Lieutenant Governor Eric Holcomb seemed to break with his boss, Governor Mike Pence, Monday on the issue of Pence’s move to block Syrian refugees from the state.
The comment came during the second gubernatorial candidate debate between Republican Holcomb, Democrat John Gregg and Libertarian Rex Bell.
The primary focus was on jobs and the economy.
But the refugee question was posed after a Monday federal appellate court decision to uphold a lower court ruling blocking Pence’s directive to suspend Indiana’s resettlement program for Syrian refugees.
During the debate, Holcomb said, while he understood Governor Pence’s reasoning for wanting to block Syrian refugees from Indiana, he would comply with court rulings on the issue.
After the debate, Holcomb was asked what he would do if a court ruled in favor of Pence’s ban on Syrian refugees in Indiana.
“I would continue to allow the refugees to come in here and find safe haven,” Holcomb says.
Gregg slammed Pence’s policy both during and after the debate.
“And it is wrong to ban people because they worship differently or don’t worship at all, or they look different from me or look different from you, or they come from a different ethnicity or nation of origin,” Gregg says.
Bell, like Gregg, criticizes Pence for trying to ban Syrian refugees from the state.
“When you take a state and say we have one nationality that we’re going to block, you know, I think that’s wrong,” Bell says. “We need to look at people as individuals.”
A debate question about LGBT rights and last year’s controversial religious freedom law centered on whether it hurt the state’s ability to attract talent.
Holcomb says he doesn’t think the controversy has had a lasting effect. “We had a record tourism year in 2015 after we got through this,” Holcomb says.
Holcomb says he’s happy just allowing local governments to pass anti-discrimination ordinances.
But Gregg, who has repeatedly criticized Holcomb and Governor Mike Pence on the issue, takes a different view.
“We need to show respect to all Hoosiers,” Gregg says. “It’s more than economic; it’s about respect.”
Gregg says, as governor, he would take several steps to address LGBT rights, including an executive order protecting state employees.
Bell says he wasn’t in favor of the religious freedom restoration act.
“I would certainly like to see a state where all people are treated equally and all people have the same rights,” Bell says.
While debating economic issues, a fundamental disagreement emerged on whether the state is succeeding economically.
Gregg zeroed in on wage growth, saying Indiana is in the bottom third of the nation.
“We’ve got to focus on the economy going forward and not just on the minimum wage jobs,” Gregg says. “We’re going to focus on those high-wage, high-growth jobs.”
Holcomb’s central message is he is the candidate who can continue what he calls Indiana’s “momentum.”
He says that includes growing Indiana’s focus on regional economic development and incentivizing greater entrepreneurship.
“Indiana has a 4.5 percent unemployment rate,” Holcomb says. “That’s something that most of our neighbors can’t claim, certainly those around the country. We’re lower than the national average. CEO Magazine has rated Indiana the number one state in the Midwest to do business.”
Bell’s solution is to reduce the size of government and business regulations, and cut taxes, including the elimination of the property tax.
“The sky’s the limit when you open the thing up and say every business is welcome here and you’re going to have the lowest operating cost because you’re not going to be paying any property taxes,” Bell says.
The governor candidates will debate each other a third and final time on Oct. 25 in Evansville. The focus will be on health and social issues.