Brian Howey: Indiana’s governor feels stronger every day | opinion

When my colleague from State Affairs, Indiana, Kaitlin Lange, asked Gov. Eric Holcomb what he played on his Spotify music list, he replied, “Feeling Stronger Every Day” by legendary rock band Chicago.

It was an insightful response, because after US Senator Mike Braun announced that he would seek the vacant gubernatorial seat in 2024, I began asking Republican Party leaders about potential Senate nominees. Few prominent GOP district chairmen or staffers saw Holcomb looking for the seat, and most expected him to “find a great job in the private sector,” as it was put.

After serving as Deputy Chief of Staff to Gov. Mitch Daniels and then as Chairman of the Indiana Republican Party when he helped create and launch the current GOP juggernaut that now dominates Hoosier politics, Holcomb submitted a bid for the US -Senate for the 2016 cycle. He finished third in the GOP primary when Gov. Mike Pence nominated him to replace Lt. gov. Sue Ellspermann began. When Donald Trump elected Pence his running mate in July, Holcomb won a Republican Central Committee caucus on the second ballot. After a 106-day campaign that he likened to “building an airplane in flight,” Holcomb angered Democrat John Gregg. It’s one of the most interesting rises to stardom in Hoosier history.

Why shouldn’t Holcomb, who won re-election in 2020 by a record number of votes, be at the top of Senate insider lists? Because as governor, he’s made a series of moves and restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic that have angered social conservatives. During the Indiana Republican convention last June, they delivered a quick rebuke, defeating Holcomb-appointed Holli Sullivan for a full term as secretary of state, opting for Diego Morales, who had accused the governor of “abusing” his power .

Some six weeks later, in the early hours of a hot August night, Holcomb signed SEA 1, the holy grail of true conservative Republicans. It became the most restrictive anti-abortion law passed after Roe v. Wade was passed by the US Supreme Court on June 24. Proponents believe the new law will prevent more than 90% of Indiana’s abortions. “After Roe’s fall, I made it clear that I would be willing to support legislation that advances to protect life,” Holcomb said. “In my view, SEA 1 achieves that goal, having passed with a solid majority of support in both houses of the Indiana General Assembly.”

So Holcomb’s signature offered an interlude in a strange, strange year.

When State Affairs Indiana asked Holcomb during his year-end interview if he was considering running for the Senate, he replied, “Not at the moment. I will not allow anything to disturb my focus and my focus right now is on the budget session that lies ahead. I haven’t ruled anything out. I’ve shared this with several people from different fields who have expressed interest or asked me to think about something. I literally said the same thing to 100% of them so they would get the same response when one talks to the other. Now if you need an answer, I’m not your type.”

Earlier this week Governor Holcomb unveiled his final two-year budget. He called it “transformational” because it proposes to change the way public health is delivered in Indiana and makes what he calls “historic investments” in K-12 education — including fully funding the cost of textbooks for Indiana students and new literacy initiatives. He aims to increase education spending by 8% and raise average teacher salaries to $60,000.

He proposed an increase in healthcare spending of $120 million in 2024 and $277 million in 2025 under recommendations from the Governor’s Public Health Commission, as well as further rollout of broadband in rural areas, more recreational trails, and an additional $500 million -dollars for its Regional Economic Acceleration & Development Initiative (READI) program, which has launched a number of community projects across the state.

And following another landmark report from the Indiana Behavioral Health Commission during what it calls a “mental health crisis,” Holcomb will seek an expansion of 988 Crisis and Suicide Lifeline services and $4.25 million to combat military veteran suicide. He will begin investing $500 million in opioid settlement funds to create community substance abuse programs.

“By making continued investments in our health, education and workforce, we are building a stronger future for all Hoosiers,” Governor Holcomb said. “First and foremost, we will protect Indiana’s financial strength by adopting our 10th consecutive honestly balanced budget, which allows us to strategically prioritize public health, education, workforce, and economic and community development to bring Indiana to the taking it to the next level and providing citizens and their families with the tools they need not only to survive, but to thrive for generations to come.”

His wish list comes as the state sits on a record $5 billion budget surplus.

Holcomb for the Senate? If Mitch Daniels, Holcomb’s ally and mentor, decides against reviving his illustrious political career by seeking Richard Lugar’s old Senate seat, the 54-year-old governor may consider running for office. Candidates for the Senate are selected through primary elections, not through state congresses. A governor would be hard to beat in a primary.