Updated 3:47 P.M. CT
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican Eric Holcomb was sworn-in Monday as Indiana’s new governor, calling on the state to do more for those who “feel they’ve been left out” despite a growing economy and low unemployment rate.
“Despite our standing, despite our ongoing momentum, we can’t afford to get complacent,” Holcomb said during his inaugural address at the Indiana State Fair grounds. “Too many are not participating in today’s economy or getting a quality education — are struggling with the strangling grip of drugs.
“Too many Hoosier grads explore opportunities outside our state line. Too many Hoosier businesses are having trouble finding the skilled workers they need to grow,” he said.
Holcomb’s speech, which highlighted the state’s successes while acknowledging its challenges, contrasted sharply with the style of his predecessor. Mike Pence, who will be sworn-in later this month as vice president, usually focused on the good while putting a positive spin on the bad, channeling the sunny optimism of Ronald Reagan.
Holcomb said the workforce is aging. The state’s status as a manufacturing powerhouse faces fierce competition in a global economy. Even agriculture, woven into the state’s mythology, has its obstacles to overcome because the average farmer is 58-years-old, he said.
“Rather than ease up, we must hammer down and maintain that pioneer spirit,” Holcomb said.
Former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who was in attendance, said he heard echoes of himself in the speech.
“He has the mentality that we tried to maintain for eight years,” said Daniels, a Republican who is now the president of Purdue University. “We are never going to settle for the idea that Indiana has to be the middle of the pack. His agenda will be different. There will be new people — there already are— but I hope if there is a point of continuity it’s that attitude.”
Holcomb’s rise to become the state’s 51st governor caps off an improbable series of events that even he wouldn’t have predicted.
The Republican, whose term formally began at 12:01 a.m., had never won an election until he defeated Democrat John Gregg in November’s election.
One year ago, he was a struggling Republican Senate candidate, lagging in fundraising and a virtual unknown in Indiana despite more than a decade working as an operative at the top levels of the state’s GOP politics.
But then Pence tapped him in March to become lieutenant governor, replacing Sue Ellspermann, who resigned to pursue the presidency of Ivy Tech Community College. Holcomb was set as Pence’s re-election campaign running mate only to see the governor’s race shaken up when Donald Trump chose Pence to be his running mate.
Holcomb, Pence’s hand-picked successor, was a top aide to Daniels and GOP U.S. Sen. Dan Coats. That left him in good standing with members of the Republican state committee, who picked him as Pence’s replacement on the ballot over two sitting members of Congress.
When asked whether he could have predicted his good fortune, Holcomb said: “Of course not.”
“If I lie to you (about that), you’d think I’d lie to you about anything,” he said.
Holcomb, 48, will enter the governor’s office without an established political record. Before the most recent election cycle, he last ran for office — and lost — during a 2000 bid for state representative.