By Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
Indiana’s 50th governor spent his pre-inaugural weekend dining and dancing with contributors at a fancy ball, greeting supporters at a “family fun” event at a race car factory, and worshiping with several hundred people at a prayer service where some requests to heaven may have been weather-related.
Bracing for bone-chilling cold after a weekend of pounding rain, Republican Gov.-elect Mike Pence plans to be sworn in today in an outdoor ceremony at the Statehouse expected to attract hundreds.
The below-freezing but sunny forecast for the 11 a.m. ceremony seemed a blessing Sunday, as Pence supporters scurried out of the rain and into the Indiana Convention Center to attend a praise-and-worship service that was part of the official inaugural events.
Included in the lineup of musicians at the service was former Indianapolis Colts punter Hunter Smith, who led his country-rock band through a series of religious songs after telling Pence that he was grateful for the “godly leadership” he’d bring to Indiana.
Among the religious leaders who spoke at the service was Rabbi Yisrael Gettinger of Indianapolis, who said many members of his Jewish congregation were proud to know Pence — a man who describes himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.”
“It’s my blessing and prayer that we continue to feel that way about you,” Gettinger said. “That you will indeed exercise the wisdom that will be given to you hopefully by the Almighty, so that you will be indeed be respected, loved and revered for your accomplishments.”
The Rev. Raymond Dix, a Baptist minister from Gary, said Pence would be best served by being a “servant leader” and read a New Testament passage in which the apostle Paul called on followers of Jesus to set aside ambition and conceit and put the needs of others first.
It was one of the few openly religious events associated with the Pence campaign since he launched his successful bid for governor in 2011. On the campaign trail, and in press conferences since his November victory, Pence has downplayed his socially conservative views and talked up his priorities to boost jobs and education.
On Saturday, Pence and his wife, Karen, greeted supporters who came to a free event at the Dallara IndyCar Factory near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Later, they hosted about 1,800 people at a $75-a-person inaugural ball at the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis that was closed to most of the media.
“Tonight is not about us. It’s about all of you,” Pence told the ball crowd, before going on to praise his predecessor, Gov. Mitch Daniels, and invoke the name of the Colts’ rookie quarterback. “We know we stand on the shoulders of giants. As I think about the opportunity and challenge before us, now I know how Andrew Luck felt,” Pence said.
Today’s swearing-in ceremony is scheduled to take place on the west steps of the Indiana Statehouse, which overlooks a large plaza between two state government office buildings. It’s the first outdoor inaugural since 1997.
Last week, Pence said four former Indiana governors have accepted his invitation to attend the inauguration. They include Daniels, 95-year-old Ed Whitcomb, and Democrats Evan Bayh and Joe Kernan.
Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann and Attorney General Greg Zoeller, both Republicans, also will take the oath of office during the ceremony. Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, asked to be sworn in last December, after her election was certified. She’s announced that she’ll host a separate inaugural celebration on Jan. 19 at the Statehouse.
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at email@example.com.