Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s choice of Eric Holcomb to take over as his lieutenant governor will likely fly through the confirmation process at the GOP-controlled Legislature, despite Democratic criticism.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said Pence made an “excellent choice” when he tapped Holcomb to replace Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, who plans to resign the position in a few days. She’s up for the top job at Ivy Tech Community College, although a decision on the post isn’t expected for months.
“Eric is a highly competent and effective leader,” Long said in a statement. “He is a man of character, and I have a great amount of respect for him and his ability to get things done. I’m confident he will serve Hoosiers well.”
And House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, called Holcomb “a sound choice.”
“Eric is a consensus builder and he is well prepared to step into this role as we continue to move Indiana forward,” Bosma said.
Typically, a lieutenant governor in Indiana is elected as part of a ticket with a candidate for governor. But when someone elevates to the position of governor or resigns the job, the governor is allowed to choose a replacement, who must then be confirmed by majority votes in the House and Senate.
The last time that occurred was in 2003. After the death of then-Gov. Frank O’Bannon, his lieutenant governor—Democrat Joe Kernan—became the governor. Kernan then appointed Kathy Davis to fill the position, a choice enthusiastically endorsed by members of both parties in the Legislature.
This time, Democrats are not so excited about the choice of Holcomb, who has served as an aide to former Gov. Mitch Daniels and retiring U.S. Sen. Dan Coats and plans to run on Pence's reelection ticket this year.
Drew Anderson, a spokesman for the Indiana Democratic Party, characterized Ellspermann’s decision to step down and Pence’s pick of Holcomb as a “back room deal to help bring the in the same man who played ‘bad cop’ for his 2012 campaign.”
Holcomb was chairman of the Indiana Republican Party when Pence first ran for governor in 2012. Anderson said Holcomb supported “ideologues” and “fanned the fire for extreme ideas and division in our state.”
Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said he plans to vote against Holcomb’s nomination. He said the voters elected Ellspermann to the job. “The governor is squeezing her out and replacing her with a party politician,” he said. “She was a supporter of LGBT rights. I will not vote for this gentleman under these circumstances.”
Ellspermann said in a press conference with Pence and Holcomb on Tuesday that she and the governor had policy disagreements but they did not play a role in her decision to leave. When asked directly about her position on gay rights and whether it clashed with the governor’s, Ellspermann said she “very much” supports Pence’s leadership of the state.
Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said he thought Ellspermann had done a good job and “brought some reasonableness” to the position. Lanane said he’s not sure how he’ll vote on Holcomb’s confirmation and said that lawmakers should do more research before moving forward.
There’s no timetable set for the vote.
“I don’t know Eric, but I know he has a fairly deep political background,” Lanane said. “I don’t think we’ve done any due diligence as a body here.”
But in the end, Republicans don’t need Democrats’ help to confirm Holcomb. They hold a 71-29 seat majority in the House and 40-10 majority in the Senate—and it appears they support Pence’s pick.
“I think Holcomb is a perfect choice,” said Rep. Tim Wesco, R-Osceloa. “It’s an early exit so that makes it a little unusual, but he’s a well-respected voice and has been for a long time."
Read more stories about the 2016 election at our Ballot Box page.