INDIANAPOLIS — When Fort Wayne needed expensive airport improvements, its mayor contacted an influential Indiana native — then-Vice President Dan Quayle — to help secure federal funding.
Now that former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is the new vice president, residents are hopeful his home state could again reap some benefits.
However, much has changed in the nearly 25 years since Quayle served under President George H.W. Bush. Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress, swore off earmarks under former President Barack Obama. And federal laws and regulations forbid many officials who oversee the awarding of contracts and grants from considering undue White House influence.
“They don’t have as much power as they used to have. They do have some, but it’s at the margins,” said Elaine Kamarck, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute who also served as an aide to former Democratic Vice President Al Gore. “Most federal grants are given according to a formula and it’s hard, if you don’t meet the requirements, to have a politician intervene and get a grant — often it’s downright illegal.”
Paul Helmke, the former Fort Wayne Mayor and current public affairs professor at Indiana University, recadlls getting federal funding for the city airport after Quayle “put in a word” He says Quayle also smoothed the way for a flood abatement project in the city.
Former aides say Quayle secured funding for a state park interpretive center along the Ohio River and helped land a massive railroad bypass in Lafayette.
While new President Donald Trump has promised to spend big on federal infrastructure, it’s not clear whether Pence’s role in the administration will have much influence on what projects Indiana lands.
Still, some Indiana GOP leaders who recently proposed a tax increase to pay for infrastructure projects are hoping Pence might help nab a larger-than-usual share of federal funding for roads.
“Dan Quayle never forgot Indiana and never forgot his Hoosier friends,” said former aide Bill Neale, who served as a campaign treasurer for both Quayle and Pence. “I think everybody has that same hope now that there will be a favorable ear in the White House.”
Pence, who was not only Indiana’s chief executive but also served six terms in the U.S. House, is poised to wield considerable influence under Trump, who had never held public office and has openly feuded with members of his own party. Quayle, who served in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate but never as governor, worked under a president with a longer resume of public service.
But while Indiana officials may already be looking to D.C. for help, there’s still no guarantee that it will come. John Nance Garner, one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice presidents, famously said the office was “not worth a bucket of warm spit.”
Historically, the duties of the vice president have included overseeing the Senate, where they can provide a tie-breaking vote if the chamber is deadlocked. But the job also involves international travel and meeting with foreign dignitaries.
The power of the office has grown in recent years as the last two vice presidents, Dick Cheney and Joe Biden, have taken on key advisory roles under the commander-in-chief.
Pence has said that he wants to model his term after Cheney, who as George W. Bush’s vice president was extremely influential in the administration’s foreign policy decisions. Pence’s spokesman, Marc Lotter, declined comment on the new vice president’s plans for his home state.
Leslie Lenkowsky, who led an agency under President George W. Bush, cautioned that just because the White House wants something doesn’t mean professional government service workers will comply. He recalled fielding a phone call from Laura Bush’s chief of staff after turning down a grant application from an organization favored by the first lady.
“It’s not that easy for the president, and certainly not the vice president, to get in the middle of awarding a grant or contract,” Lenkowsky said.
Former Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, a one-time Quayle staffer, said the former vice president was able to steer some funding home for projects. But the benefits aren’t always easy to quantify, he said.
“Access to government is always something that people pay a lot of money for,” said Zoeller, who added that a well-placed call from the White House will certainly be noted by members of Congress and executive agency heads.
But, he added, it cuts both ways, because “the more people you know, the more people are going to be contacting you.”
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