This episode is part of a TV Series called Restoring Hope with Crosswinds Counseling. Restoring Hope With Crosswinds Counseling can be viewed in the Indianapolis Area on WHMB40 Thursday nights @ 9:30 pm.
Curtis Smith Intro: We’re so privileged to occasionally sit down with men and women who shape the laws and policies behind the running of our state and tonight we once again get to hear from one of those people. State senator Travis Holdman is one of the most tenured members of the Indiana state senate, and recently I got to sit down with Senator Holdman in Fort Wayne. Here’s part one of our conversation.
Curtis Smith: We’re sitting down with state senator Travis Holdman. Travis, thank you so much for joining us.
Travis Holdman: My pleasure.
Curtis Smith: You’ve been a state senator now for almost 15 years. That has to have been an interesting ride. What has it been like for you the last 15 years serving in the state house?
Travis Holdman: Well it’s been interesting. Been a ride. I’ve enjoyed it. I think the thing that I enjoy most is constituent work. Folks calling my office in Indy or calling me directly. If they get my cell phone number, which is out there, and folks have an opportunity to call if they have problems with Bureau Motor Vehicles or Department of Revenue, Department of Environmental Management, DCS. I get a lot of calls about DCS, Department of Child Servicescwhich is sort of a link to my background. My wife and I did short-term missionary work in Haiti for nearly a couple years right after we got married, and came back. And I was the DCS Director in Wells County for 11 years before I left to go back and get my law degree. And so there were just two of us in the senate that had any experience working in the Department of Child Services and Child Protective Services, and so now I’m the only one left and so I get lots of calls and field lots of complaints and concerns folks have about what goes on in DCS. But when I started, David Long and appointed me to chair the Banking & Insurance Committee back shortly after I started in the senate because I have a banking background. 12 years as CEO of Marco Bank and IAB here in Fort Wayne. And then with the retirement of the chair of the insurance and or the tax on fiscal policy committee, excuse me, he asked me to take over the tax committee and so I’ve done that now going on five years. So it’s been a ride, and it’s been exciting. You get involved in a lot of discussions and some of the backroom things that go on, that in the planning phase which has been exciting for us and putting Indiana out on the front edge to make us more competitive. It’s been exciting to be a part of those decisions and part of that decision-making.
Curtis Smith: Tell me about that because I do feel like, maybe not exactly over your time in the senate, but certainly over the last 15 years, maybe a little bit longer, Indiana’s profile nationally really has risen. I think our position nationally has really escalated. From your vantage point, being in those backroom discussions, have you seen that profile rise for the Hoosier state?
Travis Holdman: Yeah, and it really started with Mitch Daniels. When Mitch was governor, and I worked with his office and several pieces of legislation for the governor’s office back then, and we moved things along. Moved Indiana up. We paid off a lot of debt [and] restructured taxes. If folks remember, we took over all of the funding for Department of Child Services. The state took over all of that. The state took over all the funding for schools – schools operational expenses and made a huge difference. We did have to raise the sales tax. That was the year before I came to the senate. The sales tax was raised a penny, to seven cents from six, but restructured a lot with property tax. We have moved Indiana up to be one of the top states, one of the top states in the midwest for business tax and corporate tax, individual tax, property taxes. As folks – as much angst there is right now with local assessments and local property tax bills because of the change in the economy and what’s going on with housing in Indiana and all across the country. Actually, Indiana still is ranked number one in low property taxes for the consumer and so there’s a lot of things we can be proud of in Indiana. Plus we’ve been able to build a huge reserve. One of the things that Mitch Daniels did was put a program into place called the Automatic Taxpayer Refund. If our revenues come in and we build a reserve past 12 and a half percent of our budget, then the following year we have to basically give that back to the taxpayer and those deposits are going in right now as we speak. 125 dollars per taxpayer and 250 for joint filers. It’s not as exciting as 700-dollar checks that you get from the federal government or some of the incentive money that’s come from the federal government, but those are borrowed dollars. Indiana’s are actually real dollars in the bank that we’ve got and they’re not. That’s not borrowed money, and so we’re excited about that. The other thing we’ve been able to do is pay down retirement debt that we owe. We have a huge unfunded liability. When I started in the senate it was about 20 billion dollars that we owed – an unfunded liability for teacher retirement funds. Come 30 days from now we will pay an additional two and a half billion dollars down of that debt which will get us down in the neighborhood of about six billion dollars and there’s gonna be a cliff come in about five or six years, and that legislature is going to have about a billion-dollar windfall because we pay out of the budget that we pass every two years. We pay a billion dollars a year to pay off that unfunded liability, and so hopefully the legislature at that time, whether I’m there or not will just give it back to the taxpayer rather than fund more government programs.
Curtis Smith: Yeah, let’s talk about the future. You’re up for [re-]election this fall. You are about to be at the 15-year mark. As you think about your future in the state senate what do you think that looks like?
Travis Holdman: Well I’ve become one of the senior senators in just a short amount of time. When I started folks had been there 25, 30 years and the 2010 election, the 2014 election, and then 16, there was a huge turnover in the number of folks leaving the senate and we had six folks that retired from the senate just this year and so we’ve seen a huge shift in historical knowledge of everything that goes on in the senate and the process and how that goes we have a new pro tempore that’s been in now for two and a half years, three years, since David Long retired. And so there’s been a great change, and it’s a different place than it was when I started. I’m one of the older guys and back then I thought I was one of the younger guys, but it’s a different place than before.
Curtis Smith: I’m sure we’re going to continue our conversation with state senator Travis Holdman when we come back.
Curtis Smith Intro: Welcome back. I’m Curtis Smith. We’re going to continue part two of our conversation now with state senator Travis Holdman. In the second part of our chat senator Holman discusses some of the progress we’ve been able to make in the area of mental health.
Curtis Smith: Travis you mentioned a few minutes ago that you had worked at DCS and it seems like that’s a good pivot point to take our conversation into the mental health space. I know on both sides of the state house you guys have done incredible work to try to address some of the mental health issues in the Hoosier state where we historically have not ranked very well. From your perspective what kind of progress have you seen over the last few years, especially in that in that space.
Travis Holdman: Well I think we’ve identified the fact that we have a mental health issue and I think just in the last 18 months, two years it’s even been amplified with the pandemic and then such things as mass shootings. Those kind of things just raises that subject even higher on the agenda. I think one of the accomplishments that we’ve made is hundreds of millions of dollars that we have pumped into government services through schools, through mental health clinics, through hospitals, physicians practices, hospitals, everybody touches anything to do with mental health and kids and families, we’ve pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into those programs utilizing many times federal monies that have been available to us, especially with pandemic funding, but I think it’s one thing that we’d be proud of that I’m not sure that we have a solution necessarily because so much of it comes from society, and things that we can’t fix and wave a magic wand and fix or throw money at it and it’s going to fix it because of single-parent families and all those kind of issues of fatherless families that are out there that it’s just very difficult for us. Drug issues.
Curtis Smith: A lot of those issues are generational too. So even if you’re on the right path it’s hard sometimes to know because you might not see the results for 10 or 20 years.
Travis Holdman: That’s true. That’s true. It’s very disconcerting because you get stuck in a cycle and kids model behavior that their parents exhibit and if it’s bad behavior kids will model that same behavior and we have a lot of young teens as parents these days and they were raised by teenagers and some of the behaviors haven’t been the best for society as we move from one generation to the next.
Curtis Smith: so knowing that it is a hard thing to get your arms wrapped around is something that might take years or decades to really make real progress, as you think about your pending election this fall and continuing to be a member of the state senate, what do you think about in terms of how you can move the needle? How can we make progress into the future? What’s on your mind? What’s on your agenda in the mental health space going forward now?
Travis Holdman: Well one of the things that I think we can do will help when we identify a family in crisis, that we really look at a home-based model to assemble a whole group of services available to families who have needs. Whether it comes to us through DCS or through the school corporation. I think there are opportunities first to help that family out whether it’s with counseling or homemaker services or just health issues. Getting proper health that the children and mothers and fathers need. Employment. All those kind of things. That whole spectrum that makes up our society. And things we can do better I think, assembling a team approach to helping those families is really what we need to do. Not that we’re going to be the big brother to solve all the issues and all the problems for people, but just make those services available to families. And the not-for-profit community has done an outstanding job here in Indiana, and we can be very proud of what the not-for-profit community has done.
Curtis Smith: Outside of mental health as you’re thinking about being one of the senior members of the state senate, as you mentioned, what other accomplishments would you love to see here over the next couple of years.
Travis Holdman: Making sure that state government runs efficiently. Nothing frustrates me any more than just when we deal with the state agency [than] to be told, ‘Well this is not how we do it.’ Well tell me why this is how you do it and why you continue to do things that aren’t working. And I think just being more efficient. I think probably one of my heroes is Mitch Daniels. When I think back one of the things that he did with a motor pool after he first started as governor he went and the story is that they went out and they put a penny on the top of the tire and all the cars in the motor pool throughout Indianapolis that were state-owned vehicles they went back a month later and if the penny was still on the tire they towed the vehicle and sold it because they didn’t need it. Got lots of folks upset about that but basically, it’s running government as efficiently as we possibly can and empower the taxpayer to take care of themselves and around their own life and not the government do it for them.
Curtis Smith: That seems very Indiana. Very Midwest to just be about common sense, to be practical. Something we talked about a few minutes ago. Our state has gotten a lot better at that but you’d like to still see even more improvement.
Travis Holdman: I think there’s lots of opportunity for privatization in many realms and freeing up folks to do the job that they’re hired to do. Sort of an entrepreneurial spirit about state government. Sometimes would get bogged down and just a myopic view of how things ought to be done, when we need to take in and think outside the box sometimes. I think we could benefit from that.
Curtis Smith: As we close here I suspect a lot of Hoosiers probably don’t have a great feel for what your life looks like as a state senator, what day-to-day is like when you’re in session. Paint that picture for us. What is it like when you’re there running the state.
Travis Holdman: At the state house?
Curtis Smith: Yeah.
Travis Holdman: I see a lot of people. On my ear to talk to me about issues that they have. We have constituents that come and visit the state house and constituents come first. If I hear that there’s a school group in the state house, or group of teachers in the state house from my district or city officials from my district, I’ll cancel other appointments, especially with lobbyists if that’s the the appointment, to talk to constituents. But then as well, I’m also caucus chairman and so I deal with a lot of issues within the caucus itself. How folks get along with each other and just running the caucus from day to day is sometimes a challenge for me.
Curtis Smith: I was going to say that can’t be fun every day.
Travis Holdman: No comment.
Curtis Smith: Travis thank you so much for sitting down with us and sharing your insight. We really appreciate it, and thanks for your service to our state.
Travis Holdman: Sure. Thank you. Appreciate it.