Eric Holcomb was a struggling Republican Senate candidate a year ago, lagging in fundraising and a virtual unknown in Indiana despite more than a decade at the top levels of the Republican state politics.
On Monday morning, he become Indiana's 51st governor. His inauguration ceremony at the Indiana State Fairgrounds capped an improbable chain of events that culminated in an election victory made possible when outgoing Gov. Mike Pence became Donald Trump's vice presidential running mate in July.
Holcomb, 48, enters the governor's office without an established political record. His November election win over Democrat John Gregg was his first as a candidate for any office.
In his inaugural speech (a complete transcript is below), Holcomb said the state can't become complacent in spurring economic growth. He said too many Indiana families feel they've been left behind and too many young graduates are leaving the state.
Indiana "must hammer down" to find a million new skilled workers over the next decade, he said. That's to replace 700,000 baby boomers who will retire and 300,000 new jobs the state needs to create.
Holcomb saluted Pence, saying he kept Indiana's momentum going the past four years during his term as governor. And he praised former Gov. Mitch Daniels, calling the two former governors "tough acts to follow."
When asked prior to the speech whether he could have predicted his good fortune, Holcomb said: "Of course not."
"If I lie to (about that), you'd think I'd lie to you about anything," he said.
He'll assume leadership of the state government without the public profile of his recent predecessors, who spent years in running for and holding public office.
Holcomb's path was quite different. The former state Republican Party chairman was struggling to raise money in his run for the Republican nomination to run for Senate when Pence tapped him last March to become lieutenant governor, replacing Sue Ellspermann, who resigned to pursue the presidency of Ivy Tech Community College. Holcomb was set as Pence's re-election campaign running mate only to see the governor's race shaken up when Donald Trump chose Pence to be his vice presidential pick.
Holcomb was Pence's hand-picked successor, and his years as a top aide to Daniels and U.S. Sen. Dan Coats left him in good standing with members of the Republican state committee, who picked him as the replacement candidate over two sitting members of Congress.
Holcomb touted his work with Daniels throughout the gubernatorial campaign, while rarely mentioning Pence. He's picked fellow veterans of Daniels' 2005-2013 tenure for top positions in his administration, while keeping many Pence holdovers to lead state agencies.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, who will be serving as a legislator with his seventh governor when Holcomb takes office, said he expects Holcomb to be more like the hands-on Daniels than Pence. Pence had never worked in state government before becoming governor and sometimes frustrated lawmakers with vague policy positions.
"But Eric Holcomb is his own man, too," Bosma said. "He has his own style. It is less combative than Mitch's was. In a positive way, Mitch got in your face and told you what you needed to know. Eric is more collegial than that."
Though most Indiana voters hadn't heard of Holcomb until recently, he is well respected in Republican circles. So far, leaders in the GOP-dominated Legislature have warmly received his proposals, which could give him the latitude to enact an agenda—at least during the honeymoon period of his first legislative session, which kicked off last week.
He is willing to support raising gasoline taxes in order to pay for a GOP-backed plan to fix and improve the state's infrastructure, a move Pence opposed last year. It remains to be seen, though, if Holcomb will push as hard as Pence did on social conservative issues—he has already said he's mainly focused on economic issues, workforce development and fighting the state's drug crisis.
"Instead of playing hypotheticals, I'll deal with what I'm passionate about pushing and we'll address those as they come," Holcomb said. "I understand that different folks are motivated by different strokes, but this is what our team will be focused on."
The Republican stranglehold on state government will certainly ease Holcomb's transition into his new job, but he'll have to show he can transfer his behind-the-scenes experience to being effective as the state's leader, said Linda Gugin, a retired Indiana University Southeast political science professor who co-edited a book on Indiana's first 49 governors through Daniels.
"It may be that he has a harder time trying to get the public behind him on issues, especially where he may have differences with the Legislature," she said.
Holcomb joined others in the inauguration ceremony at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
Others taking their oaths were Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Attorney General Curtis Hill and state schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. All are Republicans who won election in November. Tera Klutz was sworn in as the new state auditor, replacing Crouch in that position.
Transcript of Gov. Eric Holcomb's inauguration address:
Madam Chief Justice, Governors Bayh, Daniels, Pence, Lt. Governor Skillman, Speaker Bosma,
Senator Long, fellow citizens:
I am honored to accept the privilege and duty to serve you and the state we all love.
At the outset, I want to recognize three people without whom I wouldn’t be here today,
beginning with my wife, Janet.
All that I have accomplished has only been possible because of your love, your support, your wit
and wisdom and, most importantly, your partnership.
I love you, and I look forward to sharing this next new adventure with you every step of the way.
There are certain fields in life where the best harbinger of success is to follow great predecessors.
By that measure, I’m one of most fortunate men ever to hold this office.
Twelve years ago, I sat side-by-side as Mitch Daniels became governor and—through his focus,
vision and fearless leadership—Hoosiers came to not only accept change, but to expect it. The
results of those early reforms fueled our current greatness.
Mike Pence took that momentum and kept it going with more Hoosiers employed in the private
sector today than at any time in our history.
Our state’s loss is our country’s gain; it says a lot about Indiana leadership that Mike is the sixth
Hoosier to go on to serve as Vice President of our great Nation.
You are two tough acts to follow.
The best way I know how to show my appreciation for the faith you both placed in me is to
uphold the same courage, conviction and commitment you each showed in your own ways every
day in this office.
Thank you both!
Ladies and Gentlemen, today marks the 51st time in our rich history that a new administration
has taken this solemn oath, and for me it is an exciting opportunity.
Because I have the great fortune of being the first governor sworn into Indiana’s third century.
So it’s an entirely appropriate time to take stock of our past and look ahead to our future.
Our forbearers were pioneers.
They ventured into an uncertain, untamed wilderness where everything was at risk: their
families, their futures, their very survival.
As daunting as the challenges were, they didn’t shrink from them.
They faced them head on.
They built homes and communities, planted fields, constructed canals and roads to connect
themselves to one another and to the new country, and established laws to govern themselves to
spark the opportunity for prosperity for all.
We tend to think of pioneers as people who "settle" a new territory.
But pioneers are also people who come up with new ideas or better ways of doing things.
They’re trailblazers, inventors, innovators, visionaries.
Our forbearers were these kinds of pioneers, as well—with eyes always fixed on the future,
wielding not only axes and ploughs but also ingenuity and a passion to improve.
Our very Constitution that our Hoosier Framers wrote in 1816 – the first year of statehood – is
full of optimism, ambition, and generosity.
Among other things, it called for universal education and no slavery – far reaching ideas for the
And over the past two centuries, Hoosier pioneers blazed trails that have made a titanic
difference to the people of Indiana and to the world.
We all know the story of...
• Civil War veteran Col. Eli Lilly helping to pioneer modern medicine
• Madam C.J. Walker paving the way for women in business
• Or Gus Grissom, who made the heavens our new horizons and primed Americans to first
land on the moon
And I’ve also met Hoosier modern day pioneers everywhere I’ve traveled throughout our state.
One who's been on my mind lately was a young pastor who became this city’s longest-serving
mayor, transforming what was derided as IndiaNOplace into IndiaSHOWplace—revitalizing our
Capitol city and turning Indianapolis into a sports capital.
Such was Bill Hudnut’s vision and passion that he not only lured the Colts to Indianapolis but
built a stadium before landing the team!
What all of these pioneers have in common are the same traits that have been part of our DNA
for 200 years: self-reliance, grit, a can-do attitude, a sense of fairness, and a spirit of generosity.
Now, I know that sharing our strengths doesn’t always come naturally to us Hoosiers because of
another trait we share: humility.
Ironically, Hollywood does it for us.
Think of "Rudy" or "Breaking Away." One that’s less well known is "Madison" and, of course, there’s
They’re all stories of perseverance, of David not just taking on but slaying Goliath, of the
underdog punching above its weight class through hard work, utilizing their strengths, playing by
the rules, getting the basics right.
That’s become our story—the Indiana story—and what Indiana has globally grown to be known
Today we see the results:
• Our state’s finances are sound.
• We're one of only 12 states with a triple-A bond rating.
• And, we’re keeping nearly 2 billion dollars in reserves in a rainy day fund, all the while
maintaining a low cost of living and housing.
• Our unemployment rate is lower than the national average, and—as I mentioned at the
outset—there are more Hoosiers working today than at any other time.
These numbers tell a compelling story:
We’ve become national leaders in business growth, and we’ve been landing jobs and business
relocations that—10 or 12 years ago—were going to Austin or Boston or the Silicon Valley—
practically anywhere but here.
That’s no longer the case.
Today, Indiana has three times the high-tech job growth as the nation as a whole.
Warsaw is the Silicon Valley of orthopedics, generating one-third of that industry’s worldwide
And our great state is among the nation’s leaders in life-science exports.
In fact, of the 50 industries the Brookings Institute says will drive growth in the 21st century,
Indiana is a player in 45 of them.
They’re coming to Indiana now, because our costs of living and doing business are low and the
quality of our workforce is high.
In fact, our employers can recruit and groom future employees right out of our world-class
universities and colleges.
We’re not just competing any more; we’re winning!
But, as any champion will tell you, winning one year does not guarantee repeating the next.
Despite our standing, despite our ongoing momentum, we can’t afford to get complacent or take
our eyes off the ball.
Too many Hoosiers and their families feel they’ve been left out or are in danger of being left
Too many are not participating in today’s economy or getting a quality education—or are
struggling with the strangling grip of drugs.
Too many Hoosier grads explore opportunities outside our state line.
And too many Hoosier businesses are having trouble finding the skilled workers they need to
While Indiana remains an agricultural powerhouse, our average farmer is 58.
While we're Number 1 in the nation in manufacturing, the competition is fierce—not only from
49 states but from countries around the globe.
Moreover, in the next 10 years, we'll need to find one million new skilled workers to replace the
700,000 baby boomers who will retire—plus the 300,000 new jobs we will need to create.
Rather than ease up, we must hammer down and maintain that pioneer spirit.
This is where I will focus every day…on ways to take our state to the next level: To make
Indiana a place where people thrive. Where they can get a good, fulfilling, well-paid job and a
world-class education. Where our kids are well-taken care of. Where we have growing
opportunities and the freedom to take advantage of them.
And even as we invest to make our state stronger, we will apply our proven and proud Hoosier
drive and common sense to ensure we deliver good government at great taxpayer value.
In the weeks and months ahead, men and women from all across our state will answer the call of
service to make sure we hit these targets.
Two hundred years ago, our pioneer forbearers came to this territory with little but their
aspirations, determination, and—yes—their faith.
Over the intervening years, they endured epidemics and depressions, a Civil War, and even two
Like the contentious debates and sharp divisions found in our political arena today, they didn’t
always agree on which direction or which steps to take.
Yet they worked to forge a consensus and continually adapted by keeping their focus on ways to
make life better for their families and their neighbors.
They transformed the economy to meet the changing world—evolving from agriculture to
manufacturing to today include aerospace, life sciences, and advanced manufacturing based on
high-tech automation—even artificial intelligence.
In 1821, just five years after we became our own state, a speaker at a Fourth of July celebration
down in Martin County said, “The purest patriotism is to convert the gloomy woods into fields
waving with luxuriant harvests.”
Hoosiers have been practicing that kind of patriotism for 200 years.
And, now we’re called to do it again.
Our harvests today might include driverless cars and pilotless barges, or stronger, more flexible
metals, or breakthroughs for Alzheimer’s disease.
They include healthier citizens, students equipped for 21st century jobs, and stronger, more
Whatever our harvests are, we Hoosiers will jump to work together, ploughing and sowing and
nourishing—and making sure they too are luxuriant.
I thank everyone who is here today and all those listening from afar on your mobile device for
your love of Indiana and the charge you’ve given me.
Together, we are the pioneers who wil ltake our state to the next level.
And I'm chomping at the bit to start!