Craig Dunn: Holcomb will be a different kind of governor
Thursday, January 19, 2017 9:30 AM
KOKOMO – When my text alert dinged on Election Day, at 11 a.m., I was surprised by the message, something to the effect of, “I will be at the Cone Palace at 12:30 if you want to join me. Invite our Howard County friends.”
With that simple text, on the biggest day of his political life, Eric Holcomb signaled that he was going to be a different kind of governor.
On a day when most candidates would be preening and posturing for television cameras in a big media market, a casually dressed Eric and Janet Holcomb drove up to Kokomo to dine on Coney dogs and corn dogs with his friends. The food was great and the conversation was relaxed and decidedly unpolitical in nature. I just wish that I could have been as relaxed that day.
Our new governor has demonstrated all over the state of Indiana that he is a confident, personable and focused man. He piles up friends the way Indianapolis Colts’ opponents pile up rushing yards. During Holcomb’s entire political career he has been as interested in friend-raising as he has fundraising. He intuitively knows that money comes and goes, but friends are with you forever. That maxim has served our new governor very well.
I’ve been around a few governors in my 40-plus years of political involvement and I’ve made watching them sort of a hobby. For some, it was somewhat akin to watching guards playing for Bobby Knight at IU. When they went up for a jump shot, you had a feeling that they had one eye on the coach, seeking his approval. We all know that that doesn’t work very well over the long run. The same is true for governors. It is hard to hit a jump shot when you have your eye on something else.
I’ve said on many an occasion and in a few Howey Politics columns that I just can’t relate to a guy who wakes up in the morning, looks at himself in the mirror and sees the next congressman, senator, governor or president. It’s not in my nature and hey, I’ve got a face for radio. Now, I can’t say for sure that our new governor doesn’t have “Hail to the Chief” on his IPOD and that he doesn’t make Janet hum the tune when he steps out of the shower, but I’ve seen no indication at this point that Eric Holcomb is focused on anything but taking Indiana to the next level.
The best evidence of Gov. Holcomb’s focus is in two of his initial actions as governor. His first executive order was to create the position of executive director for drug prevention, treatment and enforcement. While I don’t pretend to know the full range of duties that this position will contain, I do know that this step has communicated to the people of Indiana that the drug scourge that is indiscriminately killing our citizens can no longer be addressed with hope, prayers and crossed fingers.
Drug czars have been around for quite a while, but most of the governmental emphasis has been on enforcement; it is heartening to see the word “treatment” in the new position’s job title. It’s good to know that Gov. Holcomb understands that drug-hazed families won’t be served by locking them up and throwing away the key. Our local and state finances won’t support it, and dramatically reducing the demand side of the drug equation is the only viable, long-term method of permanently getting drug abuse under control. Effective treatment will provide a much-needed boost to battling this threat to our society.
The other major step taken by Gov.Holcomb last week was one that may have been missed by most people. Unfortunately, a baby with developmental delays has no $600- an-hour lobbyist camped out at the Statehouse ready to pounce on unsuspecting legislators, button-holing them for increased funding for early childhood programs. Consequently, our legislature spends a lot of time devoted to much sexier issues such as tax cuts, highway funding and naming a state pie.
Gov. Holcomb made a forceful statement when he included a 33% increase for First Steps in his proposed budget submitted to the Indiana Legislature. First Steps is a program designed to meet the developmental needs of infants and toddlers. The program, chronically limited by its budget, has had tremendous success with addressing developmental problems early in a child’s life so that the developmental problems do not provide even larger problems during their school years and thereafter. In short, First Steps is a great investment in our children that reaps massive economic benefits over the long term.
Holcomb’s recognition of the efficacy of supporting a program such as First Steps, that has neither the glaring spotlight of the press nor the lobbying prowess of the big boys, speaks volumes that he is going to be a different sort of governor. It demonstrates that he is in touch with the common man, recognizes the difficulties of those who are less fortunate and knows a good governmental investment when he sees one. Not bad for the man occupying former Gov. Oliver Morton’s seat!
Make no mistake about it. Eric Holcomb will get his chance to serve as a human piñata for the press and his opponents. All governors get whacked on at one time or another. I just suspect that Gov. Holcomb’s good-natured and well-intentioned leadership will help him pass through those times very quickly.
We have a saying in Kokomo that you can tell a lot about a man by where he eats his Coney dogs. I learned a lot about Eric Holcomb at the Cone Palace on Election Day.
Dunn is chairman of the Howard County Republican Party. He is stepping down from that position in March.