court and handed to President George W. Bush.

If you’re not from Indiana, you might not have heard very much about Pence before he joined the Trump ticket, but Indiana voters are painfully familiar with him. There’s a reason Indiana Democrats held up ‘Pence, You’re Fired!’ signs during the roll call at the Democratic National Convention: His politics are extremely conservative, and extremely bad for Indiana, let alone the nation. Especially with conversations about who will actually be doing the business of running the country should Donald Trump win, it’s important to know who Mike Pence is, which is why tuning in for tonight’s debate is highly recommended…but first, a little about the man of the hour.

In 2015, Pence signed the ‘religious freedom’ bill that ended up costing Indiana $60 million in lost business, primarily from the LGBQT community. Indiana isn’t the first or last state to pass some form of a ‘religious freedom’ bill, with these bills effectively legitimising discrimination and in some cases presenting it as a moral imperative. Don’t let the name fool you. This is not about people of various religious faiths practicing in peace: It is about isolating and protecting conservative Christians from the rest of the world. Such bills do things like allowing businesses to refuse service to people they don’t like, and allowing businesses to deny certain employee benefits and privileges on ‘religious’ grounds.

Mike Pence is even more virulently anti-choice than most Republican politicians — and that’s saying something, considering the status of reproductive freedoms in conservative circles. In addition to signing an extremely restrictive abortion access bill, he’s been on a one-man quest to shut down Planned Parenthood, which provides a range of reproductive health services, simply because some Planned Parenthood facilities offer abortion. Legislatively, Pence has tried to redefine rape, yanked funding from health care organizations, and supported foetal personhood laws. Anyone with a uterus should be concerned about Pence’s record on reproductive health because it’s not just about abortion — even if you never plan to have an abortion or are personally opposed to abortions, you’ll likely need reproductive health services like cervical cancer screening. Pence’s policies would make those services very hard to get.

While Pence isn’t as vocally anti-refugee as his running mate, his views on the subject of refugees and resettlement are hardly progressive. He attempted to block all refugee resettlement in Indiana on the grounds of ‘safety’ and was just smacked down by a federal court, which hard sharp words for him when it came to the ‘nightmare speculation’ Pence is using to justify his opposition to resettlement. It’s not that he minds refugees, you see, it’s just that he has concerns about safety — and obviously, all refugees pose an unacceptable safety risk. Pence also opposes the ‘path to citizenship’ proposed by many politicians for undocumented immigrants living and working in the US.

Pence has what’s known as a strict individualist interpretation of gun rights — that the Constitution guarantees individuals nearly unfettered rights to gun ownership — and has backed that up vigorously with legislation. He’s a big hit with the gun lobby, which rates him highly and pours funds into his campaign coffers. He supports conceal carry, bills allowing guns on government and school property, and immunity for gun manufacturers, while opposing background checks and limits on the types of guns people may own. With respect to his running mate’s leading, and troubling, comments about Secretary Clinton and gun control, which some argue have come across as veiled threats, Pence has spoken in vigorous defense.

When it comes to faith and politics, the two are tightly intertwined for Pence, something he has repeatedly publicly proudly acknowledged. Pence’s faith doesn’t just dictate how he feels about social issues like abortion. It’s also a driving force behind things like his support for marriage incentives, which don’t work, but do create barriers to access for people who need public assistance. While church and state are ostensibly separated in the United States, politicians like Pence don’t see that distinction, and freely attempt to impose their religious values on the general public. He’s also supported ‘protecting’ the pledge of allegiance (retaining the ‘under G-d’ phrase) as well as promoting school prayer.

Fiscally, Pence supports corporate tax cuts as well as slashes on the tax burden for the wealthy, including eliminating the estate tax and creating other loopholes for wealthy individuals to evade tax liability. In light of recent revelations about Donald Trump’s taxes, these stances are particularly noteworthy. Historically, he’s also gone on record supporting the highly controversial TPP.

Pence also opposes energy independence, environmental protections, paid family leave, unions, employment antidiscrimination laws, campaign finance reform, whistleblower protection, public health measures, voting rights protections, privacy laws, safeguarding Social Security, net neutrality, and the establishment of a national service, among many other things.

Providing a laundry list of Pence’s conservative credentials isn’t just about highlighting who he is as a person. He also has decades of experience in a variety of legislative and governance settings, and was in fact once favoured as a future presidential pick. His experience and that fact should be weighed while watching him tonight, because it’s highly likely that Pence could in some ways be acting as the effective president of the United States. While Kaine is likely to politely but firmly run circles around him, Pence didn’t get on the ticket to be vice president, and tonight, he’ll be thinking presidentially.

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons