Eric Holcomb, a Republican who gets it



Matthew Tully

Published 10:19 a.m. ET May 17, 2017 | Updated 2 hours ago

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Drivers will pay an extra 10 cents/gallon to fund roads, according to a bill signed by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb Thursday, April 27, 2017.
Nate Chute/IndyStar

Gov. Eric Holcomb talks about his first several months in office, and reminds Hoosiers that not all is broken in politics.

There was something strange about sitting in a room on the Ivy Tech campus Tuesday morning and listening to a political leader, in this case Gov. Eric Holcomb, focus in a believable way on topics such as collaboration and quality government services, as well as the need to embrace innovation and to better help those who are suffering.

“All of these things revolve around the idea of creating more opportunities for more people,” Holcomb told the Rotary Club of Indianapolis in a lunchtime speech. In policy debates, he said, “We have to focus on what it means for people.” Good policy, he argued, can help drown out “all the other noise.”

That other noise is loud and piercing right now. Controversies surrounding the presidency of Donald Trump have overshadowed all else in American politics. A critical debate over health care has been destructively divisive. Partisanship has polluted the political system in ways that seem worse than most of us have previously seen.

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That’s what led to that feeling of strangeness Tuesday. As so much else in politics seems lost and broken, Holcomb urged his listeners to be optimistic as he focused on a series of serious issues. He encouraged Hoosiers, regardless of political affiliation, to think about the future and the state’s place in it. His sunny view of things and his cheerleading of his state seemed out of pace in this grumpy political era, and that is a very good thing.

Holcomb didn’t demonize Democrats. In fact, the Republican didn’t offer one negative word about those on the other side of the aisle. He actually said politicians should listen more to critics. He then shared an economic message that Hoosiers, so proud of our manufacturing and agriculture status, need to hear.

“We have to recognize,” he said, “that we have to be a state that doesn’t just excel at making and growing things. We have to be a state that embraces innovation.”

That sounds simple and obvious. But that thinking has not always been at the forefront of policy debates in Indiana, and it certainly wasn’t the message offered by former Gov. Mike Pence, who always seemed to ache for earlier times. In truth, it’s easier for a politician to rest on what we already have. Holcomb, who recently signed an infrastructure bill that included a tax increase, argued for policies aimed at 20 years from now.

The governor spoke at length about the critical early years in a child’s life and the need to invest more in early learning programs. After a legislative session in which some questioned the value of preschool spending, Holcomb offered a different message. He said we have had enough with preschool pilot programs and that Indiana is ready for more robust investments.

“It works,” he said, offering a simple answer to what should be a simple debate.

At a time in which many in his party have pushed a health care bill that, among other things, would harm efforts to address the growing opioid epidemic, Holcomb offered a more compassionate view. It should be noted that he wasn’t asked about the topic. He brought it up on his own, as he so often does, and he didn’t rely on a Jeff Sessions-like argument about arresting ourselves out of this crisis.

“The vast majority of the resources that will be required to turn this around,” he said, “must be aimed at getting people on a path to recovery.”

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I’ve written several columns this year in support of Holcomb. That’s not because I always agree with his positions but rather because he is offering something we need much more of in politics: Leaders who are optimistic and focused not on our divisions but on the things that unite us. Leaders who might be liberal or conservative but don’t seem trapped in partisan straightjackets.

“This is an exciting time,” Holcomb told me shortly after arriving at Ivy Tech Tuesday, before launching into a sales job about the state’s potential. Later, he warned the crowd that “We’re not left with easy problems to solve,” before arguing that the way to solve problems is to focus more on collaboration and partnerships.

Politics is a hot mess right now. But it’s not all bad. We just need to listen more to the right leaders.

Thank you for reading. Please follow me at Twitter.com/matthewltully.

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