-- — SOUTH BEND — Fiscal integrity was a common thread of Indiana’s second gubernatorial debate Wednesday at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.
In front of a crowd of 483, Democrat John Gregg, Republican Mike Pence and Libertarian Rupert Boneham debated several issues, but seemed to tie nearly every question back to the push for economic growth and job creation in Indiana.
Candidates fielded questions from local residents and, in the spirit of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, challenged each other on topics they brought up.
While the candidates agreed on the need to grow more good-paying jobs in Indiana, they varied in their answers on how to foster job creation in the state. Many of their statements were themes visited during last week’s first debate in Zionsville.
Pence stated he wanted to look at tax cuts across the board for Hoosiers, including the large portion of small businesses that can file as individuals. He said this tax cut would give Indiana one of the lowest tax rates in the Midwest, increasing funds for Hoosiers and attracting jobs. He also stressed his goal of giving the state more control over funds currently controlled by the federal government as an opportunity to increase state revenue and success.
"The opportunity right now is to build on that progress (of the last eight years under Gov. Mitch Daniels)," Pence said. "There is a common opinion here between me and my opponents – keeping Indiana on the same path we’re on is not good enough."
Gregg cited his plan for transportation jobs as a way to create jobs for Hoosiers.
"I have a plan, and it’s for roads, bridges, rail, maritime ports and airports," Gregg said Wednesday. "What we do is we take existing funds that Indiana has, and we leverage those and raise $3.5 billion. According to the Federal Highway Administration, that will create 97,000 good-paying jobs."
Boneham urged the decentralization of the state government, giving more power back to county and local-level governments.
"We need to decentralize our (state) government," Boneham said. "Close those offices down in Indianapolis, put power back into the community. I want to grow the state by empowering the counties."
There was some contention during the debate when Amy Leonard, a single mother from Mishawaka, asked a question that struck a chord between Pence and Gregg. Leonard, who had some state assistance, said she lost it shortly after she reported her job to the state, though she felt she could still use the funds. She asked the candidates if they planned to create more transitional programs to make the move to financial independence easier.
While Pence was sympathetic to Leonard’s plight as a single mother, raising her children with little help while attending school and working full-time, Gregg said Pence’s policies do not benefit single parents, but rather only two-parent families.
"His family plan doesn’t consider me and my boys a family," Gregg said, citing his time spent as a single father. Gregg was referencing Pence’s "Roadmap" plan’s section on strong families and children, which talks most about families with married parents. "The way we help families is by creating better-paying jobs."
After the debate Pence said of course he considers single parents families, and called the plight "heroic."
"One of the most affective ways to reduce childhood poverty," Pence explained, "is to encourage more young people to get married, stay married and to wait to have kids until they’re married."
Retirement and senior citizen care was also a topic. South Bend resident Raynaldo Hernandez asked the candidates if they had plans to place emphasis on in-home retirement care, as opposed to sending retirees to nursing homes. The debate also spent time on the shortage with state pension funds for public retirees.
"When I see an administration that does not look at cutting from the administration but looks at cutting benefits, we have to look at where our dollars are," Boneham said. "… I really have to say, I want to be able to show how we will expose some of our problems, where we will show where the dollars are and decide as a community where cuts should be made."
Pence and Gregg both answered with the emphasis on keeping promises made to Indiana public employees. Pence said he also agreed with Gregg on the point that fiscal growth is the key to fighting the pension shortage problem.
Indiana jails and criminal prosecution practices also saw debate time Wednesday, as it had in the first debate last week in Zionsville. Boneham argued for alternative plans to incarceration for Indiana law-breakers.
"We have stalled in our legislature in figuring out what we are going to do, how we are going to solve this problem (of jail overcrowding and increased numbers of incarcerations) without going bankrupt," Boneham said. "We cannot keep putting everyone in jail.
"Are we going to continue to lock up every person who breaks the law, no matter how petty the law is?" he asked in the rebuttal. He answered that he hoped not, and he didn’t want a state that "built an economy on incarceration."
Boneham said he does believe law-breakers should be punished, but also cited alternative programs, like the ones he has created in Indianapolis, as examples of alternatives.
Gregg and Pence both commended Boneham on his efforts, and echoed the need for alternative programs. While Pence said he also sees the need for transitional programs for incarcerated criminals to productive lives as citizens, Gregg focused on the need to train more law enforcement officials.
Gregg continued to be critical of Pence after the debate, calling him a "Tea Party extremist," and poking fun at Pence’s "Roadmap" plan for Indiana.
"His roadmap takes the Tea Party fork in the road," Gregg said. "That’s not where Indiana wants to go."
Pence remained laid back afterward and didn’t seem bothered by the sharp exchanges.
"Debates are about debating," Pence said. "I think I said what I came to say."
The three candidates will debate for a third and final time a week from today at WFWA-TV in Fort Wayne. It will begin at 7 p.m. and there will be no live audience.
Amanda Gray is a staff writer for the Goshen News and can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.