By BRIAN A. HOWEYin Indianapolis
and MARK SCHOEFF JR., in Washington

The next 350-plus days promise to be a watershed year. We could be watching the most powerful governor operate and consolidate in the state’s history. We could be witnessing the ascension of a fourth Hoosier president.

We will be watching the first true “opioid budget” coming with looming billion-dollar price tags as Hoosiers in all socio-economic classes grapple with this insidious evil. And we will be scanning the horizons to determine whether this has become a true one-party state.

This year’s Power 50 list reflects the emerging prowess of Gov. Eric Holcomb, who has accumulated an unprecedented array of political and policy attributes. It is a biennial budget year with a new leadership and fiscal team in the Senate, and new players in the House.

It will be a municipal election year. In a state where the only true Democratic power resides in city halls, it will be fascinating to see whether the Republican encroachment can overtake Democratic mayors Tom Henry in Fort Wayne and Joe Hogsett in Indianapolis (pictured, right). We learned in the wake of Sen. Joe Donnelly’s defeat last year that the Democratic Party’s base has been fractured and ransacked. It controls just 43 of the 150 General Assembly seats, two of 11 congressional seats, no constitutional offices in the Statehouse, only 20% of county courthouse offices and only 11% of county commissioner seats. This is the first Power 50 since 1999 where one party dominates the top 10.

If the Democratic Party begins to lose the big city halls, then we are truly looking at a decade of monolithic Republican rule. We will be watching to see if a Baron Hill, John Gregg or Christina Hale emerges to credibly challenge Gov. Holcomb in 2020. The Democrat Party’s mayors appear to be staying in their municipal lanes.

One of those mayors, South Bend’s Pete Buttigieg, looks to be preparing for a presidential run. He would join the ranks of Birch Bayh, Vance Hartke, Richard Lugar, Evan Bayh, Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence who at one point in their career looked in the mirror and saw a future president. Some say Buttigieg is simply angling for a cabinet post in a Democratic administration. But history shows us obscure governors like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton made it all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and so did a Manhattan billionaire no one gave much credence.

As for Vice President Mike Pence, his lifelong aspiration has been that very address. If scandal and indictments overtake the Trump clan, Pence could make the ultimate ascension to power.

Here is the 2019 HPI Power 50 list.

1. Gov. Eric Holcomb: The governor has become one of the strongest in modern history, coming in a state with a historically and constitutionally weak chief executive. He begins the second half of his initial term with another super-majority Republican General Assembly. To put that in perspective, Gov. Mitch Daniels had to deal with a Democratic House and Speaker Pat Bauer in his third year, Gov. Robert Orr was saddled with a deep recession, a historic budget deficit and had to call a special session for a record tax increase (leading to a tough and narrow reelection victory in 1984), and Gov. Doc Bowen lost General Assembly majorities heading into his third year due to the electoral fallout from the Watergate scandal. The Holcomb administration has been stable, with few agency and senior staff departures that typically come by now. With the Senate and fiscal leadership changes this past year, Holcomb’s budget team wields unprecedented influence in that sphere. With the decision by Supt. Jennifer McCormick not to seek reelection, Holcomb is poised to move up the date for a gubernatorially appointed superintendent to coincide with his 2020 reelection, which would allow him to be the first governor to consolidate education appointees within his administration. Govs. Bayh, O’Bannon and Pence could have only dreamed of such a scenario. Politically, he sits on an unprecedented $4 million campaign war chest ($4.8 million when combined with Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch) and nearly $6 million when the Indiana GOP is included. So, this gives Holcomb immense political clout as his team seeks to ward off credible Libertarian and Democratic challengers. His approval rating in the Public Opinion Strategies Poll in December stood at a gaudy 65%, with only 22% disapproving. The state’s right/wrong track numbers were at 55/33%. All of this allows Holcomb to use his considerable political capital on such issues as hate crime legislation. He is prudently looking to increase by considerable amounts state investments in the Department of Child Services, Medicaid expansion, the opioid crisis, rural broadband and a state trails system. And his consolidation of power has given him the gravitas to make out-of-box decisions, such as his toll road tax increase on truckers last summer. While it has prompted some pushback from legislators, this is classic asset management with a strong hand that he learned from his days under Gov. Daniels. When you scan Holcomb’s horizons, only the specter of a recession glowers. Holcomb is taking the policy helm of the Republican Governors Association, giving him a foothold on the national stage. There have been some rumors of a Holcomb appointment as ambassador to Italy (and he has made recent trips to Dallara HQ at Varano de’ Melegari), but spokeswoman Rachel Hoffmeyer insisted the rumors have no basis. When you add all of this up, and ponder a potentially open White House in 2024 (or, perhaps, a Democrat incumbent), don’t be surprised if you start hearing Team Holcomb talk about a presidential run after his boot heels amble out of the Second Floor in a six-year scenario.

2. Vice President Mike Pence: When it comes to worries about who is left in the administration to rein in Trump, few mention Pence. Is that further evidence that Pence is looking out for his political future and trying to position himself to take over when Trump is ousted or leaves offices? For the moment, Pence is not perceived publicly as a Dick Cheney exercising power behind the scenes. Watching the vice president this past year has been a virtual bipolar experience. We don’t know if we’re looking at a future president by year’s end, or yet another loyal associate of President Trump who ends up under the bus. We don’t know if the Mike Pence we’re watching is a critical mechanism keeping the mercurial POTUS inside the guardrails, or a toady stooge fanning his worst instincts. At this writing, he is backing the president’s description of a “national emergency” with terrorists coming across the southern border, with no statistical data to back up the assertion. Depending on what Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia collusion report says, many expect Trump, in his best case scenario, to face a political maelstrom, or in the worst case, allegations of treason, high crimes and misdemeanors that could force him from office. On the public front, Pence has been an undyingly loyal lieutenant willing to chuck long-standing principles on free trade and fiscal responsibility for Trump. As the federal government was poised for shutdown, Pence became a zombie, silent as Trump vowed to “accept the mantle” of the shutdown. By the second week, Pence had become point man on negotiations despite his lack of relationships with any congressional Democrat. We watched in fascination Pence chief of staff Nick Ayres flirt with the notion of accepting that tormented post under Trump. That Ayres decamped to Georgia instead leads us to believe that he is keeping his powder dry for a similar future opportunity with Pence should Trump be forced from office.

3. Speaker Brian Bosma: There is persistent talk that after the change of the guard in the Senate, we could be looking at the twilight of Bosma’s speakership. His path to the governorship was blocked by the Republican Central Committee in August 2016. In the modern era, only Doc Bowen was able to ascend from a speakership to governor. A 2024 run is a possibility given Bosma’s extensive House network across the state and his fundraising prowess, but Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch appears to be well prepared to assume the gubernatorial mantle in ways her predecessors were not. This budget session gives Bosma more clout than in past years, with the critical injuries to Chairman Tim Brown, and the new Senate fiscal team of Ryan Mishler and Travis Holdman. Bosma has moved some of his top policy talent over to Ways & Means, and he is appointing Reps. Todd Huston and Holli Sullivan to prominent fiscal roles.  

4. Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray: Hoosier voters are familiar with a number of political family dynasties (e.g. the Bayhs, Carsons, O’Bannons and Viscloskys) and now another is emerging with the Brays. Senate Republicans chose Bray as the incoming president pro tempore, replacing the retiring David Long. Bray’s election differed from the other two pro tempore showdowns in 1980 and 2006 that have shaped the modern leadership of the Indiana Senate. Those were three-way races with Sen. Robert Garton defeating Sens. Larry Borst and Joe Harrison in 1980 (Harrison cut a deal with the winner). In 2006, Long out-distanced Sens. Brent Steele and Tom Weatherwax with the help of six female senators and four moderates after Garton was defeated in the primary. Bray, 49, comes from a political family. His grandfather was U.S. Rep. William Bray. His father, Richard Bray, served in both the Indiana House and Senate in the seat he serves today. “We were a very political family,” Bray said a few days after his selection. “Some people say the rule of thumb is you don’t talk politics or religion at family dinners; it’s not too much of an exaggeration that’s what we talked about exclusively. You glean information and opinions from that and, by its very nature, you adopt those types of issues. I did as a child spend a decent amount of time at the Statehouse being a page for my father. I just appreciate the place and respect it. It’s a fun honor to be here now.” The Martinsville Republican is already wielding considerable influence, announcing he was steering hate crime legislation into the Senate Rules Committee he controls. That was the kind of decisive leadership that Long used and it looks as if it will continue with Bray.

5. Ways & Means Chairman Tim Brown: The fact that Dr. Brown is even with us after suffering critical injuries in Michigan late last summer underscores the notion in the famed song, “Ain’t God Been Good to Indiana.” Brown has been a steady fiscal steward on Ways & Means and his loss there would have been a tragic chapter. Brown is still recovering and is handing some of the early budget work to Reps. Todd Huston and Holli Sullivan. With the new fiscal team in the Senate, this House triumvirate will be a steadying influence in this changing-of-the-guard scenario.

6. Senate Appropriations Chairman Ryan Mishler: The new Senate Appropriations chairman is the son of a legislator, hails from Bremen and was first elected in 2004. Once on the fiscal track, he established working relationships with Luke Kenley, Brandt Hershman and House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown. Since 1970, only Republicans Larry Borst, Robert Meeks and Kenley have chaired the appropriations portfolio in the Senate, so this is a historic changing of the guard. Doc Bowen’s legacy helped shape his career. “My dad was in the House years ago and (Bowen) was the one who really convinced my dad to run for the House. He ran for the first time in 1980,” Mishler told HPI. “I’ve known Doc Bowen from a young age. When I decided to run, that was one of the first places I went. He had these index cards and he told about things to do as a candidate. His No. 1 rule was, ‘Never use your own money.’” This will be Mishler’s first biennial budget since taking the Appropriations helm in 2017. “Obviously, I want to keep a balanced budget and strong reserves,” he told HPI. “As a business owner, that’s a general philosophy every day. Indiana is a fiscal leader in the country and I want it to continue to be. I want to keep our bond rating and remain the fiscal envy of the country.” As for the opioid crisis, Mishler said he will use accumulated data gathered by the Holcomb administration to address priorities, ranging from DCS to Medicaid expansion. “We’ll have the flexibility to deal with this opioid crisis and I think by the next budget cycle the administration will have data for what we need to do.” 

7.: U.S. Sen. Todd Young: Indiana’s senior senator will have the most challenging two years of any member of the Hoosier delegation. As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he’ll have to figure out how to defend GOP seats during an election cycle in which President Trump could suffer grave political injuries from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and if the economy falters or goes into a recession. If Trump survives the Mueller report, his continued multiple daily tweets – and propensity for falsehoods – will give Young plenty of flak to catch. Will Young be able to take advantage of Trump’s popularity with the GOP base while shielding his candidates from the worst of Trump’s excesses and deficiencies? Is he sure he wanted this job? Stay tuned.

8. Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch: She is the fourth female LG, but potentially the first to ascend to the governor’s office. From a political standpoint, she has traveled more extensively across the state than her predecessors. She posted $815,000 on her year-end finance report but that’s really $1 million, considering she gave $200,000 from her coffers to Gov. Holcomb (on top of the $200,000 check she wrote him in 2016). She oversees five state agencies that primarily serve rural Indiana. When you hear Holcomb talk about “rural Indiana as the next economic frontier,” he’s really talking about those policies/programs which Crouch is leading. She has a close relationship with Accelerating Indiana Municipalities, where Matt Greller is seeking to create regional hubs of innovation that Crouch buys into. And she’s maintained strong relationships with legislators of both parties. Crouch is leading on rural broadband expansion in response to outcry from rural communities clamoring for fast, reliable internet service. She created the cabinet-level position that brought Scott Rudd and his expertise into the job, found the money for the “broadband-ready” pilot projects through OCRA, advocated for $100 million broadband money to be part of Next Level Connections. She is also transforming the state’s tourism agency.

9. U.S. Sen. Mike Braun: The Jasper businessman and former state legislator pulled off two upsets in 2018, sidelining U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita in the primary, and then defeating U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly in the general. He used his career and business as the “outsider,” painting himself as a more disciplined entrepreneur than President Trump to return Indiana to a one-party Senate team (which ended in 1998 when Evan Bayh went to the Senate). No one will be sitting on the edge of their chairs wondering whether Braun will support President Trump when he comes under fire from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings. He should be with Trump until the bitter end because he basically owes his seat to Trump’s visits to Indiana last fall that stoked up the GOP base. Braun fared well in his committee assignments: He was placed on the Senate Agriculture and Environment and Public Works committees, which will give him plenty of opportunities to deliver for Indiana. He’s also on the Senate Budget Committee, which will give him an opportunity to pushback on profligate Trump administration policies, if he decides to jump into that fray. He’s also on the Special Committee on Aging and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Braun’s first bill would freeze congressinal pay during government shutdowns.

10. National Intelligence Director Dan Coats: The former Indiana senator is now widely seen as one of the “adults” keeping President Trump within the “guardrails.” This part of the administration once included Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Chief of Staff John Kelly and Defense Sec. Jim Mattis. Only Coats remains. It has been a tortured tenure for Coats, who remains close with Vice President Pence. Trump appeared to side with Russian President Putin last June in Helsinki over U.S. intelligence estimates that the Kremlin assaulted the 2016 election. Coats then seemed to be caught off guard at the Aspen Conference when the White House announced a fall meeting with Putin (which was subsequently cancelled). Coats has expressed concerns about cyberterrorism that could assault and shut down the energy and internet grids. Thus he walks a tight rope with a volatile president who can easily distrust key officials in his own administration, while keeping morale kindled within the intel ranks. Think of the book he could write once this chapter of Coats’ life closes (and we hope and pray it extends another two years).

11. Reps. Todd Huston and Holli Sullivan: With Chairman Tim Brown still on the mend, Huston and Sullivan will play key roles on the biennial budget. Sullivan also has dual roles: She assumed the Roads and Transportation chair from the mercurial Ed Soliday (who walked back his incendiary comments after Holcomb’s decision not to seek new tolls) and is also secretary of the Indiana Republican Party.

12. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett: The mayor is now the most conspicuous Democrat in the state, and will seek a second term this year. While internal polling HPI has seen shows the mayor with strong favorables and reelect numbers, he will also battle perception problems as the city has notched yet another record homicide rate. There are also road and infrastructure problems, prompting him to successfully seek $120 million for improvements there. Hogsett will play a key role this winter in seeking state funding for Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, a move being orchestrated to keep the Indiana Pacers here for the next generation. This could require Hogsett to work in tandem with Gov. Holcomb the way Mayor Stephen Goldsmith and Gov. Frank O’Bannon did in 1997, and again in 2005 when Gov. Daniels and Mayor Bart Peterson joined forces to fund Lucas Oil Stadium. Hogsett is telling people he will not run for governor in 2020.

13. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg: This rising star Democrat announced in December he won’t seek a third term and is preparing a presidential bid. In 2010, he unsuccessfully challenged State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, served in the Afghanistan War as a naval intelligence officer, and became the highest-profile Hoosier politician to announce he is gay. State and national Democrats have wooed him to challenge Rep. Jackie Walorski or Gov. Holcomb, but after an unsuccessful run for Democratic National Committee chair last year when he picked up the support of former chairs Ed Rendell, Howard Dean and top Obama era operative David Axelrod, Buttigieg will likely opt for a presidential race where he doesn’t register in the early polls. But the 2020 race is utterly wide open and even the most obscure entrant could have a shot, as President Trump showed could happen just two years ago. Some believe he is angling for a potential cabinet post, but his JFK-style calls for a passing of the torch to a new generation could resonate, so he will be a fascinating candidate to watch.

14. Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer: He is the most conspicuous part of Gov. Holcomb’s tight inner circle, that includes 4th CD Chairman Mike O’Brien and Brian McGrath, who heads up the Imagine Indiana advocacy arm. This is the group with which Holcomb mulls policy and politics. The junior concentric circle here includes Indiana GOP Executive Director Matt Huckleby, Joe Elsner (who handles messaging), GOP Finance Director Mindy Colbert (who was instrumental to the governor posting $4 million for his reelection), and GOP Communications Director Pete Seat. These are the folks that make Team Holcomb a historic force to be reckoned with. During his two years heading up Holcomb’s political wing, Hupfer has united the various campaigns (governor, lieutenant governor and state GOP) and raised an unprecedented amount of money while the GOP dominates the Statehouse, General Assembly, congressional delegation and county offices.

15. U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky: The Merrillville Democrat is closing in on former Republican Sen. Richard Lugar for the longest tenure of a Hoosier federal officeholder, according to the website Capitol & Washington run by HPI columnist Trevor Foughty. Visclosky currently has clocked in 34 years, 11 days and will surpass Lugar on Jan. 4, 2021, if he continues his House service. Visclosky has specialized in bringing federal dollars to his northwest Indiana district to fund transportation and other projects. Now that the Democrats are in the majority in the House, will he able to do more with his Appropriations Committee assignment – or expand his portfolio beyond federal funding? We’ll see.

16. State Sen. Ron Alting and Mike Bohacek: These two Senate Republicans are authoring hate crime legislation, coming after Gov. Holcomb announced it would be a 2019 legislative priority. State Rep. Greg Steuerwald is authoring the House version. The decision by President Bray to assign all such bills to the Senate Rules Committee that he controls isn’t concerning to the two Republican senators. “I have full confidence in the process,” Bohacek told IndyStar. “And I trust Bray to do the right thing to bring a bill that gives a fair and equitable position to Indiana citizens.” Alting said, “I’m not panicked. (The bill) stands for inclusion, which is what Sen. Bohacek and myself believe in and our constituents believe in. And that’s the point that we really want to get across to Hoosiers and the other 49 states, that we’re a welcoming state.”

17. U.S. Rep. Andre Carson: The Indianapolis Democrat could be the most intriguing member of the Hoosier congressional delegation. Certainly, he is the one to watch in the House. Now that the Democrats are in control of the chamber, he’ll have more latitude to create a signature issue. Perhaps he will do that by becoming chairman of the emerging threats subcommittee of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Carson can help develop the Democratic approach to fighting terrorism, which could put him on the opposite side of Congresswoman Susan Brooks in this policy area. Perhaps we’ll see home-grown competing ideas on homeland security. Carson also could be pivotal in helping Indiana Democrats figure out how to increase their number of young, minority and immigrant voters, three groups who underperformed for the party in 2018. He also might be able to help formulate a solution for helping Democrats achieve bigger wins in Marion County to offset what continues to be difficult terrain in the Indianapolis suburbs. Carson certainly seemed as if he’s looking forward to the new Congress, based on his enthusiastic greeting of just about every attendee at the Indiana Society of Washington’s holiday party.

18. U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski: She was unique among Indiana GOP candidates in the 2018 cycle in that she never wavered in her support of a traditional Republican approach to trade. She remained a free-trader while others, most notably former Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer, as well as eventual GOP Senate nominee Mike Braun, competed to be the candidate who most enthusiastically genuflected in support of President Trump’s protectionism. Her consistent criticism of Trump’s trade policies that hurt her district’s farmers and RV industry did not harm her congressional campaign. She won handily. Her strong margin of victory over a well-funded and highly regarded opponent shows that she’s developed a firm grip on a district that used to be consistently competitive.

19. RNC Committee Members John Hammond III and Anne Hathaway: These two RNC members are in for an interesting year. There is movement on the RNC to close off potential primary challenges to President Trump. Then there is Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is expected to issue a report on his Russia collusion investigation later this winter. If President Trump is forced from office, it will be due to an erosion of his support in places like the RNC and the U.S. Senate, where Republicans hold a 53-47 majority. It was the loss of Republican political support in July 1974 that resulted in the resignation of President Nixon. If the Mueller report is damning or cites behavior deemed treasonous, it will be party stewards like Hammond and Hathaway who will have to explain to their brethren how national interests diverge from partisan ones, as Sens. Hugh Scott, Barry Goldwater and House Minority Leader John Rhodes did in late July 1974.

20. Budget Director Jason Dudich and OMB Director Micah Vincent: These are Gov. Holcomb’s point men on the biennial budget. With Chairmen Mishler and Holdman working their first biennial budget, Dudich and Vincent (along with staffer Dave Reynolds, who worked with Dudich under Mayor Greg Ballard and Gov. Daniels) will be the steadying hands.

21. Joe Donnelly, John Gregg, Baron Hill and Christina Hale: This is the Democratic cluster which can, perhaps, make some definitive decisions on the Indiana Democratic Party which is now just a couple of notches above the Libertarians in political potency. We don’t know what Donnelly’s plans are after a bruising loss last year, but a gubernatorial nomination could be his for the asking. Gregg has been nominated twice and his second run was far better than the first, his defeat coming with the unprecedented circumstance of Gov. Pence leaving for the Trump ticket. Historically, Democrats have gotten one shot at the nomination (think Larry Conrad, John Hillenbrand and Wayne Townsend). Mention Gregg’s name to some party faithful and you get those “retread” looks, but Gregg worked the state this past year and may be in the best position to begin to rebuild at the local level. Hill, we are told, is pondering a run, which would come four years after Evan Bayh bumped him out of the Senate race. Hale could be the future of the party and has always been more inclined to run for governor in 2024 with an open seat, though she is scouring statewide and 5th CD data from 2016 and 2018. She needs to grow her gravitas by laying out a vision for the party and start to rebuilt its decimated local ranks. Other names that have popped up include State Sen. Eddie Melton of Gary and former state representative Steve Stemler.

22. Bob Grand: He’s moved more into the Washington orbit while helming Barnes & Thornburg, with that state role now in the steady hands of Brian Burdick. Grand is extremely tight with Vice President Pence, maintaining critical access there. He was also on President Trump’s Inaugural Committee, which is now under federal investigation.

23: Seema Verma, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid administrator: According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace subsidies accounted for a combined 26% of the budget in 2016, or $1 trillion. Nearly three-fifths of this amount, or $594 billion, went to Medicare, which provides health coverage to around 57 million people who are over age 65. The rest of this category funds Medicaid, CHIP, and ACA subsidy and exchange costs. So, Verma oversees about a quarter of all federal spending. 

24. Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke: As the Republican mayor of Indiana’s third largest city, he heads into an election for his third term and may end up without an opponent. He maintains incredibly high approval ratings, despite governing a Democratic city, and his campaign war chest continues to grow. In the face of such obstacles, local Democrats have struggled to recruit a viable candidate. Buoyed by this success, Winnecke has not only continued to implement a bold vision in southwestern Indiana, but has also become a valuable source of counsel to municipal executives throughout the state.

25. Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr.: The four-term mayor is seeking reelection after pondering 2020 gubernatorial or attorney general bids. He is ambitious, occasionally considering a challenge to Rep. Visclosky. Clearly, he believes another term at the helm of the largest city in Lake County gives him better options for a post-Visclosky and post-Holcomb world.

26. U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks: She served in one of the most thankless positions on Capitol Hill during the Republican majority, chairwoman of the House Ethics Committee. It’s not clear that she ever received a reward for taking one for the GOP team, which is now in the minority and can do little for her. But, she can still do a lot for her party. We’ll be watching to see how Brooks pushes GOP reforms that will help it generate more female support at the polls as well as more female candidates on the ballot. A former Indianapolis deputy mayor, Brooks has demonstrated a command of terrorism and homeland security issues. She could be a brighter star in the Hoosier GOP firmament if the guys would step aside at some point and let her run for a higher office.

27. U.S. Rep. Jim Banks: The rising star Columbia City Republican has deftly used his position on the House Armed Services Committee to develop an expertise on defense issues. His committee assignment and deployment in Afghanistan as a Navy reservist gives him the credibility to critique President Trump’s defense and national security initiatives when they violate common sense and diminish U.S. leadership abroad. He doesn’t always push back against the president, but he’s shown more moments of independence than most other members of the Hoosier delegation. His brand of conservatism isn’t perceived as being thoughtless or scary, which makes him hard to beat, as his 2018 Democratic opponent, Courtney Tritch, discovered. 

28. Commerce Sec. Jim Schellinger and Elaine Bedel, president of IEDC: The Schellinger/Bedel tandem continued to set records in 2018: The IEDC announced commitments for 30,710 jobs in 2018, compared with 30,158 last year and 27,620 in 2012; from 316 businesses which will invest $6.75 billion to locate or expand in Indiana. And there are 45 foreign firms, involving 6,420 jobs and a $3.15 billion in investments.

29. Brian Burton: The president of the Indiana Manufacturers Association is pushing workforce issues in the most manufacturing intensive economy in the nation. He told HPI in December the state is facing a 45% decline in its workforce due to Baby Boom retirements over the coming decade and is advocating expansion of the state’s training grants from $10 million to $20 million that was proposed by Gov. Holcomb. He told HPI, “We would like to see a (individual) relocation incentive. We do a lot of economic incentives for companies, but not workers.” He proposes eliminating the state income tax for imported workers for five years, saying that these new workers would still be paying property and sales taxes. “It’s a net positive.” 

30. ISTA President Theresa Meredith: We’ve watched teacher pay issues whip up everything from stirring rallies and strikes in red states like Kentucky, West Virginia, Arizona and Oklahoma. While today’s ISTA is a shadow of what it was back in the days of the legendary Bob Margraf, it seemes to have caught the attention of Gov. Holcomb and Speaker Bosma. They evolved from a two-biennial budget cycle solution, to finding money in the upcoming budget. So Meredith has caught their attention.

31. Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry: The third-term Democrat is expected to seek another term, and has presided over a downtown renaissance that he is attempting to extend to the city’s sprawling river system.  

32. Purdue President Mitch Daniels: The former governor remains a national leader on higher education and a cog in Indiana, though his letter to the Purdue family this week is ominous. Daniels notes that a quarter of non-public institutions reported running at an operating deficit in 2017-18 and one in five small private colleges are under “fundamental stress.” There is a multi-year decline in enrollments, and a flattening pool of 18-year-olds. And there is a 3.3% decline in foreign students as the Trump administration clamps down on legal immigration. In 2013, Daniels initiated a 10-point “Purdue Moves” plan that seeks to develop STEM disciplines, the establishment of Purdue Polytechnic Institute, a 98% increase in Purdue students studying abroad, the consolidation of two units into Purdue Northwest, the realignment that produced a new Purdue Fort Wayne, and the successful establishment of Purdue Global to meet the needs of the working adult learner. “We are now serving an unprecedented 45,000 Hoosiers,” Daniels said in the letter. And he warns: “The wisest words I ever heard on the subject of ‘strategy’ are that a real one is defined not by what it includes but by what it leaves out. In business, public life, and academia, we have all seen grand ‘strategies’ that, because they felt compelled to respond to every pressure and include everyone’s pet project, ultimately were of no actionable value and expired, forgotten and unlamented, on a shelf somewhere. We must strive to avoid that all too human pitfall.”

33. State Sen. Travis Holdman: He has assumed the mantle of Sen. Brandt Hershman as the Tax & Fiscal Policy chair. He’s also shown some desire to take on tough issues like RFRA, so watch his moves this budget session.

34. Drug Czar Jim McClelland, Health Commissioner Kristina Box and FSSA Sec. Jennifer Walthall: This is Gov. Holcomb’s team formulating strategy and policy on the opioid crisis, that has become the story of our time. With 1,800 Hoosiers dying of overdoses in 2017 (a number likely to grow once the 2018 stats are compiled) and the billions of dollars that it will take to get a handle on this, this trio play crucial roles in an effort that Holcomb hopes to declare successful as he seeks reelection.

35. HHS Sec. Alex Azar: The former Eli Lilly exec oversees the sprawling Health and Human Services, which has its hand in everything from Obamacare to immigrants at the border. Azar’s watch has been controversial, as Obamacare insurance rates are falling (down 11% in Indiana) while premium costs continue to rise as Congress and President Trump can’t find solutions for accelerating costs. The 2,000-plus immigrant kids detained at the borders have also been a national embarrassment.

36. Surgeon General Jerome Adams: He has become one of President Trump’s key point people on the federal response to the opioid crisis that is costing the states and nation tens of billions of dollars. “Even as the surgeon general, I’m not immune to this,” said Adams, the 20th surgeon general who was Indiana Health commissioner. “I was not able to prevent my family from going down the pathway of addiction.” Dr. Adams has sought to “normalize” the use of Nalozone, which is now widely used across Indiana and the nation. As Adams explained, “Naloxone is that tourniquet for someone who’s suffering from an overdose. It allows us to get them into a more definitive and long term treatment.” 

37. Attorney General Curtis Hill: The proven GOP vote-getter is ostracized by the party after credible sexual harassment allegations were leveled at him by State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon and three legislative aides. While Special Counsel Dan Sigler didn’t indict, the fact that the accusers attended his press briefing and were handed the stage revealed how estranged he is from the Statehouse establishment. Hill won’t be impeached nor will he resign, but expect a convention challenger (perhaps from 2016 convention opponent Sen. Randy Head) in 2020, though the Kyles and Jennifer Hallowell continue to warn Team Holcomb supporters that Hill might mount a 2020 gubernatorial challenge. It’s one reason Holcomb and Statehouse leadership attempted to step on his throat last July. Our analysis is that it would be a fool’s errand to challenge a governor with a 65% approval rating, but out in the country past the city limits signs, the attorney general still has some cache, and these warnings conjure an old saying about speaking things into existence. 

38. Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight: This Democrat has been one of Indiana’s most effective mayors. He will announce for a fourth term on Jan. 26. When Goodnight took office, the City of Firsts faced a potential decimation if the U.S. auto industry had crashed. But with the revival of Fiat/Chrysler and Delphi, Kokomo has thrived under this mayor. He has built a new downtown stadium, provided free public transportation, reduced the city’s municipal workforce and lowered debt. Goodnight faces a Democratic primary challenge from a former Kokomo policeman, but will be a heavy favorite for reelection.

39. State Sen. Jim Merritt: The seasoned majority caucus chair is now tooling up a challenge to Indy Mayor Hogsett. It comes after a tight reelection battle against Democrat Derek Camp. So, Merritt will be playing in two political arenas anchored on opposite ends of Market Street this year. 

40. Earl Goode: Gov. Holcomb’s chief of staff has now become a Statehouse legend. After six years as Gov. Daniels COS, he’s now heading his third year with Holcomb, establishing a Lou Gehrig/Cal Ripkin-like record of longevity. Generally, chiefs last two or three years; he’s now showing Vinatieri durability. Perhaps the beard thing might apply here.

41. Marty Obst: He’s a political adviser to Vice President Pence who works the veep’s PAC Great America Committee. This is the group that was formed to promote President Trump’s agenda. Obst is also part of Gov. Holcomb’s inner circle, so he is playing in both D.C. and Indianapolis arenas. 

42. U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon: His district used to be known as the Bloody Eighth; now it’s the Boring Eighth, with Bucshon decisively beating primary challengers as well as Democrats in the general election. As the district has become less competitive, Bucshon has faded into a quiet role as a backbencher – and that was when Republicans were in the majority. Now that the GOP has lost control of the House, Bucshon will be even farther off the radar in Washington and Indiana, but safely ensconced in his seat.

43. Rod Ratcliff: We thought the former Centaur CEO would be heading off into the sunset after cutting a $1.8 billion sale to Caesars of the racinos at Anderson and Shelbyville. But Ratcliff turned around and bought the two Gary casinos, and is now seeking to move one to the Borman Expressway and the other to Terre Haute. This would allow Gary to utilize Buffington Harbor as an intermodal port. Ratcliff and his General Assembly point man, former legislator John Keeler, have adroitly traversed the complicated processes within the state. He brought the racinos back from bankruptcy and established them as a critical component in the state’s gaming sector. Ratcliff continues to play a critical role. 

44. Chamber President Kevin Brinegar: The Indiana Chamber is targeting a cigarette tax hike and workforce development issues while enduring criticism for myopia and meandering out of its “business-issues” lane under its long tenured CEO. “There is nothing else the state could do to infuse the revenue stream that would have the impact of increasing the cigarette tax by $2 per pack,” said Brinegar. “While we agree with what Gov. Holcomb has said in past years that funds collected should go to related health care programs – to cover smoking cessation and Medicaid costs – we also believe any additional money could go to where the state has the greatest needs.” Brinegar is also calling for a hate crimes law and a re-evaluation of state workforce programs. “After several years of concentrated efforts, it’s time the state evaluates the existing programs,” Brinegar begins. “We have to pinpoint what will most help retrain workers for the current job market and how best to get the word out. There’s no magic answer, but we must achieve better results.” He is opposing medicinal marijuana, even as the state is poised to be surrounded by recreational states.

45. Anne Hazlett: She’s the assistant to the secretary for rural development and with the Trump tariffs impacting Hoosier farming, we considered Indiana agriculture head Bruce Kettler and USDA undersecretary Ted McKinney (with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer dominating that sphere with his hardline approach on China), but we landed on Hazlett for the significant role she is playing with the opioid epidemic that is ransacking rural communities. Just this week, 11 rural Indiana counties are being designated to receive federal mental health services. Our sources tell us Hazlett is playing a significant role in rural development and especially the rural opioid response.

46. U.S. Rep. Greg Pence: Everything you need to know about Pence’s political prowess is his last name. He relied on it to run one of the most unremarkable – many would say disappointing – congressional races in recent Hoosier history. He relied on the name identification built by his vice president brother to cruise to victory. He did not develop a discernable policy agenda of his own. He did not grant any media interviews – even to the New York Times to defend himself in a story that outlined some questionable business dealings. His interactions with voters were mostly in private. We’ll be watching to see if he can remain hermetically sealed while serving in Congress. He will have the kind of access to the Trump administration that most freshman can only dream of. But it remains to be seen if he is his own man or a sad, coat tail-skating fraternal doppelganger.

47. U.S. Rep. Jim Baird: The former legislator won what was essentially a three-way Republican primary and then cruised to victory on Nov. 6. He is expected to work on veteran and agriculture issues.

48. Senate Majority Leader Mark Messmer: New to the role and chair of the Senate Environment Committee, we wait to see what Messmer’s political trajectory might be.

49. Luke Kenley: This is proof that even those who ride off to the ranch in the sunset of life can make a comeback. The former Senate Appropriations chair is poised to try and get the Bankers Life Fieldhouse improvements through a tight budget year on behalf of Mayor Hogsett and the CIB. 

50. Victor Oladipo: Last fall, the Indiana Pacer star endorsed U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly’s reelection bid and hinted he might have a political career in front of him after his spectacular playing days end. With the Indianapolis CIB and the Hogsett administration working on a deal to secure the Pacers for the city (and state) for the next generation by upgrading Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, Oladipo could find himself as the proverbial ace in the hole if the General Assembly balks at the project (think Peyton Manning pitching that tight, laser-focused spiral to Speaker Bosma in the ramp up to the Lucas Oil Stadium deal). And if you’re a beleaguered Hoosier Democrat, you’ve got to think about the star’s charisma and crossover appeal if they spend the coming decade in the wilderness.

Honorable Mentions

Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane and House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta: Key question here is, can they impact crucial legislation in any meaningful way and bring their priorities to the front burner? With their super-minorities, we’re skeptical.

House Speaker Pro Tem Mike Karickhoff:  A potential successor to Speaker Bosma?

House Majority Floor Leader Matt Lehman: Ditto.

Democratic Chairman John Zody: He has presided over a party now on its fourth General Assembly super-minority status, a party at its Statehouse nadir and receding from relevancy at the county level, too. The party never recalibrated after Bernie Sanders won the Indiana primary with 53% in 2016, but Hillary Clinton supporters dominate the Central Committee. It only took Indiana Democrats a generation to come up with a bookend to the GOP’s effective Lugar Series. This is a party that continues to put the “fun” in dysfunction.

U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth: We tried to talk to the sophomore congressman, but he is inaccessible, as many 9th CD civic organizations have discovered. He also doesn’t have a brother who is vice president.

John Pence: The vice president’s nephew is deputy executive director of Trump’s campaign committee. .

Sen. Randy Head: A potential 2020 attorney general candidate.

Holcomb Deputy Chief of Staff Cris Johnston: Could be a successor to Earl “Vinatieri” Goode.

Senate Chief of Staff Jeff Papa: He’s come back to help get the Bray era started on the right track.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson: She was recently elected president of National League of Cities, though her city remains a fiscal mess, as local media continues to point out.

Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer: We love the safety measures he’s taken at the lighthouse, which can be a deadly place in stormy weather. He’s also implementing a strategic plan for a city most Hoosiers don’t know much about.