Gov. Eric Holcomb has a good grasp of Indiana's strengths and challenges. His fourth annual message to citizens and lawmakers Tuesday night contained a string of proposals that could make Indiana a better place to live and do business.
But good intentions will not be enough. All of those ideas must be embraced by a legislature that, left to its own devices, is willfully blind to the needs of ordinary Hoosiers and has shown little compunction about ignoring the governor's suggestions.
In the the hectic weeks of the short session now underway, Holcomb should use the bully pulpit of his office as he's never used it before. Legislators seemed more than happy to wait for a gubernatorial commission that could take a year to resolve the question of whether public school teachers deserve competitive salaries. Something – could it have been 15,000 determined educators marching on the Statehouse? – persuaded Holcomb he should come up with an interim answer. Now the governor must ensure that his suggestion to free some funds from the state's $2.3 billion surplus gets carried out.
If Holcomb pushes legislators to step up, he will be working from a position of strength. Tuesday, he rightly touted Indiana's progress on economic development – more high-paying jobs, more capital investment, big infrastructure projects finally nearing completion, more people moving into the state than moving out.
Yes, the governor could have mentioned the need to do more to help working Hoosiers whose low-paying jobs barely allow them to survive. But things are better in the state than they were at the beginning of Holcomb's term, and it's important to recognize that.
Legislators happy with the status quo may take such stats as further excuse to sit on their laurels. But Holcomb's emphasis on better education and training for Hoosiers show the governor is looking ahead at coming changes in manufacturing, trucking and other key industries in the state. His mentions of a visit with India's president and the coming Indiana Global Economic Summit show an appreciation of the power of globalization – a concept that eludes some of his party's national leaders.
Holcomb also spoke to the needs of sometimes-forgotten groups, including veterans, convicts preparing to reenter society and – most of all – children. He celebrated progress at the Department of Child Services, while acknowledging there is more to be done. He called for faster processing of adoptions and reminded listeners of his call last year to drastically reduce Indiana's shameful infant-mortality rates.
He called for raising the age at which Hoosiers can buy tobacco to 21 and pledged to enforce it. His no-cost, commonsense proposal to ban cellphone use while driving drew no response from legislators who view the idea as an affront to “freedom” instead of an attempt to save lives.
Summing up his agenda, Holcomb suggested Indiana become known as “A State that Works for All” ... “where every citizen – no matter their background or age or who they love or whether they grew up here or arrived last week – has equal access and opportunity to go as far as they wish and are willing to work to get there.”
Coming from an Indiana governor, those words were noteworthy and refreshing. But now Holcomb must take on the daunting task of selling his inclusive and forward-looking vision to the Indiana legislature.