Holcomb, Pence highlight GOP dinner

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb praised Columbus for its workforce development efforts while updating local Republicans on what is happening in state politics during the local GOP’S annual Lincoln Day Dinner.

More than 170 people gathered at Simmons Winery Banquet Hall Thursday night to meet Holcomb and catch up on local and state politics. About 23 people paid $100 to attend a half-hour VIP reception with Holcomb, Republican Central Committee chairman Barb Hackman said.

Holcomb noted that U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics showed Bartholomew County was one of only four Indiana communities that enjoyed more than a 4 percent growth rate from September 2017 to September 2018.

Leaders in Columbus were far ahead of other Indiana communities years ago when they recruited all entities concerned about workforce development to join forces and find answers together, he said. It is a model that the governor said he now advocates for all over Indiana.

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“Bartholomew County is the model for workforce development, and therefore, economic development,” Holcomb said. “Northeast Indiana is now doing it well, but it was Columbus that authored the original version.”

Hate crimes legislation

In addition to workforce development, Holcomb also talked about the amended hate crimes legislation making its way through the Statehouse, explaining his recent pivot from wanting all the protected classes in the legislation, to supporting a version that only names some of them.

On Tuesday, the Indiana House approved hate crimes legislation that doesn’t specifically list gender identity, age or gender among its protected traits, although the lawmaker who revised the bill said it includes language that covers everyone possible. The House vote came one day after the chamber unexpectedly adopted hate crimes language in an amended, unrelated bill.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said in a statement that he supports and appreciates the legislation, saying that it “covers all forms of bias crimes and treats all people equally.” In January, he had pushed for more comprehensive legislation that would get Indiana off a list of five states without a hate crimes law.

“Now, we need to make sure we get to the finish line and move Indiana off the list of states without a bias crimes law,” Holcomb added in his statement.

A Senate committee had passed an another hate crimes bill in February, but a few days later the state Senate stripped out a list of specific protected traits, including sexual orientation, gender identity and race.

The new bias crimes language was added Monday to a bill on controlled substances in state prisons. That language refers to an existing state bias crimes reporting statute that mentions color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion and sexual orientation, but doesn’t explicitly cover age, sex or gender identity.

But the revised bill says that bias can also be considered due to the “victim’s or the group’s real or perceived characteristic, trait, belief, practice, association, or other attribute.”

Thursday night, Holcomb said the hate crimes bill that came out of the Indiana House Tuesday had an enumerated list that included sexual orientation and “any other affiliated group or characteristic.”

“I believe that covers it all,” Holcomb said. “No one is left out.”

The controversy over hate crimes legislation illustrates serious philosophical differences among Hoosiers, the governor said. While some want to ensure no deserving discriminated group is left off a hate crimes list, others want to make sure one group is not treated any differently than another, he said.

If Indiana passes its first-ever state bias crime law, it will have a positive impact few have acknowledged, Holcomb said.

While bias is currently established in the reporting phase of a trial, a bias crime law would give judges the authority to determine if a hate crime had occurred during the final sentencing hearing, the governor said.

The revised House bill has been sent back to the Indiana Senate, where it will likely be discussed sometime early next week, Holcomb said.

Teacher pay considerations

Teacher pay is another issue the legislature is debating, a response to the private sector finding teachers as a “hot commodity” to fill the estimated 100,000 unfilled skilled jobs currently open in the state, Holcomb said.

For that reason, it’s imperative to raise teacher salaries to make education more competitive, he said.

But right now, the state already sends over 50 percent of all revenue to K-12 education, Holcomb said. And there’s never any guarantee from local school districts that new money will be used to increase the salaries of educators, he said.

The governor said he is proposing a two-step approach. Besides recommending a 2 percent increase in teacher pay annually for the next two years, Holcomb said he advocates sending $150 million from the state’s reserves to school corporations to pay down pension liabilities.

“We believe that will free up about $140 million to give to the teachers,” Holcomb said.

Although raises are mainly determined on the local level, the governor said he’s already established a teacher pay commission that he claims is already examining best practices for increasing the salaries of educators, short of having government dictate it.

In the long term, Holcomb wants state education officials to go to each school corporation in all 92 Indiana counties and persuade them to adopt those best practices, so “we can systemically fix this problem of low teacher pay once and for all.”

Lighter moments

Amid all the serious talk, there were also lighthearted moments at the dinner.

Sixth District Congressman Greg Pence surprised many by arriving at the event, saying his plane landed just 90 minutes before the dinner began. He told those in attendance that the Lincoln Day dinner is a fun way to catch up with old friends and talk politics.

“As I’ve gone around the room, I kept getting questions on what is happening in Washington,” Pence said. “But at the same time, I was walking around trying to find Sen. (Greg) Walker to find out what is happening at the statehouse.”

After an introduction from Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop outlining accomplishments of Holcomb’s administration the last two years, the keynote address was an informal interview of Holcomb by former Columbus City Councilman Jesse Brand.

Since one of the annual event’s goals is to pick up the spirits of GOP party members, most of Brand’s questions centered on lighter topics including Indiana’s First Lady Janet Holcomb’s acting roles in recent Christian films, the upcoming completion of an official Holcomb family portrait and even a new family dog named Henry.

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Four Bartholomew County high school seniors who have all maintained grade point averages above 4.0 have been awarded $1,000 scholarships from the Bartholomew County Republican Ladies League. Their scholarships were announced at Thursday’s night’s Lincoln Day dinner.

Recipients are:

  • Abigail “Abby” Johnson, Hauser High School, will attend the University of Evansville majoring in logistics and supply chain management.
  • Margaret “Maggie” Buffo, Columbus East High School, will attend Indiana University majoring in neuroscience.
  • Hannah Long, Columbus North High School, will attend Florida Bible College majoring in nursing.
  • Amanda Wissman, Columbus North High School, will attend Indiana University majoring in neuroscience and pre-medicine.