10 takeaways from a new biography of Mike Pence

Cover of "Pence: The Path to Power" by Andrea Neal, which goes on sale Aug. 1, 2018.

WASHINGTON — A new biography of Mike Pence is the first of several books on the vice president to hit the shelves in coming months.

“Pence: The Path to Power,” written by former IndyStar journalist Andrea Neal, becomes available August 1.

Neal, a teacher who was appointed to the State Board of Education by Governor Mike Pence in 2013, details the route Pence took from Columbus, Ind., to the White House. 

Here are some takeaways from the biography.

1. Guided by the Bible

The Bible is the book that has most influenced Pence, and the biography is peppered with references to it.

As a young congressional candidate, Pence explained his fundraising success with the Biblical quote: "Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find."

Pence’s anti-abortion views are grounded in his reading of the scripture, especially Jeremiah: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you."

When an Air Force officer was court martialed in 1997 for having an affair with a married civilian, Pence said: “I, for one, believe that the seventh commandment contained in the Ten Commandments is still a big deal.”

Pence stopped drinking the occasional can of cold beer after being elected to Congress in 2000 because of the New Testament verse that leaders should at all times be self-controlled and sober-minded.

When becoming Indiana’s governor in 2013, Pence took the oath of office on a Bible turned to 1 Kings, chapter 3: “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad; for who is able to govern so great a people?”

At the July 2016 breakfast at the governor’s residence when Trump was deciding whether to make Pence his running mate, he was intrigued that the Pences served the food themselves, and that they owned no property and had limited financial resources. Trump finally asked ”How do you live like that?” Pence replied: "God has always provided."

2. Other influential books

After the Bible, Pence has said the second-most influential book on his life is “The Conservative Mind” by Russell Kirk, considered by some to be the founder of modern American conservatism.

As a senior in high school, Pence relied heavily on the “Growth and Development of the American Constitution” by Loren Noblitt to prepare for the American Legion’s Indiana Oratorical Contest that he won. His speech coach, Debbie Shoultz, said Pence read it over and over and it “obviously had an influence on his life.”

3. About that speech club team

Pence isn’t the only notable former member of the Columbus North High School speech team. One sits on the Indiana Supreme Court. Another became a Hollywood actor, singer and songwriter. And Bob Paris, a body-builder, went on to be the first openly gay man to win Mr. Olympia.

Andrea Neal, journalist, teacher and author.

4. Pence humor

Pence has said one of the biggest misconceptions people have about him is that he doesn’t have a sense of humor. The jokester Pence was perhaps more obvious in his early days.

When Pence told the mother of a childhood friend that he wanted to be a priest, she replied that he should be a stand-up comedian instead. Imitating Darth Vader and other impressions was among the ways Pence entertained his friends.

Neal writes that an example of the type of humor Pence liked to include in his radio show was giving then-Gov. Evan Bayh, who was about to become a father, a parenthood test. To Pence's delight, Bayh failed to correctly define “binky” and “woobie” as the Pence family’s alternative names for pacifier and blanket.

5. Pence civility

A longtime Pence hallmark has been that he disagrees without being disagreeable, despite his strongly-held beliefs.

One of the first places Pence learned to co-exist with people of very different beliefs and backgrounds was his college fraternity house. His Fiji brothers included fellow members of the so-called God squad, as well as heavy partiers. He won his race for chapter president while only a sophomore, but didn't seek a second term after some blamed him for not taking the Fifth when the house got busted for having alcohol.

On Pence’s radio show, he regularly featured people with different opinions. One station even dropped Pence’s show when he refused to stop talking to the editor of NUVO, the alternative Indianapolis paper.

“My obligation first as a Christian is to try to respect that person,” Pence said of why he tried to understand the perspective of callers and guests. “If you can’t disagree and maintain some civility, then forget democracy.”

6. Key mentors

Pence, who is extremely proud of his Irish heritage, has said his Ireland-born maternal grandfather was “the proudest man I ever knew and the best man I ever knew.” Michael Richard Pence’s first words, taught to him by Richard Michael Cawley, were “you’re welcome” in Gaelic.

As a young adult, Pence was strongly influenced by a professor at Hanover College. Neal writes that Pence’s conversion to the GOP began when he enrolled in G. M. Curtis’ class on American Constitutional and Legal History.  The time spent with Curtis inside and outside the classroom was transformative, according to Neal, in exposing Pence to the intellectual arguments in support of limited government and individual responsibility.

In law school, Pence found a lifelong mentor in professor William Harvey, who modeled the same calm under pressure that Pence shows. When Pence heard during the presidential campaign that Harvey was in declining health, he called Harvey to tell him he would not have developed the legal, political and speaking skills that he did without Harvey’s teaching and mentoring.

7. Approach to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Pence, like other supporters of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was surprised by the pushback to it and by the reaction to the photo his staff released of the private bill signing ceremony in which he posed with monks, nuns, orthodox Jews and other religious leaders. Pence’s office had thought that the variety of religions and races represented would send a message of inclusion, rather than what critics saw as an illustration that the law sanctioned discrimination under the guise of religion.

Despite the growing pressure as the bill made its way to his desk, however, Pence hadn’t hesitated to sign it.

Even when amending the law become inevitable, Pence felt trapped between personal conviction and political reality. “Pressed by some of his most loyal supporters to veto or amend the fix, Pence briefly wavered,” Neal writes. Jim Atterholt, his chief of staff, told him there was no more negotiating with legislative leaders.  Pence signed the revision.

8. The RFRA interview

Neal gives a different, and more detailed, description of Pence’s decision to defend RFRA on national TV than one offered by Kate Andersen Brower in her recently-published book on vice presidents.

Brower wrote in “First in Line: Presidents, Vice Presidents, and the Pursuit of Power," that Pence and his staff had reached a consensus not to be interviewed by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. But when Pence called his aides early the next morning to say he had changed his mind, they assumed Karen Pence had weighed in.

Neal’s account doesn’t mention Karen Pence. She writes that former long-time aide and close friend Bill Smith advised against any national interviews. But Pence wanted to defend against what he saw has a bad rap not just for him, but for his fellow Hoosiers.

Stephanopoulos’ Sunday show was chosen over the conservative FOX network so Pence could reach a broader audience. But Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute, watched with dismay when Pence was unable to answer Stephanopoulos’ question about whether the law would allow a business to deny services to gays and lesbians.

9. Choosing his second lieutenant governor

When Pence was deciding on a replacement for Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, who wanted to become president of Ivy Tech Community College, his advisers narrowed the list down to former state GOP Chairman Eric Holcomb, Secretary of State Connie Lawson, and Eli Lilly executive Alex Azar.

Neal writes that the final decision came down to chemistry. Pence and Holcomb had both graduated from Hanover College where they had both served as president of the same fraternity.

“We just feel the right way forward would be to saddle up with you,” Pence — a horseback riding enthusiast — told Holcomb when offering him the job.

(And Azar is now Trump's secretary of Health and Human Services.)

10. Being chosen as vice president

After Trump held an Indiana rally in July 2016, he was forced to stay overnight because of plane trouble. That gave Pence a chance over breakfast at the governor's residence to continue to sell himself to Trump.

Neal debunks a CBS News report that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort lied about the plane's mechanical problems in an attempt to get Trump to pick Pence over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Neal interviewed the motorcade driver who spotted the plane's flat tire and alerted the Secret Service. The driver was told that a faulty brake caused the flat and a repair part had to be ordered before Trump could leave.

Contact Maureen Groppe at mgroppe@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter: @mgroppe.