Written By: Shaw Friedman

We’re just coming off a legislative session that many say was among the least rancorous and contentious in a long time. Accident? I don’t think so. From what I can tell, the more collegial and collaborative tone was set by our new governor, Eric Holcomb, who seems be taking a very different approach in dealing with not only Democrats but regions of the state that have long felt neglected and marginalized by one of Holcomb’s predecessors, Mitch Daniels.

Indianapolis Star columnist Matt Tully penned a column about Holcomb the other day that summed up well what many are seeing with this new governor. At a recent speech before the Indianapolis Rotary Club, Tully reported, “Holcomb encouraged Hoosiers, regardless of political affiliation to think about the future and the state’s place in it. He didn’t demonize Democrats. In fact, the Republican didn’t offer one negative word about those on the other side of the aisle. He actually said politicians should listen more to critics.”

Tully and other Indianapolis observers have long had this blind spot for Daniels as some kind of “big thinker” and were often willing to overlook the guy’s personal abrasiveness and contentiousness and write it off as just some kind of cerebral quirkiness on his part. But, dealing in a civil and courteous way with one’s opponents can go a long way to reaching consensus in government, and it seems after this latest session that Holcomb has learned that far better than his one-time mentor, Mitch Daniels, who still comes out swinging and defensive, even from the lofty perch he now enjoys in academia.

Take Daniels’ view of Northwest Indiana: At a May 15 speech at Avalon Manor in Merrillville, Daniels was still lecturing our region on how it supposedly can’t get along, is rife with corruption and what he labeled as “what’s in it for me” government. Contrast that with Gov. Holcomb’s victory tour on a South Shore train recently, as he hopped aboard with legislators of both political stripes to conduct ceremonial signing ceremonies of HB1144, which provides the “game changer” of doubletracking for Northwest Indiana and will be a huge economic development shot in the arm for our region.

After Holcomb’s commuter rail tour of Northwest Indiana, he spoke later in the day at a One Region event in Munster, where he talked about the unlimited potential for this vital region and spoke glowingly about wanting to bring “five million Hoosiers up to the Region and show them the beaches, the scenery and how close to the world their marketplace is.” In short, this governor talked about what a bright future this region faces, rather than endlessly lecturing Northwest Indiana about it being a place where supposedly nobody plays well in the sandbox and leaders can’t be trusted to do the right or ethical thing and are, in Daniels’ words, “protecting their own turf and not acting in the common good.” Mr. Daniels, what happened on HB1144 and the extraordinary level of bi-partisan cooperation from local and state officials that is bringing doubletracking of the South Shore Railroad closer to reality proves once again, you’re dead wrong about our region.

But that’s the insulting and demeaning style that has characterized much of Mitch Daniels’ time in government and public life. Take a look at a May 10, 2017, column that the notoriously thin-skinned former governor penned for the Indianapolis Star, responding to two critical letter writers who had every right to question Daniels’ still very controversial sell-off of the Indiana Toll Road lease rights to a foreign consortium in 2006. Rather than content himself with a factual rebuttal to his critics as Eric Holcomb would have done, Daniels took it upon himself to go after the Indianapolis suburbs where both letter writers lived, claiming an “outbreak of amnesia seems to have descended upon our western suburbs.”

Daniels got his comeuppance for this snarky piece of writing when letter writer Randy Mason of Franklin, Ind., wrote to the Star on May 14 to complain about Daniel’s op/ed column calling the tone “petty, condescending and extremely mean-spirited. In fact, it was downright Trumpian.” Mason was rightly upset when the former governor charged his two letter-writing critics with “overtly partisan sniping,” and Daniels even went so far as to claim that “disinformation” by the letter writers was “intentional rather than merely ignorant.”

As Mason put so well, “insults, name-calling and mean-spirited sarcasm were not needed to make his points. Mr. Daniels, the people of Indiana deserve better and expect you to be above this type of uncivil and disrespectful discourse.”

It appears to this observer that Gov. Holcomb has decided that the “in-your-face” style of his former boss simply leads to more fighting and obstruction. Compare Daniels calling then-Indiana House Democratic leader Pat Bauer “a car bomber” when he disagreed with him to the far more civil and businesslike relationship that Gov. Holcomb seems to have carved out with Democratic House Leader Scott Pelath, and you’ll understand that there’s been a return to civility in the Statehouse and a reason that so much apparently got done this past session.

All Hoosiers are better off with civil, respectful discourse between our leaders and Eric Holcomb seems to have been present for that particular lesson in politics and good government, while Mitch Daniels clearly skipped class that day.

Shaw Friedman is former legal counsel to the Indiana Democratic Party and has represented a number of governmental entities in Northwest Indiana. 

This article was written for Howey Politics (pg. 14-15). Find more information & articles at this link.