Mike Pence's Political Career Was Riddled With Controversies Even Before The Religious Freedom Act

Something is amiss in the great state of Indiana, and it's drawn the attention of pretty much the entire nation. Yes, I'm talking about the state GOP's Senate Bill 101, the so-called "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" which was signed by Governor Mike Pence on Thursday, igniting a storm of criticism and outcry for its enabling of anti-gay discrimination. But make no mistake, he's never been shy about stirring the pot with strident right-wing politics — Mike Pence was courting controversy long before Indiana's anti-gay bill was signed into law, and if he's still mulling a 2016 presidential bid, you could be seeing a whole lot more of him very soon.

Of course, that last part has been badly imperiled by this recent surge of negative coverage. With major companies and institutions condemning S.B. 101 — even NASCAR, the stereotypically white, conservative-catering auto racing association, has issued a response critical of the law — it's fair to say Pence is in a far worse position for a national run then he was just months ago.

It's somewhat reminiscent of former Virginia Governor (and current convicted felon) Bob McDonnell's embrace of forced ultrasounds for women seeking abortions in the run-up to the 2012 race. When your name becomes tethered to a certain sort of unseemly social policy, and it catches fire in the media, prospects can dim in a real hurry. But that's not to say he's finished, not by a long shot — the GOP's primary voters probably wouldn't mind this episode too much, frankly. Here are a handful of other times Pence inflamed his critics, both while serving in the Indiana statehouse, and at the U.S. Capital.

He Backed A 20-Week Abortion Ban

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This isn't exactly daring by Republican standards, I admit, but it's hugely important fact for reproductive rights: Pence has publicly backed banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, alongside a slew of other would-be presidential contenders. Texas Senator Ted Cruz? Check. Jeb Bush? Check. Scott Walker and Chris Christie? You better believe it.

He's A Climate Change Denier...

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The modern-day GOP is nothing if not consistent. And on climate change, pretty consistently wrong — Pence, like so many noted non-scientists before him, is a climate change denier. Back in 2009, he claimed to MSNBC's Chris Matthews that "in the mainstream media, there is a denial of the growing skepticism in the scientific community on global warming," as detailed by ThinkProgress. For the record, that scientific consensus? 'Bout 97 percent.

...And He's Not So Sure About Evolution, Either

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In that same interview with Matthews, Pence dished out an explanation of his views on evolution. Again, this isn't unheard of in the GOP — back in the 2008 primary debates we had three Republicans candidates who admitted they didn't believe in evolution, and Pence apparently follows in that spirit.

Uh, do I believe in evolution? I embrace the view that God created the Heavens and the Earth, the Seas and all that’s in them. The means that he used to do that, I can’t say, but I do believe in that fundamental truth.

In fairness, this isn't as overt a denial as he could've given, but it's a thoroughly political one nonetheless. If evolution weren't such accepted, settled science — like climate change, as it happens — maybe he'd be more willing to flatly deny it, but it's impossible to say for sure.

Smoking Doesn't Kill People

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Yikes, wait, what? Yup! As detailed by BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski, a younger, pre-Congress Pence once wrote a newsletter explaining why "smoking doesn't kill."

Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill. In fact, 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking-related illness and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer.

Well, that doesn't make... much... sense... huh. In fairness, Pence goes on to insist that yes, smoking is bad for you, and you should quit. Which makes it all the stranger that he insisted it "doesn't kill" in the first place. A worthwhile note: saying something "doesn't kill" does not equal "kills sometimes."

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