Holcomb says he’s focused on last years as Indiana governor

(Photo Supplied/Gov. Eric Holcomb)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb is entering his final two years in office, with several candidates already lining up to take over his Statehouse desk as term limits prevent him from seeking reelection again.

The 54-year-old Republican isn’t yet taking sides in the 2024 campaign or discussing any future plans, instead saying that he is focusing on the state legislative session that starts in early January that will adopt the spending plan guiding state government through his remaining time as governor.

In an interview with The Associated Press this week, Holcomb voiced no second thoughts about his actions during the COVID-19 pandemic that soured his relationship with many conservatives. Holcomb also passed on a chance to endorse former Vice President Mike Pence — his predecessor as governor — in a possible 2024 Republican White House run against former President Donald Trump

CONSERVATIVE TENSIONS

Holcomb easily won reelection in 2020, but frustration among conservatives over COVID-19 business restrictions and a statewide mask mandate boosted a Libertarian candidate to 11% of the vote in that election. Holcomb further angered conservatives with his veto in March of a GOP-backed bill banning transgender females from competing in Indiana girls sports teams.

Holcomb said he recognized many honest disagreements over his actions after the pandemic hit the state in March 2020. COVID-19 has killed about 25,000 people in Indiana, including nearly 1,200 since July 1, according to the state health department.

“At the end of the day, I had to make daily decisions and that that in itself doesn’t allow for 100% agreement, especially in the world in which we live in today,” the governor said.

Holcomb’s troubles with conservatives could work against Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch’s campaign to replace him. Crouch, who was Holcomb’s running mate in 2016 and 2020, this past week joined U.S. Sen. Mike Braun and Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden as candidates for the 2024 Republican nomination.

Republican legislative leaders, however, have consistently praised Holcomb’s handling of COVID-19 issues and Holcomb said he didn’t see lingering troubles.

PENCE POLITICS

Pence backed Holcomb, who was his lieutenant governor, to replace him as the 2016 Republican nominee for governor after Donald Trump picked Pence as his vice presidential running mate.

Pence is now positioning himself as a potential GOP alternative to Trump in the 2024 presidential race, saying the American people are “looking for new leadership.”

Holcomb said he’s talked with Pence but wouldn’t say whether he would endorse his predecessor.

“I don’t know what he’s going to do,” Holcomb said. “I don’t know if he and his family have decided what he’s going to do so I won’t get out in front of him. But I’ll say this in general, about all races in the future. That, number one, I’m focused here and that’s the most important responsibility I have and so that will remain my number one priority.

LAST TWO YEARS

Holcomb sidesteps talk about what he might do after his time as governor ends in little more than two years. He says he’s concentrating on his current job and promoting the state.

“I hope that with two years to go, when folks look back on my administration, they will say he never slowed down, that he ran through the tape, that he was motivated to take it to the next level in every area, be it community public health, education, the economy,” Holcomb said.

RECENT HOSPITALIZATION

Holcomb shows no lingering effects of the bout with pneumonia that hospitalized him a couple weeks ago for two nights. He says he is “1,000% better, it was brutal.”

The governor said after he was feeling ill for several days his wife got State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box, a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist, to convince him to see a doctor.

“I jokingly say when your OBGYN tells you to go to the doctor, go,” Holcomb said. “And Dr. Box conspired with my wife.”

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