Gov. Holcomb reflects on first year, drug epidemic, roads, legalizing pot

Governor Eric Holcomb spoke with NewsChannel 15's Heather Herron as he wrapped up his first year in office.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WANE)  As Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb wraps up his first year in office, he sat down briefly with NewsChannel 15’s Heather Herron.

He said he’s proud of the work his administration has accomplished, but knows there are lots of issue to tackle in the future.

Heather: As you look back at your first year in office, what are your reflections?

Governor Holcomb: It’s been a year of progress and that’s always fulfilling and satisfying. And it’s been a – self-described but I’ve heard others say – first legislative session being one that was collaborative and substantive and I concur. And we set out very early and said everyone knows that door is open 24/7, my cell phone is with me, not just staff, and it’s on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We just set out not be a pest, but you can’t over-communicate with us. We want more information, more involvement. If you’ve got a better idea, if you have a way to improve what we’re trying to do, bring it. I want you to be part of this. I want to build the state of Indiana together and it seems to be working. And sure we have our challenges, but that gives us confidence to take on those challenges. So I think we have the will and the courage, and fortunately in the state of Indiana we have the means to do it.

Heather: Have there been any surprises in terms of getting the job done?

Governor Holcomb: I think the surprises I’ve had – I’ve been around this office, but this was the first year I’ve sat behind the desk not in front of the desk. So things have come to me, I’m not taking them to the desk. What surprised me is how – when it all comes to you.. when the stories come to you, from real people – when you share one-on-one interactions with people, they have a profoundly personal effect on you.The good news and the darker side of life, the things that we see unfortunately happen that really call into question humanity.

Those are the things that – whereas before in my life, whether it was in the Navy or in public service, in the civic arena – those are things that I could go from one topic to the next and move on and never be burdened by the ultimate outcome, but now in this job it’s just much more personal. And you’re rooting for people’s success and you know – whether it’s the drug epidemic that we’re battling and you know someone who’s trying to stay on the road to recovery – you don’t forget that, or at least I don’t. It stays with you 24/7. So that’s been the biggest adjustment and what, quite honestly, I lose sleep over.

Heather: Let’s talk about the drug epidemic. I know that’s something you’re very actively tackling. What kind of plan do you have in place for that?

Governor Holcomb: We are – and this is an all-hands on deck, and when I say that I mean local, state, federal, non-profits, the business community, our courts, our jails, our hospitals – all have to come together. And so this is occurring all over the country, and just with the sheer volume and number of prescriptions… It was projected there were about 230-million plus prescriptions dispensed last year. So enough for every adult, enough for 30 days. So there’s this huge funnel and so we have to do everything we can to dial that back.

You know they say,”no pain, no gain.” Well, no pain was encouraging over-prescription.And so we have to do everything we can to make sure that we’re not. And we’ve taken steps to limit the number of days for first-time users for legal prescriptions, painkillers, to seven days. Kentucky has gone to three. That’s gonna help. We need to do all we can to limit that volume that’s in the system. We have to do all we can to crack down on enforcement, to raise the level of penalty of folks. We’re sitting her at the crossroads of America – good for legal commerce. [It] also happens to be good for illegal commerce. We have to do all we can – not rhetorically – to send a message that “not here.” And then what is going to take so much time and effort is on the prevention front. And that’s gonna take more than education, but we’re gonna have to deal with this at a very early age in our schools and make sure that we’re also supplying folks that want to not just get on that road to recovery but stay on the road, the treatment and the access to that treatment. And far too often what we’re seeing around that country and in Indiana as well – we’re not immune to this – is that when folks reach out and they need help, we have to be able to get them in an open bed now. And so we’re gonna need more treatment centers and all the money in the world won’t solve this – it will take more money – but coordination and partnerships to get that access is what we need. And so we’re on the right path, we’re moving in the right direction, but this is one of those things that I’d like to get to our ultimate destination right now, but it’s gonna take time. It’s gonna take patience and we have to build it and is has to be sturdy and built right. We can’t just be – we have to get the right data, the right information. We and other states have struggled with.. you know, data is like vegetables, it’s gotta be fresh. And we need to know if it’s spice or fentanyl or heroine or meth. And when it is and how it’s morphing and moving so we can make sure – and where are we putting in the treatment centers? And we have to make those decisions. We can’t spill our resources because they’re precious and so are the lives that we’re trying to save. So we have made lot of progress but this is an issue that washed up on our shore and it’s gonna take some patience and take time to get it right so folks can get their lives back.

Heather: Recently your office and the Attorney General’s office came out in clarification of CBD oil. Where do you stand on that and medical marijuana in general?

Governor Holcomb: The latter first, if I could. Medical marijuana, I’m not there. I’m not there YET I should say. I would encourage the folks who are proponents of that – who believe in the validity of that as a medical alternative, to convince the FDA. The FDA is the national organization that approves medicines for sale. I don’t subscribe to this notion that this hodge-podge effort in terms of what medicines are legal and not. And I was encouraged, quite honestly, when current Hoosier who’s now the surgeon general of the United State of America came out and said that medical marijuana was worthy of research. And I think that’s appropriate. We’ll see. I’ll learn something from that.What I don’t subscribe to is this cash-only business and what I’ve seen, the ripple effects that it’s had on other states. Yes, it’s raised revenue but it’s also cost a lot as well in terms of health with kids, with babies. And so both sides of the ledger need to be looked at. And if there are ways for medical marijuana to be brought into the market then the FDA needs to approve those ways.

On CBD oil..CBD oil is legal to be bought and sold in the state of Indiana. I said I wanted to have 60 days where our administration was out educating the sellers, primarily, as to what could be sold and not sold. THC not allowed. CBD oil is allowed. And if the legislature has some ideas about how to clarify – meaning labeling, etc. – I want to entertain those. Anything that helps clarify the laws that in the past have been passed, then I’m all for it. And if they need 90 days then so be it. But I wanted to send a message to our administration, first and foremost, that the legislature will be here when that 60 days is up, we’ll kinda know what direction they’re headed. If they need any more time to pass any clarification, so be it. They’ll have my full support.

Heather: INDOT has discussed turning more of our highways into toll roads. Do you believe that’s a good idea?

Governor Holcomb: Much like the roads and bridges infrastructure package that we just passed this budget session, that didn’t start this year. That had years of study that led up to it. And so we’re taking the same approach at potentially tolling. And over the course of 2018, the legislature has directed me to submit the strategic plan on the ifs, where, when of any tolling that might occur. We know there are needs. And I think we all agree that adding lanes to 70 or 65 are needed. First and foremost for safety reasons and secondly for swiftness and if we want to continue to be the crossroads of America. The idea of tolling is attractive in that so much of our traffic is through traffic. And so the very vehicles that are wearing down our infrastructure are paying very little for it. And so if we can capture that – and that’s sort of the lurch toward looking at the art of what’s possible. But I’ve made no decisions. I want this to be a data-driven decision. And it would also be one that would then have to go persuade the public on whether this is the right thing or not the right thing.

I did request that no bypasses around municipalities were tolled. So we’re looking at interstates, not bypasses around municipalities. And so I’m open-minded about it at this point and I can see how it is attractive. I see in other places in the world. :46 We know that the revenue from our gas tax will decline as vehicles become more fuel efficient and electric and battery driven, and who knows what will be here in 15 years. The good news is we’ll put 7.5 billion dollars over the next five years into our roads and bridges. Those are our state assets and we’ve just increased every county.. Allen County and 91 other counties, about 40%. This year we had a community crossings program that was about 150 million dollars that’ll go right into local projects. Next year that’s projected to be about 190 million for local projects, so there’s gonna be a lot of construction that occurs over the next 5 years but we have to be mindful of what’s year 10 look like and what’s year 15 look like? And year 20 look like. And how are we gonna pay for that if tax revenue is declining at the very same time that traffic is increasing on 65 or 70 of 69 or 74 or 64.