Holcomb considers his legacy, next steps as 2023 winds down

By: - December 19, 2023 7:00 am

Gov. Eric Holcomb reflects on his time as Indiana’s governor and considers next steps. (Courtesy of the Governor’s Office)

As Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb heads into his last year leading the Hoosier State, he emphasized that his administration won’t be resting on its laurels — and will continue to be aggressive about new projects. 

“I think that’s my attitude and approach to life: ‘You better be looking out in front, not behind you.’ I’m too young to coast or retire,” the 55-year-old Holcomb said. “Besides, 60 is the new 40, so I’m just getting going.”

Holcomb is term-limited and cannot run again for governor in 2024. A bevy of candidates have filed to replace him, and the fight for the Republican nomination will be both fierce and expensive.

Though Holcomb has professional and political ties to nearly every candidate, he has declined to endorse anyone. The major candidates include: U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, former Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden, former Attorney General Curtis Hill, former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, a Democrat, and Libertarian Donald Rainwater.

During the traditional end-of-year interview, it briefly started to snow — prompting a quick moment at the window to admire the icy flakes falling in downtown Indianapolis.

Holcomb said he hadn’t yet decided what his next steps would be and “by design” isn’t committing to anything.

His predecessor, former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, left the state to pursue an even higher elected office and became Vice President in 2016. When reminded of that legacy, Holcomb laughed and said, “Well, I’m not pressuring myself on that route for sure.”

What’s ahead for 2024

Holcomb admitted he’s received inquiries and suggestions for a post-governor job but said his wife, Janet, asked for two months after his term lapses before making any decisions. 

“I’m confident that after two weeks, she will say, ‘Isn’t there somewhere you need to be?’ But I’m going to commit to what she asked and that will give me time to figure it out,” Holcomb said. “I’ll need to catch my breath and not — in my own mind — take my eye off the ball over this next year.”

Instead, he emphasized a desire to stay focused going into his last year and his final legislative session, which leadership has promised will be kept brief and hyper-focused on priority items. 

Holcomb defends LEAP pipeline, prepares for last legislative session

“Next year will be about landing and launching, meaning landing certain projects or deals and finishing what we started and then launching new. I don’t want there to be a sense in this administration that we’re just landing planes safely. We have to be launching,” Holcomb said. 

“If we were to just throw it in and coast, people would start looking elsewhere. I’m not going to be one of those people,” he continued. 

One major project that remains in limbo is whether Indiana can land a transformational tenant to the controversial LEAP innovation park in Boone County, which has caused consternation over a possible water pipeline and state farmland purchases.

Another continued focus for his administration will be the push to advertise state programs that already exist, such as Manufacturing Readiness Grants from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and programs to combat the state’s high rates of infant and maternal mortality

Not every county participates in such programs, Holcomb said, and he viewed it as a “shared responsibility” to increase awareness and ask local leaders what’s stopping them from opting in.

“I want every citizen, whether they’re a taxpayer or not, to benefit from the policy that comes out of this legislature,” Holcomb said. “I can go into any county and say, … ‘We had 52 counties participate, why didn’t you? We have infant or maternal mortality programs — and we have certain areas that are hyperactive in participation — why aren’t you?’

“These programs are for all, not just where they’re most pronounced or where there’s a greatest need. They’re for everywhere,” he continued. “And so we’ll spend a lot of time next year making sure those connections are made so we can lift all boats.”

Surprises ahead — and behind

Heading into the New Year, his resolutions remain the same: to embrace spontaneity and be kind to both the unexpected and those around him. As for Indiana, he wanted the state “to go places we’ve never gone before” in 2024.

His last year could still hold surprises, he said, even after seven years on the job. It’s not uncommon for his days to start with news of someone else’s personal tragedy, a natural disaster or something else unexpected. 

One of the biggest surprises so far was the lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, especially its financial and psychological toll.

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“The imprint — or the scar — that it would leave, the change in perspectives and the acceleration of doubting truth or claiming what is true … it surprised me how extensive (it was),” Holcomb said. 

Repeated studies have analyzed the spike of mis- and disinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic, which filtered into public testimony and weakened Holcomb’s eventual push to invest in the state’s beleaguered public health infrastructure and spurred distrust in vaccinations. Children are still behind pre-pandemic education goals and various gubernatorial candidates continue to harp on Holcomb’s COVID-19 closures, which started in March 2020 and were mostly lifted within months. 

Holcomb emphasized that the high level of distrust didn’t just impact him — though Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita famously questioned the veracity of his administration’s COVID-19 reporting — but everyone, whether government employees or local business leaders.

“These (committed state employees) are talented, good people that can be doing other things, quite frankly, but … they love what they do and that’s surprising when someone calls that into question,” Holcomb said. 

Considering his legacy

A rabid history fan who collects the signatures of famous historical figures, Holcomb spends a lot of time thinking about how politicians are remembered. But his personal philosophy for being remembered comes from pop culture figure Indiana Jones, a fictional archeologist and adventurer. 

“(He) says, ‘If you want to be a good archaeologist, you have to get out of the library.’ And I think that’s true … that may take you to Cairo, by the way, it may also take you to Seoul,” Holcomb said, referencing two recent trips abroad

I don’t want there to be a sense in this administration that we’re just landing planes safely. We have to be launching.

– Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb

One of those decisions will be how to encapsulate his tenure in his gubernatorial portrait. Holcomb could choose to incorporate Indiana’s First Dog, Henry Holcomb — a first for Indiana’s governors — or, as he recently suggested to his wife, a parody version of American Gothic, which depicts two grim-faced farmers in front of a home with a pitchfork.

Henry Holcomb died unexpectedly on Monday.

Aside from being remembered as someone accessible, easy to work with and respectful, Holcomb said that he’d like to be remembered “maybe most importantly, (as) a governor who wasn’t afraid of the future but was determined to define it.”

“Indiana is doing just that right now; we’ve always been a state full of pioneers. Now we’re doing it on a global stage that is going to improve not just our quality of life but others around the world and that’s pretty exciting,” he said.

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Whitney Downard
Whitney Downard

A native of upstate New York, Whitney previously covered statehouse politics for CNHI’s nine Indiana papers, focusing on long-term healthcare facilities and local government. Prior to her foray into Indiana politics, she worked as a general assignment reporter for The Meridian Star in Meridian, Mississippi. Whitney is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University (#GoBonnies!), a community theater enthusiast and cat mom.

Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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