We’ll take steady leadership free of petty politics anywhere and anytime we can find it, especially in a time of crisis.
Unfortunately, during the coronavirus pandemic, we haven’t found it at the federal level, where it might matter the most. Messaging has been inconsistent and political, with a predictably political response. But in Indiana, unlike in some places, we’ve been blessed with a state response that seems to be effective, free of politics, and absent overreach and self-congratulation.
Gov. Eric Holcomb and his team took aggressive action early in the crisis and have been steady in their approach to minimizing the human and economic suffering the pandemic is causing.
Indiana’s stay-at-home order was issued March 23 and went into effect March 24, putting the state behind only about a dozen other, mostly larger, states in advising residents to shelter in place to stop the spread of the virus. While Holcomb and his team reacted relatively quickly, they’ve taken measured steps, issuing and then extending the order in roughly two-week increments.
This is a reasonable approach to battling an illness about which so little is known. Stay-at-home mandates in some states immediately extended into May and even June. Indiana’s incremental approach is an easier pill for the public to swallow.
Holcomb has avoided the national spotlight that has fallen harshly on some of his peers, such as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who justified his late stay-at-home order by explaining that he had just learned the virus could be spread by people without symptoms. And Holcomb has stayed away from heavy-handed tactics, such as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s orders about not just which businesses were deemed essential, but also which products, an order that allowed large retailers such as Home Depot to remain open but forced them to cordon off sections that sold things such as garden supplies.
And then there are states where politics as usual has been on full display, even in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. In Mississippi, the governor essentially overruled health officials by deeming almost all businesses essential and encouraging churches to hold services. In Kansas, the Republican-controlled Legislature clashed with the Democratic governor over her admonition that church services should be held only online.
Unlike in Wisconsin, where the date of its primary election became a political flashpoint between Republicans and Democrats, Hoosier leaders agreed to delay the state’s primary and so far haven’t squabbled about encouraging mail-in ballots.
Holcomb hasn’t avoided harsh criticism by keeping a low profile. He’s done it by demonstrating competence while making himself and other members of his team accessible. The governor and members of his cabinet have gathered for a media briefing nearly every day, issuing candid assessments of the situation and patiently answering reporters’ questions rather than scolding them or resorting to political double-speak. And they’ve kept their physical distance from one another in the process.
In normal times, we’ve come to accept a certain level of political gamesmanship, but when lives and fortunes are on the line, we expect our leaders to get serious, roll up their sleeves and get to work.
So far, Indiana’s leaders have lived up to those expectations. Not all Americans have been so fortunate.•
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