INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb took on the conservative criticism over his coronavirus pandemic orders as he faced his two reelection challengers in a televised debate Tuesday night.
Holcomb, a Republican, also faced arguments from Democratic candidate Woody Myers that he’s been too passive in the state’s recent response as Indiana’s has seen steep increases in coronavirus-related deaths, infections and hospitalizations in the time since Holcomb last month lifted nearly all of coronavirus restrictions on businesses and crowd sizes.
Some conservatives around the state have argued Holcomb has exceeded his authority with a statewide mask mandate and executive orders forcing the closure of businesses deemed nonessential during the early weeks of the pandemic.
That has some longtime Republicans saying they’ll be voting for Libertarian Donald Rainwater, who said during the debate that Holcomb’s action exceeded the Constitution’s intent and infringed on individual liberty.
Holcomb said that his actions were needed during a public health emergency.
“Our individual liberty needs to be guarded,” Holcomb said. “When that liberty, or those actions, start to infringe on someone else that’s where we have to take a look at the public safety. It is just like a seatbelt, it’s just like wearing shoes in a restaurant, it’s just like fire codes — they’re meant for safety procedures.”
Myers, a physician and former state health commissioner, criticized Holcomb for issuing a mask mandate that many people ignore since it doesn’t include any penalties for violators.
“If what we were doing was working, then we wouldn’t have record numbers,” Myers said. “Our positivity rate is going up and our hospitals are filling up.”
State health officials on Tuesday added 48 coronavirus-related deaths to Indiana’s toll, which has reached 4,008, including confirmed and presumed coronavirus infections, since the state’s first death was reported in mid-March. That total is an increase of 502 deaths from what the state health department reported a month ago.
Indiana’s number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and intensive care unit patients are both up nearly 90% in the past month, while the state’s seven-day rolling average of newly confirmed COVID-19 infections is at the highest level during the pandemic and has more than doubled since late September.
Rainwater, an information technology manager from Westfield, has said he would undo Holcomb’s executive orders and said Tuesday he would ask state lawmakers to limit the emergency powers that the governor has used for the past seven months while the Legislature has been out of session.
“I don’t believe the governor is a legislator,” Rainwater said. “The governor is supposed to execute the laws that are passed by the General Assembly.”
The three candidates are scheduled to take part in another debate sponsored by the nonprofit Indiana Debate Commission on Oct. 27.