Media

Tully: From Holcomb and Hogsett, leadership and decency

February 13, 2017 | Indianapolis Star | Link to Article

It’s easy to get depressed these days about the state of politics. But recent actions and statements from Gov. Eric Holcomb and Mayor Joe Hogsett offer bipartisan reasons for optimism.

We all want our political leaders to do the right thing. But in truth, that’s not as easy as it sounds because what is considered right is a subjective thing and its definition veers wildly between election cycles and among different sets of voters. To quote an old TV show theme song, “What might be right for you may not be right for some.”

But it seems to me that there are a couple of sure-fire ways for a politician to determine what is right. The first is to simply ask: What is the most decent way of handling this situation? The second is to think about how decisions made today will look years or even decades from now, long after the next election has passed.

With all that in mind, and amid this uniquely depressing moment in American political history, we have here in Indiana a pair of politicians, one a Republican and the other a Democrat, who in recent days have exemplified the notion of doing the right thing. We all spend a lot of time complaining about politicians these days, but Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett have given us reason to be optimistic.

From my perspective, both men made decisions and statements that seem filled with compassion and common sense. As such, it would be easy to dismiss them as no-brainers. But there are few such decisions in political life, and few moves come free of criticism or outrage. So despite any debates that may commence, it seems worth saying out loud that Holcomb and Hogsett not only did what was decent but what will seem admirable many years from now.

The decisions began late last week, when Holcomb announced that he was issuing a pair of orders that former Gov. Mike Pence, his fellow Republican and former boss, refused to issue during his time in the Statehouse.

First, Holcomb granted a long-overdue pardon to Keith Cooper, a 49-year-old man who spent a decade in prison after being wrongfully convicted — according to witnesses, DNA evidence, the prosecution, and the state parole board — for a 1996 armed robbery in Elkhart. Second, Holcomb declared an emergency disaster and asked for federal assistance for East Chicago, where a housing complex contaminated with lead has threatened residents and led to understandable fears and frustration.

Talk about doing the right thing.

And talk about offering yet more evidence that the state now has a governor who is putting good policy first and is not being driven by a Pence-like ideology that, in these particular cases, I cannot comprehend. As Holcomb announced the East Chicago declaration, he said, “What I want to do is make sure we get this right.” Time and again in his first month in office, he has made decisions that show he is intent on doing just that.

Hogsett, meanwhile, found himself faced with a tougher political issue this weekend as hundreds of faith leaders and others rallied against President Donald Trump’s immigration actions. Even in a Democratic city such as Indianapolis, politicos understand that fierce debates over immigration, not to mention the miniscule turnouts in local elections, make it a dangerous political topic.

Rather than dodge the issue, though, Hogsett stepped up and did the right thing. He offered a message that the city needed to hear from its leader, particularly as the policy debate over immigration continues to be muddled by Trump’s rash behavior, court rulings, mean-spirited rhetoric, uncertainty, and years of legislative inaction in Washington. Indianapolis cannot solve this problem but its leader can set down a clear guiding philosophy.

“I vow again today, for all to hear, that no one in our city will be stripped of their privileges that are rightly secured to them as peoples of our community,” Hogsett said, according to his prepared remarks. “Because anyone who, like us, lives their lives with empathy, inclusivity and love, is welcome here.”

Hogsett urged listeners to think about how the actions taken today will be perceived years and generations from now. “Let our answer be that we did all we could to protect those in need,” he said. “Let our answer be that we loved and welcomed all.”

Many people will criticize Hogsett’s words. But they needed to be said, just as Holcomb’s actions needed to be taken. We can worry about the political consequences later. For now, let’s be happy that two of state’s most important leaders are doing the right thing.