Pence replacement better be up to task

Evansville Courier & Press

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has left Indiana politics for the national stage, heading to the campaign trail as Donald Trump’s running mate.

Pence’s departure creates a heck of a job opening: who wants to convince voters they can handle the governor’s office for another four years? As you can imagine, the list was long and many of the names were power hitters in the state Republican Party.

Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb was selected Tuesday by the Indiana Republican Party to replace Pence.

Congressman Todd Rokita and Congresswoman Susan Brooks also submitted paperwork to be on the ballot for the governor’s race. Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke said earlier this month that he was giving “due consideration” to the governor’s office, but announced early Friday that he is not interested in the position.

Holcomb will face Democratic nominee John Gregg, himself a former speaker of the House in Indiana. But the biggest tests come not on the campaign trail or in $500-a-plate donor dinners in the post-Labor Day fracas.

While Indiana has enjoyed being in the political limelight the past few weeks, that attention shouldn’t distract from Hoosiers’ long-term needs.

The state is rushing to figure out a replacement for the ISTEP exam, which education officials used as a measure of student progress until administrative issues so badly damaged its credibility that it had to be discarded, finally killed by Pence and the Indiana Legislature earlier this year. A 23-member panel has been charged with making are commendation to the state by Dec. 1 — less than five months from now.

Whatever new test is selected or developed will have its own challenges, logistical issues and, as anyone in the tech community will attest, more than a few bumps in rolling it out to school computers.

There’s also the question of jobs and wages. An Indianapolis Star report in June noted that a survey found that two-thirds of Indiana residents say the state “offers a competitive and attractive climate for business” but only half of its residents say the “wages in Indiana are generally good and competitive with other states.” One area where pay has certainly been a point of criticism: education. Fewer people are applying for teaching licenses in Indiana, and money is a major reason why.

There are other major areas of concern, too: more Hoosiers are becoming addicted to painkillers. The drug abuse led to an HIV outbreak in one Indiana county. But it took weeks of discussion before the Pence administration finally declared a public health emergency that helped establish a needle exchange in Scott County in March 2015.

A recent release of annual state child abuse/neglect fatality statistics showed a 94 percent increase in such deaths in Indiana, from 34 in Fiscal Year 2012 to 66 in Fiscal Year 2014, according to the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.

The state still is addressing infrastructure issues and who knows how long fallout from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act will continue to plague both Indiana’s business community and the trust level between LGBT citizens and elected officials.

Come November, Indiana voters will choose between Holcomb and Gregg, and whoever ends up in the governor’s office had better come up with solutions to improve our state.

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