Commentary: Eric Holcomb and the GOP new crew’s legacy

By Cam Savage
TheStatehouseFile.com 

My first campaign experience with Eric Holcomb was in Petersburg, Ind., carrying a Hoosiers for Holcomb sign in one of the dozens of small town parades that are the very essence of small town Indiana campaign tradition. Eric’s beloved hound Vasco walked in the parade, too. Commentary button in JPG - no shadowActually, I think a volunteer pulled Vasco in a wagon. Vasco was never one to exert much energy.

Vasco’s owner, on the other hand, took off on the parade route shaking every hand he could, working both sides of the street, running back and forth, back and forth, the entire length of the parade.

I’ve been trying to keep up with him ever since.

That fall, after the election, Eric and I met again at a dinner at the Elks Lodge in Gibson County. After the dinner, we sat in the basement and

Cam Savage is a principal at Limestone Strategies and a veteran of numerous Republican campaigns.

Cam Savage is a principal at Limestone Strategies and a veteran of numerous Republican campaigns.

talked in great detail about the state of the Republican Party. We were both deeply disillusioned by our party’s inability to outline a compelling vision for our fellow Hoosiers.

And we talked about things Republicans had to do better, which we were pretty sure included a need to stop ignoring voters who lived in places like Princeton and Petersburg.  Around midnight the Elks finally ran us out. And that same conversation has been going on pretty much uninterrupted for the last 13 years.

The voters of the 64th district didn’t select Eric Holcomb as their state representative that year, and it might have been the best thing that ever happened to the Republican Party in Indiana.

While that Hoosiers for Holcomb campaign wasn’t an electoral success, it was a transformational experience. The highlight might have been Eric debating his opponent and then-Speaker of the Indiana House John Gregg at the same time, two against one. (It was the only way his opponent would agree to debate him.)

After serving as an intelligence officer in the Navy and helping elect his friend Terry Mooney mayor in Vincennes and re-electing John Hostettler to the U.S. House of Representatives, Eric was one of many Republicans frustrated by 16 long years of Democratic control of the governor’s office. But unlike most of those Republicans, he was determined to do something about it.

Eric’s energy was on full display in those days. There was no place he wouldn’t go, no one he wouldn’t meet with to talk about the future of the Republican Party in Indiana. He kept detailed notes and added them to his own ideas about how to launch a Republican revival. And you have to remember; these were dark days for Republicans. We’d just lost the fourth consecutive race for governor, Evan Bayh was in the U.S. Senate, and Democrats controlled the Indiana House. But it was our inability to win the governor’s office that most troubled us.

So not that long later, when he had an opportunity to meet a guy named Mitch Daniels, Eric came prepared and presented Daniels with his detailed plan about how a guy, even a relatively unknown one like Mitch, could design a campaign that would finally, finally put a Republican in the governor’s office.

You know the rest of the story, and Eric would be the first to tell you that thousands, literally thousands of people came together to elect Mitch Daniels governor. It wasn’t just a campaign; it was a movement. But even movements need structure, and planning, and architects out of the limelight putting it all together.

For the next decade, Eric would be at the center of the movement, with roles in both Daniels’ campaigns, and as campaign manager in the second – a record-setting re-election campaign that most people thought had very little chance of success when Eric took the reigns in the spring of 2007.

Through every legacy refo – Major Moves, the property tax cut and cap, the landmark education reforms – Eric played a key role.

And had Mitch run for president, well, it’s almost too painful to think about, but Eric would have been helping to lead that movement, too.

So I was a bit saddened this week when Eric announced that he was stepping down as Chairman of the Indiana Republican Party, even though he’s leaving our party in a much, much stronger position than where he found it 13 years ago. He, of course, shares those accomplishments with a great many people, and moving on seems the right course of action when you’ve done all you originally set out to do.

It’s another reminder that the Daniels era has drawn, or is drawing, to a chronological close. But the effects of the Daniels years will live on, if only in the thousands of younger Hoosiers who came of age in those years and learned about public service and leadership from people like Eric and the other “new crew” leaders who showed us all how to practice politics the right way.

Eric’s much too young to retire, so I’m eager to see what’s next for him. I think I still have the Hoosiers for Holcomb sign in my garage. I hope I’ll need it again soon.

Cam Savage is a principal at Limestone Strategies and a veteran of numerous Republican campaigns and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He also worked at the Department of Education for former Superintendent Tony Bennett. He is a graduate of Franklin College. He can be reached at Cam@limestone-strategies.com.

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