The 2020 campaign for Indiana governor – like so much of people’s lives – has been overtaken by concerns about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide protests over racial injustice and police violence. Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Brandon Smith sat down with each candidate to discuss the race's big issues.
Brandon Smith: I want to start with the thing that’s dominated all of our lives for the last six months, which I’m sure you can guess is COVID-19. Looking back over the last six months, then, is there any changes you would make – what would you change about the state’s response to the pandemic?
Gov. Eric Holcomb: Well, I certainly wouldn’t change how proud I am of the way that three different sectors all came together in a real quickness and focus. And that is, the nonprofit sector, the private sector and the government sectors – and I’m not just talking about the state government; I’m talking about local governments, as well. And so, we’re in a place where we can continue to manage our way through this. You know, we didn’t ever shut down completely. A lot of people say, ‘Well, you shut down.’ Well, there was a lot of business going on. And so, when you balance the lives, first and foremost, and the livelihoods, we’re proving you can go back to school. We’re proving you can go back to work.
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Smith: There’s been criticism of the way you’ve spent the CARES Act money. Why are we sitting on so much of that money?
Holcomb: Well, we’re being fiscally prudent about when we actually not just, as you point out, allocate but actually spend. We’re going to spend the allocation that we’ve been given through the CARES dollars from our federal partners. We won’t leave money sitting on the table. But look, I took equal criticism for not spending down the rainy day fund and not spending down our reserves. Thank goodness that we had those reserves to be able to bridge our way to the other side. And we’re looking at where are the needs right now.
Smith: On to the other thing that’s dominated headlines the last few months, which is racial inequity and protests around police shootings of Black men and women and things like that. You announced a series of steps that you want to see the state government take. But do Hoosiers of color in particular have reason to be skeptical that things will change?
Holcomb: Well, maybe to date, but hopefully not going forward because of the actions that we’re taking and going to continue to take. After Mr. Floyd’s death, it was crystallized in my mind that we have to do something different than just have those programs out there. And if there are barriers in my house, in the Statehouse, in the state government, then we need to make sure that we’re removing those barriers and getting rid of those hurdles. And what it comes down to in my mind is empowerment. How are we going to empower people to better determine their own destinies?
Smith: I want to talk about education. Always an important issue for a gubernatorial campaign but more important, perhaps, than ever because we will no longer have an elected state superintendent. So, the first-ever appointment for a state superintendent – what are the qualifications, what are you looking for in that person?
Holcomb: They’re fluent in the area of education, from the whole complete pathway of a student’s life. So, they have that experience. Same thing I’m looking for in every agency head, quite frankly – someone who’s honest, someone who’s humble and someone who’s hungry.
Smith: Teacher pay – the vast majority of teachers in Indiana got a raise from the last state budget, we know. But it still doesn’t get us to where we’d like to be because we started from behind. You have the teacher compensation commission that was working on developing long-term solutions. Is that, sort of – the long-term solution for really paying our teachers what they deserve – kind of off the table in the short term because of the pandemic and the economic struggles that have come with it?
Holcomb: No. I want it to be higher, as you point out; I’ve been very vocal about that. That’s where this long-term, how do we sustain paying our teachers what they are worth and what we expect of them? And that’s where they’re looking at – and yes, COVID affected that but it’s not going to derail anything.