John Gregg: Holcomb must veto emergency powers bill—and lawmakers should sustain that veto

I have been following the Indiana General Assembly since I was an intern in 1977 and later served in the House of Representatives and as speaker of the House. In all those years, never have I seen an assault on our state’s chief executive like what is occurring in the current legislative session.

Because Gov. Eric Holcomb followed the advice of public health experts and instituted a statewide mask mandate in the middle of a global pandemic, a group of his fellow Republicans are now out for revenge.

That revenge has taken the form of House Bill 1123 which has passed both chambers of the General Assembly with only Republican support. It will likely now be vetoed by Gov. Holcomb.

And that veto must be sustained.

I fully appreciate the balance of power required amongst the three branches of government, but this proposal is a misguided step too far. Because some Republican lawmakers did not agree with Gov. Holcomb, they are seeking revenge by attempting to weaken the office of governor for all future occupants. It is irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst.

Only a governor can lead the state, not a part-time Legislature. In times of crisis, we need clear, well-defined leadership that can rise to the occasion, act quickly and keep people safe. Can you imagine the chaos and the danger to the public that would occur if Hoosiers had to wait for 150 part-time lawmakers, or even a subset of them, to assemble, develop a plan and then debate it before state government responded to an urgent crisis?

As a student of history, I know the Indiana Constitution created a ‘weak’ chief executive by design. It allows the governor’s veto of any legislation to be overridden by a simple majority of the 150 members of the General Assembly. Unlike many other states, Indiana’s governor also has no line-item veto to ferret out objectionable pieces of otherwise good legislation. Nor is the governor permitted to appoint key offices which dictate important policy and procedure, like secretary of state, attorney general, auditor and treasurer, all of which are independently elected.

Indiana’s chief executive still has the power and responsibility to manage the day-to-day operations of state agencies and to engage with the federal government. We need future governors to be able to exercise the authority they have been given, not have their hands tied. We do not need a full-time legislative body to micro-manage all aspects of state government, like some legislators have tried to do this year with the city of Indianapolis. The state constitution did not make it their job and we do not want it to be their job.

As a former political opponent, I might be the last person one would expect to rise to the defense of Gov. Holcomb. However, here I am. The governor has managed the unprecedented challenges he has faced in office well. He did not overstep his powers and does not deserve the personal attacks from members of his own party. I emphasize personal, because political attacks and philosophical differences are an inherent part of our democracy, but the personal attacks are uncalled for, uncivil and make Indiana appear as another version of Washington D.C.

I urge Gov. Holcomb to veto House Bill 1123. It is the right thing to do. And I ask all my fellow Hoosiers, regardless of your political party, to write or call your state legislators and urge them to sustain the governor’s veto of House Bill 1123 and to oppose all efforts to restrict the governor’s emergency power.

Gregg is an attorney with the law firm of Ice Miller. He is a former speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives, a two-time Democratic nominee for governor and a former president of Vincennes University. 

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