Mike Pence Said Martin Luther King Jr. Was His Hero Growing Up. Here’s Why That Sounds Absurd.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., during a campaign event to announce Pence as the vice presidential running mate on, Saturday, July 16, 2016, in New York. CREDIT: EVAN VUCCI, AP
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., during a campaign event to announce Pence as the vice presidential running mate on, Saturday, July 16, 2016, in New York. CREDIT: EVAN VUCCI, AP

When Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump introduced Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate in New York on Saturday, Pence pointed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a hero of his when he was younger.

“I grew up with a front row seat to the American dream,” Pence said. “The heroes of my childhood were Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy… but I was inspired by the ideals of our 40th president and became a Republican.”

The fact that Pence is referencing King as an inspiration may seem ludicrous when you look at Pence’s record.

King stood with President Lyndon B. Johnson as the 1965 Voting Rights Act was signed into law. Yet, when it comes to voting rights, an issue that King fought hard for, you see that Indiana doesn’t make it easy for voters to get to the polls. The state only kept polling places open until 6 p.m. during the May primary, although most states keep their polls open to 8 p.m. or even later. Indiana doesn’t have any laws that require employers to allow workers to leave work to go vote.


In contrast, King said in his 1957 speech called “Give Us The Ballot,” “So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind. It is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact. I can only submit to the edict of others.”

King was also an important leader for labor rights. The day before he was assassinated, he gave a speech to support sanitation workers who were on strike in Memphis. Those sanitation workers were trying to get union recognition. King spoke often about growing economic inequality and said social reforms should not be attacked as being “communist,” according to a collection of speeches that were recently discovered by historians.


Pence, however, hasn’t been a friend to workers during his time as governor of Indiana. Although Indiana did not become a right-to-work state under his leadership, he fought to keep the law in place when two judges ruled that it violated the state’s constitution. Pence has also opposed raising the minimum wage and signed a law repealing the state’s common construction wage, which would allow workers for publicly-funded projects to earn a higher wage.

Pence also supported cutting food stamps for tens of thousands of people by reinstating work requirements for food stamps despite the fact that the state was eligible for a federal waiver from those requirements. Indiana joined states reinstating these rules even though the unemployment rate was high enough to allow many more people to receive food stamps. According to Pence, cutting food stamps would motivate poor people to find work.

In comparison, King advocated for a guaranteed income. He said that the government needed to make sure that no matter what was going in the economy, every American would have an income to support themselves on. According to The Atlantic, King wrote in his 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? that “the problem indicates that our emphasis must be two-fold. We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position, we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted.”

King was staunchly anti-war and decried spending federal dollars on wars rather than domestic programs. In a speech called “Beyond Vietnam,” King said, “A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program… Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.”

Pence, meanwhile, strongly supported the Iraq War. In the fall of 2002, Pence said there should be a formal declaration of war and said on CNN, there’s overwhelming evidence… circumstantial and otherwise to suggest a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda.” Pence downplayed the aftermath of the Operation Iraqi Freedom, and wrote, “I told reporters afterward that it was just like any open-air market in Indiana in the summertime.”

During the same speech in which he mentioned his early admiration for King, Pence warned Americans that the Obama administration’s policies and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s actions as Secretary of State were weakening America’s standing in the world. Pence said, “History teaches us that weakness arouses evil.”