By John Krull
Eric Holcomb says he likes being Indiana’s governor.
And it shows.
Holcomb and I talk in a radio studio. During the hour we chat, the governor seems, by turns, relaxed and contemplative, comfortable and secure in both his office and himself.
Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising. A former advisor, deputy chief of staff and campaign chair for Gov. Mitch Daniels, a lieutenant governor under Gov. Mike Pence and a onetime Indiana Republican Party chair, Holcomb has had more opportunity to observe up-close how governors do their work.
He didn’t stint on his “preparation,” he said.
Holcomb says he learned things from both former governors he served.
From Daniels, he learned to focus on specific plans and projects that would make a difference for the state and the people who live here. Pence, Holcomb said, reminded him to take joy in people and the opportunity to serve.
I ask him what the biggest difference is between being the governor and the guy who helps the governor.
“Sitting behind the desk and taking things to the desk is quite different,” he said.
He adds that it’s impossible to understand how “impactful” the governor’s job can be until one does the job and makes the decisions. He talks about how conversations he’s had with Hoosiers stay with him now that he knows he has the power to help them.
He tells a story of a man he met while campaigning – “at a bacon fest,” he said – who said he hoped to see him in six months. At first, Holcomb heard that as support for him politically, but then he realized that the man was talking about being staying clean and sober.
“He was worried he wouldn’t still be alive in six months,” the governor says, shaking his head.
That exchange, as well as others, reminded him of the stakes involved — the challenges many Hoosiers face in their daily lives.
I ask Holcomb what challenges confronting Indiana keeps him up at night.
“Work force,” he said without hesitation.
Work-force issues, he said, touch almost every part of the state — health, education, economic opportunity, livability, etc. He says that Indiana has done a good job so far of meeting these challenges, but that more — much more –- needs to be done.
We talk about the scope of that problem. Economists project that the world will face a serious labor shortage by 2030. The countries, states and communities prepared to deal with that need will survive and thrive. The others won’t.
Holcomb said Indiana’s frugality will help it meet the challenge, because it will have resources to invest in infrastructure and other states won’t.
I tell him that I’ve noted that he’s worked to re-position discussion of taxes — which generally have been anathema to his political party — as a consideration of an investment strategy. Has that been deliberate on his part — a strategy to find a way out of a political and policy dead end?
The governor smiles again.
“I always try to choose my words carefully,” he said.
Then Holcomb said the problems of the coming days are too big to allow the leaders the luxury of partisan bickering. His approach to leadership, he said, is “to bring as many people to the table as possible.” He likes to lead by listening first.
Having a state archive wasn’t a priority of his but, because it was a priority for others, including political opponents, and he could help, he did. Working together when it’s possible to work together isn’t just a nice thing to do, he said. It makes sense, because it creates habits of collaboration that will help Hoosiers meet common challenges.
We’re coming near the end of the hour we have.
I ask him what he likes best about being governor and what he likes least.
He pauses for a second, then says the part he likes best is meeting and working with people, helping them deal with difficulties and discover opportunities. He loves that, he says.
The part he likes least, the governor says with a chuckle, involves the press of the schedule.
He’s “always running out of time” to be with people and do the things he loves, Eric Holcomb tells me, as our hour ends.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Send comments to [email protected].