INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb began his second term in office Monday with a hopeful speech looking beyond the coronavirus pandemic, saying the state is “steadily clawing” its way back.
The 52-year-old Republican governor described the state’s strengths for economic recovery while not discussing the national turmoil surrounding President Donald Trump’s final days in office and last week’s riots at the U.S. Capitol.
New Republican state Attorney General Todd Rokita, however, struck a more combative tone as he decried what he called “the disingenuous lure of socialism” and pledged anti-abortion and pro-gun rights positions.
Holcomb and Rokita were rivals for the Republican nomination for governor in 2016. Rokita didn’t defend Holcomb during the election campaign against conservative critics of the governor’s COVD-19 executive orders, including restrictions on personal movement, forcing some businesses to close and a statewide mask mandate.
Holcomb referred to “the awful toll of COVID-19,” which has killed more than 9,000 people in Indiana and packed hospitals around the state with severely ill patients, but said he believed the state’s future “is full of hope and opportunity.”
“We will remain laser-focused on managing our way through the pandemic and rolling out vaccines with all the energy and resources our administration has,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb, Rokita, and Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch all took their oaths of office during a ceremony before about 50 people, including family members and several state officials, at the Indiana State Museum, where those attending wore masks as COVID-19 precautions. The inaugural ceremony was scaled back from four years ago when Holcomb first took office before some 2,000 people at the state fairground coliseum.
Holcomb won a landslide reelection victory in November after a campaign during which his response to the pandemic was the top issue.
He pointed Monday to the state’s unemployment rate dropping from a high of 17.5% during last spring’s coronavirus shutdowns to 5.0% for November and touted Indiana’s low taxes and business-friendly regulations as boosting economic recovery.
“We are certainly not where we need to be, but we are steadily clawing our way back,” Holcomb said.
Rokita, a former congressman who unsuccessfully sought the 2018 Republican U.S. Senate nomination, has foreshadowed possible splits with Holcomb by saying he wants to work with legislators to revise the state’s emergency powers law used by the governor to issue statewide coronavirus restrictions that initially included limits on religious services.
Rokita has also been critical of the Black Lives Matter movement, while Holcomb has show openness to some actions sought by Black legislators, such as reviewing the state’s police academy training standards.
Rokita described his positions Monday as protecting individual liberties.
“You will see liberty in action when we stand up for the right of all Hoosiers to be free to peaceably assemble and go to church,” Rokita said. “You will see liberty in action when we stand with law enforcement to ensure we are free to walk our streets, to run our businesses, all without the fear of being the victim of a crime.”