INDIANAPOLIS – Republican Gov. Mike Pence has picked a prominent Democrat as the new leader of Indiana's business-recruitment agency.
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Pence on Wednesday named Jim Schellinger as president of the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the agency Pence turned to for helping improve the state's image following a national uproar earlier this year over Indiana's new religious objections law.
Schellinger is CEO of Indianapolis-based CSO Architects and has been a member of the IEDC's board of directors, of which Pence is chairman.
Schellinger narrowly lost the Democratic primary for governor in 2008 and has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic campaigns over the past 20 years. He is chairman of a political action committee supporting state and local Democratic candidates, but Schellinger and his wife donated $15,000 to Pence's campaign fund to last year.
The Indiana Economic Development Corp. announced July 2 it was canceling a contract with a New York-based public relations firm that was hired in April for what was anticipated as a $2 million campaign to counter damage to the state's reputation from the religious objections law, which critics argued was anti-gay.
Pence has said that the contract was no longer needed because of economic growth that dropped the state's unemployment rate to 4.9 percent in June. Pence hasn't supported calls for extending Indiana's anti-discrimination laws to cover sexual orientation and gender identity, which many Democrats maintain is needed to counter the negative image from the religious objections law, which Pence signed in March.
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Schellinger will take a leave of absence from CSO Architects and start in the state position on Aug. 10.
Schellinger's political committee, the Indiana Democrats Victory Committee, donated more than $75,000 to Pence's 2012 Democratic opponent, former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg and $150,000 to Joe Hogsett, the Democratic candidate for Indianapolis mayor in this year's election.
Gregg, who is seeking a rematch with Pence in 2016, did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment. But Michael Clayton, who is treasurer for Gregg's campaign and the Indiana Democrats Victory Committee, said Schellinger will likely have to step down from his post as chairman of the PAC.
But that doesn't mean the group will be hamstrung raising money during the 2016 race, Clayton said.
"While Jim has been the chairman of one of our major fundraising entities, there are a lot of other people on the committee that are certainly there to take up the slack," Clayton said.
Schellinger replaces Eric Doden as the state agency's leader. Doden announced in February he would be stepping down after about two years in the position. Doden was named in May as CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc., making him head of the economic development agency in his hometown.