INDIANAPOLIS — On the morning after the U.S. Capitol was breached by protestors turned belligerent, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb had plenty of reflection to share on the nation’s current political climate during a small-group interview session Wednesday afternoon.
In an interview with KPC Media Group and members of two other Indiana media outlets on Wednesday, Holcomb stressed that there is a “better way” than the lawlessness on display in Washington D.C., but that way takes work, it takes dedication and it takes responsibility and accountability in both those in power and those who want to enact change.
The governor, who is opening his second four-year term in office after being re-elected widely in November’s election, is looking forward, not just toward political healing but also toward beating COVID-19 in Indiana and getting back to his bread and butter economic focus for the state.
Thursday morning, following the historic event of the storming of the U.S. Capitol by people attending a pro-President Donald Trump rally in protest of the 2020 election was on the mind of the governor along with many Americans.
“It was Abraham Lincoln who said, and I’ll paraphrase, once that he was told he was on the road to Hell, he just didn’t realize it was 1 mile down the road and there was a dome on it,” Holcomb said. “When I think about the hellish scene I saw yesterday at our dome at this truly shining city on a hill, figuratively and literally, I described it in two words as ‘sickening’ and ‘saddening.’ It was tough to watch folks who think the rules need not apply to them, that their perceived wrong would make it right.”
But Holcomb called Wednesday a “wake up” moment for America and not the kind of “wake up” that the people breaching the Capitol would likely be calling for. Instead, Holcomb said it’s an opportunity to reset the scorecard of politics and turn focus toward deeds, actions and accomplishments instead of words and inflammatory rhetoric.
“What I want to do is serve as an example in the state of Indiana, inside our borders, and present Exhibit B,” Holcomb said. “If you think Exhibit A gets you to your end, we have Exhibit B, which is all about practicing what we preach, accepting the facts and truth, being courageous enough to make difficult decisions and then live by them and focusing on the job at hand.”
Holcomb, who has drawn ire from people on the far right of his own Republican Party for his handling of COVID-19, including a state lockdown last spring and an ongoing mask mandate, acknowledges there are some people who simply can’t or don’t want to be reached by facts. He doesn’t dive into the comments sections on his own weekly press conferences, where you can find not only plenty of biting criticism but also plenty of disinformation and other general nastiness from and between Hoosiers.
Holcomb worries this latest chapter of political violence will turn off even more people from wanting to get involved and wanting to serve in a legitimate way, which is the opposite of what the state and the nation needs to keep moving forward.
Political divisions aren’t just right-left. They’re ongoing between moderates and extremists on both sides of the aisle and Holcomb’s stance is that tangible actions will speak louder to people than fiery words.
“We need to be held accountable. You see that reflected in people’s moods and attitudes toward those in elected office,” Holcomb said. “I think it puts even more pressure on those in office, whether it’s local, federal, state, to deliver on results and not just talk about whether you’re on the fringe or in the middle, but are your policies actually leading to a result that you claim is possible?”
And for those that want to make a change, there are channels to do that from both lawmakers and ordinary people. Whether people want to put in the work, however, or try to take a shortcut to get their way is a different story.
Holcomb stated there was “zero evidence of any wrongdoing” in Indiana’s 2020 election. But for those that have grievance with how it runs in Indiana or those in other states who take issue with their procedures, there is a process to review, tweak or make changes for the better.
If there are legitimate concerns, Holcomb said he’s interested to see if there will be legitimate work that follows. If not, that will be telling about what’s recently transpired.
Holcomb deferred on a question about whether he thinks Trump should be allowed to finish out the final now-less-than two weeks of his term or if he should be immediately removed from office via the procedures of the 25th Amendment, a notion that is now even getting some backing from Congressional Republicans after Wednesday’s events.
“My opinion doesn’t matter, doesn’t mean anything, it’s not my job, I don’t have a vote in it,” Holcomb said. “Having said that, we’re 13 days away from what everyone has acknowledged will be a transfer of power.”
That transfer of power will put Holcomb’s party out of power on the national stage as Democrat Joe Biden will be the next president, the House remains under Democratic majority — albeit a smaller one than before — and Democrats will hold the bare minimum majority stake in the Senate with the chamber split 50-50 after Democrats narrowly won both runoff Senate races in Georgia, defeating Republican incumbents.
One advantage Indiana had during the Trump administration was that several Hoosiers had been slotted into various federal roles, not least of which was former Gov. Mike Pence serving as vice president.
Hoosiers working in Washington through the Trump administration have included former Sen. Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence; Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services; Jerome Adams, Surgeon General; Seema Varma, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid administrator, among others in lesser roles.
Even without multiple direct lines to Hoosiers in Washington in the coming Biden administration, Holcomb was still confident that Indiana won’t miss out on any substantial clout and said he’d encourage members of any federal administration to turn their eyes toward Indiana if they need input or ideas.
Holcomb has also developed strong relations with Indiana’s Congressional delegation — which consists of two Democratic House members along with seven Republican representatives and two Republican Senators — and that communicating across the aisle with Indiana’s own has never been a challenge.
Holcomb cited as an example strong cooperation with former Democratic Rep. Pete Visclosky, who represented northwest Indiana before retiring at the end of this term, on a project to secure funding to double-track the South Shore rail line to Chicago to improve commuter options from Indiana to the city.
The governor also noted that COVID-19 has brought him into contact and cooperation with many other governors around the Midwest of both parties as they all work together to take a regional approach to containing the contagious virus in their states.
“I look forward to working with everyone and anyone that wants to help Indiana get better and stronger and that’s what matters top me,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb briefly fielded questions about working though backlogs in unemployment benefits — the state has distributed more than $6 billion in assistance since the start of the pandemic — and in continued work with the state lawmakers and state agencies on improving care for seniors in nursing care, especially after those facilities have been hit hard by COVID-19.
Battling COVID-19 is obviously top of the agenda right now for Indiana, but the state is seeing the end of the pandemic in the distance as vaccines have started going out.
Distribution of vaccines is the main order of business right now, with the state announcing Wednesday that Hoosiers 80 and older can begin receiving shots as soon as this weekend and eligibility expands to the state’s oldest and most vulnerable population.
Holcomb’s term will extend beyond the pandemic, assuming it gets under control primarily during 2021, so what lies on the other side of COVID-19?
For Holcomb, who is more cut from the mold of economically minded former Gov. Mitch Daniels than from his previous boss in the more politically focused Pence, his priorities past the pandemic will shift back to economy and workforce.
“How do we accelerate away from COVID-19 safely and position ourselves and everything we’ve been doing?” Holcomb said of his second-term goals. “A lot of the investments that we’re making are all future-oriented, whether it’s making sure we’re future-proofing job security and pursuing strategically the types of jobs that will be there in 40 years.”
Indiana is currently an in-migration state, with more Americans coming into the state than leaving it for others. A significant flow of that migration is coming out of neighboring Illinois, but the state is drawing from other places, too. Home building boomed in 2020 compared to other years.
But Indiana is also seeing what Holcomb called a “K-shaped recovery” from COVID-19. Some industries like construction, RV manufacturing and marine manufacturing have boomed coming out of the pandemic shutdown in early 2020, but others haven’t rebounded nearly as well.
Echoing a need northeast Indiana development officials talk about frequently, Holcomb said skilling up workers to fill the cutting edge jobs the state is developing in advanced manufacturing and other fields has to be a priority. And with the pandemic proving the usefulness and importance of technology in the modern economy, that need has only been reinforced.
“A lot of different industries that are crushing it, but there are some on that other leg that we have to skill up to fill the jobs that are there,” Holcomb said. “Because of COVID-19 and technology and global trade, COVID-19 has brought the future up a lot closer, faster.”
Rapid economic changes that left some workers in the dust played into part of the core reasons why Trump attracted a lot of support in his initial bid for the White House, especially in rural and working-class areas that have fallen behind more than urban centers.
The state vision ties back to his earlier commentary on actions vs. words — Holcomb’s goal for the next four years is to try to make the moves or at least set in motion the pieces that will position Indiana’s economy and people to thrive in the next phase of America’s modern workforce.
He’s looking 40 years ahead, with four more years to do his part to make it so.
“That’s our central focus is, that’s our vision and how do we realize our vision so that in 40 years, what we did here in the last four, eight, we can not just be proud of but it makes a marketable difference,” Holcomb said.