-- Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb pledged in his State of the State address
Tuesday night to conduct a “transparent” review of the Department of Child
Services, but offered little more than platitudes about an agency that his
critics say is enveloped in crisis.
“In recent weeks,
the Department of Child Services has been the subject of headlines,” the
Republican said. “I’ll state right now: There’s no one who cares more about
Hoosier children than I do, and I’ll do whatever is necessary to ensure the
success of our agency and its mission.”
Later he added:
“We’ll be transparent and we’ll provide you with progress reports.”
The address, laying
out his vision for the coming year, was his second such speech before a
joint session of the Indiana House and Senate. It came exactly one year
after his unexpected inauguration to the state’s highest office after
replacing former Gov. Mike Pence on the ballot.
But after a
tranquil first year, his administration has struggled over the past month to
respond to allegations made by his former child welfare chief who described
an agency beset by service cuts and management changes amid a surge in
caseloads fueled by the opioid epidemic.
charged that Holcomb doesn’t grasp “the seriousness” of the DCS issue.
speech, Democratic House Minority Leader Terry Goodin added: “As far as
boldness and leadership, I thought it lacked both of those.”
Problems at the
child welfare agency will test not only Holcomb, but also whether a state
government re-engineered over a decade to comport with conservative ideals
of limited government can address systemic -- and often interrelated --
problems that lack an easy solution.
development and the opioid crisis, which Holcomb has made a priority.
like in other Rust Belt states, have had difficulty adapting to the changing
world and global economy. Wages lag and experts say many lack the skills
needed for better-paying jobs. Meanwhile, a growing number of working-age
adults are sidelined from gainful employment by addiction.
"Right now we have
85,000 jobs in Indiana unfilled because employers can’t find the people
equipped with the skills they need,” Holcomb said. “This is the defining
issue of the decade, and we don’t have a day to waste.”
Holcomb has pledged
bold action, with much of the work to come next year. He wants to pay for
programs to train recent grads and returning students in high-demand fields
such as computer science, advanced manufacturing and welding.
Republicans who control the Statehouse, however, are a little more skeptical
after spending billions over the past decade on similar efforts with little
House Speaker Brian
Bosma said the state needs to revamp its current approach, which involves
“spending $1 billion through nine different agencies and 30 different
programs and not moving the ball.”
Statehouse leaders gave Holcomb high marks for trying to tackle difficult
"Some of the
problems that have plagued us in the past as a state, we are getting those
fixed,” said Republican Senate leader David Long, of Fort Wayne. “Gov.
Holcomb is leading the way on that.”
already outlined his agenda for the year, he has been far more reluctant to
talk about the issues that are expected to be dominant themes during the
headed into an election year and GOP leaders have already cautioned that
they do not have a major, overarching piece of legislation they hope to
That leaves a
vacuum that’s likely to be filled by hot-button issues. Among the proposals
being debated at the Statehouse are efforts to legalize medical marijuana,
eliminate the state’s handgun permit requirement and rewrite Indiana’s
prohibitive alcohol laws.
Holcomb says he has
opinions on those matters. But during a recent interview he said he doesn’t
feel obligated to weigh in unless they directly relate to his legislative
Since taking office
roughly a year ago, he has ducked substantive policy questions about
everything from abortion and gun rights legislation to federal health care
policy or whether Indiana convenience stores should be able to sell cold