Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, Indiana’s Secretary of Agriculture, announced on Feb. 9 that she was ‘transitioning out of her position.’ On the same afternoon Gov. Mike Pence said he would nominate Eric Holcomb to be Indiana’s next Lt. Governor. By statute, he would also become Indiana’s next Secretary of Agriculture.
The Secretary of Agriculture is in charge of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. We caught up with ISDA director Ted McKinney for an exclusive interview. Here is what McKinney said about the unfolding situation.
IPF: The timing of the announcement this week seemed awkward. Is there an explanation for it?
McKinney: The timing was difficult. Gov. Pence realized that if a new Lt. Governor was going to be nominated and approved by the General Assembly, it needed to happen soon. This session ends in March. Gov. Pence has noted that this process takes weeks, not days.
IPF: Lt. Gov. Ellspermann has not been named as Ivy Tech president at this time - correct?
McKinney: That is true. She has applied for the job. Both Lt. Gov. Ellspermann and Gov. Pence realized that the Ivy Tech process happens on its own timetable, and they didn’t want to interfere with that process.
IPF: Isn’t Ivy Tech state-supported?
McKinney: Ivy Tech does receive state support. The governor appoints members to the Ivy Tech Board of Trustees. However, in my opinion it’s a testament to this governor that he didn’t want to interfere in the process. Instead he and the Lt. Governor chose to go a different route.
IPF: So is Sue Ellspermann still the Lt. Governor and Secretary of Agriculture at this point?
McKinney: Absolutely! As I understand it, she will remain in office until Gov. Pence and the Indiana General Assembly complete the nomination and approval process for Eric Holcomb.
IPF: Is Eric Holcomb prepared to be Indiana’s Secretary of Agriculture?
McKinney: Yes, I am confident that he is. I have known Eric and his wife for 15 years, and hold both of them in the highest regard. You don’t serve as the deputy chief of the staff for the governor in Indiana, as he did with Gov. Daniels, and not learn about and interact with people in agriculture. He also had interaction with agricultural interests while on Sen. Coats staff. In addition, he has visited every county in Indiana recently while campaigning, and most of them at least twice. He has a good feel for what rural Indiana is about.
Sue Ellspermann didn’t come from an ag background, but she learned quickly and does an excellent job. I believe Eric will do the same.
IPF: ISDA is preparing a new strategic plan, and Lt. Gov. Ellspermann was heavily involved in that process. How will this affect that process?
McKinney: I don’t believe it will affect our strategic planning in the least. We have received input from all of Indiana’s major commodity groups, from Indiana Farm Bureau, Purdue University, soil conservation partners and many other stakeholders. The planning process will move ahead. In fact, we will roll Eric Holcomb into the process as soon as practical so he is aware of what we are doing.
IPF: When will the plan be launched?
McKinney: Our goal is to roll it out in March or April, but if we’re not ready and need to delay it, we will. We want to put forth a quality plan, and we’ll take more time if necessary.
IPF: Anything else you would like to add?
McKinney: Yes. I love and continue to love Sue Ellspermann for what she has done as Lt. Governor. I feel the same way about Eric Holcomb. I am equally enthusiastic and confident about what he will bring to Indiana agriculture.