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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, May 18, 2017 1:00 am

Familiar face tapped as lobbyist for Indiana

Former aide to Daniels will advocate for state in DC

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Eric Holcomb has turned the reins of Indiana's lobbying efforts back to a Washington, D.C., insider who has experience pushing the state's interests.

Deborah Hohlt has returned as the state's primary lobbyist after serving in that role for eight years under former Gov. Mitch Daniels.

When then-Gov. Mike Pence took office in 2013, he went another direction with Josh Pitcock, who is now his chief of staff in the vice president's office.

“When Gov. Holcomb became governor it was easy for me to hit the ground running,” Hohlt said. “I'm thrilled to be helping.”

It's not a surprise Holcomb would turn to a familiar face since he worked under Daniels and ran his re-election campaign.

Hohlt's one-year contract running until February costs the state $284,000 – which is split among various state agencies. The Family and Social Services Administration, which handles health care for the poor, picks up the largest share followed by the Indiana Department of Transportation.

In general, her job is to maximize federal income to the state and reduce federal regulatory burdens; advocate for the governor's priorities in the federal arena and work with state agency heads to come up with a federal legislative strategy.

Hohlt also staffs the governor, first lady, cabinet members and senior staff when they go to Washington, D.C.

Some of the hot topics on her plate include health care reform and how it might affect the state's HIP 2.0 Medicaid expansion; transportation funding; the farm bill authorization bill and the East Chicago Superfund site.

“Debbie has decades of proven experience and was able to hit the ground running for Gov. Holcomb,” spokeswoman Stephanie Wilson said. “She understands Indiana issues and the federal landscape, and she has great relationships here and in the nation's capital. She is the best. We're grateful to have her advocating for Indiana in D.C.”

Hohlt has two full-time employees – also Hoosiers – and spends a lot of time working with Indiana's congressional delegation.

“They are well-situated on committees and with seniority,” she said. “It's everything you would expect. Focusing on the dollars coming to the state from the federal government and the strings often attached; trying to identify areas with our team back in Indiana to allow us to do things the Hoosier way.”

Her contract allows for travel expenses back-and-forth to Indiana, which are paid out of the governor's office's budget. So far this year she has collected $2,159.

And Hohlt maintains a lobbying contract with Purdue University, which hired her in 2013 shortly after Daniels took over as president. She is paid $252,000 annually there.