A letter to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb

Governor Holcomb,

Everyone said when Mike Pence began his term as Governor he had some huge shoes to fill left by Mitch Daniels. I think that was true, but I also believe you have an even bigger set of shoes to don now that Mr. Pence has left the State House.

I appreciate your work so far as Governor. We’ve met on a couple of occasions, once in your office (I was there to take photos at an event). For the first time in a while, Hoosiers think the state the is on the right track. I’m here to implore you to take your work to the next level so Indiana can leapfrog competing states.

We know from the Indiana Chamber, among others, that Indiana’s universities are powerhouses in STEM fields. Indiana’s high school graduation rate is nation-leading. Our logistics and agriculture businesses are firing on all cylinders. Tech is flourishing at a rapid pace in Indianapolis. But we also know that migration isn’t increasing. We’re barely treading water in net migration. Let’s be honest: most people don’t want to live in Indiana.

That might be because of work or family obligations elsewhere. But we know from places like Hamilton County and Kokomo that jobs follow people, not necessarily the other way around.

Let’s be honest about another point: Americans across the country think poorly of Indiana. People think Hoosiers are friendly, but not very bright. People believe that we’re too religious to a fault, too socially conservative, and incapable of being open to new ideas and societal changes.

Does everyone believe that? Of course not. Is this all a bad thing? Not necessarily. Does it matter what other people think of us? Maybe not, but net migration is significant. I think you get my point: Indiana has a severe image problem. Our brand is tarnished. People are voting with their feet and leaving for elsewhere.

If Indiana’s goal is to attract a new, modern, educated workforce, it starts with you. If we do a quick market analysis we’ll find there’s a niche not being filled by any state: “Affordable, but progressive.”

I’m not talking progressive politics in taxation or regulation. That would undo the “affordable” part, wouldn’t it? Indiana, under your leadership, can be the nation’s leader in affordability and be noticed for being truly socially welcoming, free, and contemporary. Colorado almost had this clinched, and that’s worked well for them, but their affordability is getting out of hand.

Indiana can embrace LGBT rights, responsible marijuana and alcohol laws, urbanism in its cities and towns, technology, parks, place-making, and so much more to make communities great places to live. There has to be more than just being a place to work. Like Governor Daniels said, “We have to build the best sandbox in the country.” We’ve built the sandbox, but there aren’t many sand castles yet.

Some work will require legislation. Others are simpler, like seeing you at next year’s Indy Pride festival. Your remarks on Indiana’s alcohol laws are promising, but we can’t be seen playing catch-up from a century of lousy laws.

We don’t have the best weather or significant natural landmarks like mountains or many beaches. But there’s no reason Indiana can’t have the cultural and inspirational leadership of Washington or New York and the affordability and business climate to compete with Texas. It’s a differentiation no one else is making. Will it make some people here uncomfortable? You bet. Will it be better for Indiana in 20 years? Absolutely.

I think you know that. You can set that tone for everyone to see and recognize. The House and Senate trust you, and so do most Hoosiers, to lead Indiana’s brand to the next level.

Sincerely,

 

 

Justin Harter, Indianapolis

Eric Holcomb may be the second coming of Mitch Daniels

Mitch Daniels’ long shadow over Indiana politics doesn’t seem stunted by Mike Pence’s cloud of gloom. Now that Eric Holcomb seems to be firmly in the middle of his first legislative session, he’s hitting all the right notes to say that he’s nothing like his immediate predecessor.

Holcomb seems to be skating right around social issues that consumed Mike Pence in a flaming blaze best reserved for the most fabulous attendees at Indy Pride.

Today alone Holcomb has reversed Pence’s dumb decisions on a bunch of stuff. He issued a pardon for Keith Cooper; a man arrested nearly two decades ago for a crime everyone now recognizes he did not commit. It was also a campaign promise. Pence ignored that, along with every other duty of his office, while he was off pretending to look Vice Presidential.

Holcomb also announced a disaster declaration for East Chicago around their water-contaminated Superfund site, which by itself doesn’t do much yet. But he did ask the Mayor there for a report of what’s needed, and the disaster declaration frees up parts of the Bureau of Bureaucracy to make things happen faster. The order currently prioritizes moving people out the contaminated area.

Holcomb has also suspended a contract with Agile Networks and the Indiana Finance Authority, a move that Pence thought would bring a real boat full of money to the state to pay for his Bicentennial projects through leased wireless towers in state parks for rural Internet coverage. That, of course, didn’t happen, just like everyone said it wouldn’t. Some people operate in reality and not blind faith.

Holcomb has also expressed support for double-tracking the South Shore line in northern Indiana. Trains! I wouldn’t be surprised if Holcomb doesn’t fear buses either! And he’s clearly open to expanding needle exchanges in an attempt to do something, anything, more than what Pence’s “I’ll pray for you” approach was to drug abuse.

It’s almost like Holcomb’s not masquerading as Governor to someday become President.

If today is any indication, Eric Holcomb is going to be a conservative with a slight libertarian angle to him like Mitch Daniels. I know for a lot of people that brings a sense of dread, but there are Republicans, and there are Republicans and Daniels – and hopefully Holcomb – are the former.

I have not been shy about my support for Daniels over the years. Yeah, we got Daylight Saving Time out of it, but lest we forget Indiana was doing relatively well overall. We were reducing expenses, balancing budgets, got our first AAA bond rating (which saves state and local governments millions in financing costs), and we were most improved in state efficiency, environmental permits, job growth, and – come on people – do we remember what the BMV was like? Have you tried going to a motor vehicle department anywhere else?

A lot of low-hanging fruit was picked between 2004 and 2012. Maybe Holcomb can find the stuff that Pence missed – and he missed a lot.