By Daniel Suddeath
Defining the area as primed for growth, Indiana gubernatorial hopeful Mike Pence toured Southern Indiana Friday along with running mate Sue Ellspermann, who was announced Monday as the GOP lieutenant governor choice.
During a stop at the News and Tribune office in New Albany, Pence talked about economic development, educational advances and one of the region's biggest issues -- the Ohio River Bridges Project.
"I think everyone senses with the recent bridges agreement, the potential for extraordinary growth," said Pence, a U.S. House member who is seeking to replace Gov. Mitch Daniels and retain the gubernatorial seat for the Republican Party.
When asked about the tolling aspect of the project -- which as planned would entail the addition of downtown and east end bridges as well as the reconfiguration of Spaghetti Junction -- and concerns by some that Hoosiers will be paying more than Kentucky residents, Pence said Indiana has been leading the effort on the proposal.
"I support the bridges agreement and concept, and I support the process that's under way," he said.
Pence added "the full weight" of his administration would be behind implementing the project, though he didn't specifically refer to tolling as a part of the plan.
With last year's closure of the Sherman Minton Bridge in New Albany, Pence said it's evident how important transportation is to the region. He said South Central Indiana could enjoy "enormous" benefits with the construction of the project.
And as for his administration, Pence said he was honored to have Ellspermann accept the invitation to run as his lieutenant governor choice.
Ellspermann was the director of the University of Southern Indiana's Center for Applied Research prior to being elected in 2010 to the Statehouse where she represented District 74, which stretches into Dubois, Perry, Spencer and Warrick counties near the Ohio River.
Also a native of Southern Indiana as he hails from Columbus, Pence said Ellspermann is familiar with the concerns that communities like Floyd and Clark counties encounter.
"I've got a running mate that gets the [Ohio] River," he said.
Ellspermann obtained a Ph.D from the University of Louisville, as she commuted through Southern Indiana from Evansville to take classes.
Ellspermann and Pence also talked about another bridge, but a figurative span. The pair spoke about the need to bridge partisan gaps in order for effective legislation to pass through the Statehouse.
"Problems are not Democrat or Republican, they're just problems that need to be solved," Ellspermann said.
There have been significant reforms approved in Indiana recently in education and labor such as the right-to-work legislation which Pence said he supported. But passing a law is only one step in the process, he continued.
"As I tour around the state, I sense that Hoosiers want to go from reform to results," Pence said.
As for jobs, Pence said the campaign will announce specifics of its economic development plan on a weekly basis as November nears, but he confirmed the platform will focus on creating an educated and skilled workforce as well as addressing the state's tax code.
"I think the next governor of Indiana has to make job creation job one," he said.
Pence is facing Democratic nominee John Gregg in the November runoff. Gregg announced this week longtime state Senate Majority Leader Vi Simpson as his running mate.