INDIANAPOLIS – The handling of the coronavirus pandemic has become the premiere issue in the Indiana race for governor – including how to spur the economy back into action.
Democrat Dr. Woody Myers and Libertarian Donald Rainwater have plenty of criticism for the incumbent. And Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has lost some GOP backing over some of his actions, including the stay-at-home order and a mask mandate.
Holcomb acknowledged losing some who favored him but said “on balance we have gained a lot of support. Nothing about my COVID response is politically motivated. Nothing, not from day one.
“Leadership is not about trying to make everyone happy all the time. Maybe I have more access to more information than they do, and I am acting on that intelligence,” he said.
Holcomb didn't identify anything he would have done differently – saying he understands the frustration over wearing masks, but face coverings undeniably reduce the spread of the respiratory virus.
“I just need them to follow it – not be excited about it,” he said.
Myers agrees that masks are essential – and said he would have acted much more quickly than Holcomb did in late July. And if Myers were governor, he said, the order would have had enforcement teeth. Holcomb's has none.
“We have a mask suggestion not a mask mandate,” Myers said. “There is no debate. All this BS about the worthiness of masks and freedom of choice is just crap.”
Meyers said he doesn't want to throw people in jail, but fines are appropriate.
Rainwater, however, thinks both men would or have gone too far. That's because as a Libertarian, he believes in less government involvement.
“Many of the actions taken were actually more detrimental to the citizens of the state of Indiana than COVID-19 has been,” he said, pointing to mental health, addiction and domestic violence increases.
“I believe the actions that were taken in a unilateral way from the governor either didn't take into account all the potential ramifications of the mandates or they were taken into account and a decision was made it was all right to throw all those people under the bus in this particular situation,” Rainwater said. “Telling people some are essential and some aren't is inappropriate especially without the General Assembly being in session.”
Holcomb said he is open to the legislature having a discussion in the 2021 session about the emergency powers he used. He said it isn't normal to have emergencies last so long.
But he said it would be “hard to negotiate our way or navigate our way through this by committee” and said it is the executive branch that was in contact with federal partners every day.
The governor sees masks – along with hand-washing and social distancing – as the only way to stay open and rebuild the economy.
The state's unemployment rate has dropped from a high of 17.5% in April to 6.4% in August, and Holcomb has put $50 million in federal relief aid toward workforce development programs to help the economy.
Two provide training opportunities for Hoosiers in specific high-need areas. A third is meant to help small businesses keep their doors open.
Myers said if elected he would do a complete review of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to see if the state is spending money correctly to attract jobs.
“Are we attracting the right industries? We have assets – are we using them?” he asked.
A Myers administration would utilize airports outside of central Indiana to attract business and would target renewable energy as a growth area for the state.
“Solar and wind. That's the way we have to move, and there is no reason we can't make those panels and turbines here in Indiana,” he said.
Rainwater said he would eliminate the individual income tax to stimulate the economy. That way all small-business owners would be able to reinvest that money into their business – providing growth and jobs.
But that is also $6 billion a year the state uses to run government services. Rainwater says the state doesn't need everything it collects – pointing to a high surplus.
And as for the workforce, Rainwater says the state government “needs to back off a bit and allow the business community to step up and hire and train workers.”
Coming Next Sunday
• See where the candidates for governor stand on race and criminal justice.