By Sam Quinn
Democrat John Gregg used the first gubernatorial debate of the season to go on the offensive against his opponent Mike Pence, criticizing the Republican's recent voting record in Congress, his ideology and his campaign proposals.
And while Pence largely ignored the assault, he used at least some of his time in the one-hour forum to attack Gregg's fiscal management when the Democrat was speaker of the Indiana House.
Gregg got the fracas started. Pence challenged the Democrat as well as Libertarian Rupert Boneham to talk about fiscal issues, but Gregg used the time instead to assail Pence's votes against an auto bailout and for trade agreements that he said hurt Indiana's steel industry.
"You're talking about a roadmap to create jobs, yet your ideology has led to Indiana losing hundreds and thousands of jobs," Gregg said. "I don't know where that roadmap leads, but I know where that roadmap has been, and it's not been for Indiana workers, and it's not been for the auto or steel industry."
Gregg also said that voters should pay attention to the difference between "candidate Pence" and "Congressman Pence."
"You know the candidate and the congressman, they're two different people," Gregg said. "You've got to look beyond the rhetoric. You've got to look beyond the record, look beyond the roadmap."
But Pence was quick to defend his records. He said he's had a 95 percent attendance record in Congress. And after the debate, he said he's proud of his record and his legislative votes.
Then he tried to turn the viewers' attention on Gregg's record as speaker of the Indiana House. The Democrat has repeatedly said he's the only candidate in the race who has balanced a state budget and that he did so with bipartisan votes.
But Pence said state data shows that Indiana had a deficit in five out of the six years that Gregg led the House. "Just talking about bipartisanship is not going to be good enough," Pence said.
Following the debate, both of the major party candidates played down their skirmishes.
"I didn't take any swings at him tonight," Gregg said. "All I did was just talk about the facts."
Pence called the debate "substantive, spirited and civil."
"Debates ought to be about debating," Pence said. "They ought to be about considering one another's records, responding to issues that are raised and also having the opportunity to put facts on them. I thought it was just very important for us to introduce the idea of fiscal integrity. The facts are clear.
Wednesday night's event took place at the Zionsville Performing Arts Center and was the first in a series of three planned by the Indiana Debate Commission in the governor's race.
The moderator was Dennis Ryerson, former executive editor of The Indianapolis Star.
Most of the questions came from Hoosiers, but the candidates were able to raise some issues as well, which their opponents were then permitted to rebut.
Two of the early questions involved K-12 schools and higher education and how candidates would improve the education system in Indiana and make college more affordable.
Boneham said it was important for Indiana to put more emphasis on vocational education.
"We need to bring vocational education back to our schools," Boneham said. "Creating an environment for careers, not just college."
Pence said while graduation rates and test scores have increased, Indiana still has a long way to go in the education battle. Pence agreed with Boneham, saying the state needs to bring vocational education back to the classroom.
"Other than public safety, there's nothing the state does more important than educating our kids," Pence said. "The time has come to make career and vocational education important."
Gregg highlighted his campaign plan to create an early kindergarten program in Indiana, saying preschool saves states more money in the long run. He also said he would involve teachers in the decision making about education policy.
"I would end the war on public education and public educators," Gregg said. "I'd be more inclusive in my reforms."
On higher education, Pence proposed incentive programs that would encourage students to graduate in four years. He lauded an Indiana University program that will freeze tuition for college students who stay on track to complete their degrees on time.
Boneham said he'd work to get rid of remedial courses in college, which, he said, is common sense.
"I'm running for governor to put more common sense in," he said. "We've got to come up with better ways to actually be more cost effective in schools."
Gregg praised former Indiana Govs. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, and Frank O'Bannon, a Democrat, for steps to create and promote a community college system, technical training and junior colleges. Those governors have helped make college accessible and now the state must make it affordable, Gregg said.
The candidates also responded to a question about a new right to work law that frees from employees from paying fees to unions, even if the groups represent them in bargaining situations.
Boneham said he'd work to repeal right to work like - as the state did in 1964 - because companies should have the right to decide how they want to operate their businesses.
"I find that a stretch on the power of our government," Boneham said.
Pence said he supported making Indiana a right to work state, and would not repeal the law because he believes it will make Indiana stronger. Gregg, however, said he believes it will lead to lower paying jobs for Hoosiers.
"Organized labor definitely has a place, but it's an easy scapegoat," Gregg said. "When I'm governor, we're going to include everybody."
Each candidate was also given the time to discuss an issue important to them. Boneham sparked discussion on criminal sentence reform, but Gregg used that time to discuss how Indiana can grow its economy.
Boneham said, as governor, he'd work to find a way to restructure criminal sentencing in Indiana, and find ways to transition inmates back into society.
Pence said he'd rather Indiana be known as a state hard on criminals, which he said would deter criminal activity. But he also said he wants Indiana to be a state that helps criminals restart their lives after serving time.
The next debate will be Oct. 17 at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center in South Bend and then the candidates will meet again on Oct. 25 at WFWA-TV PBS 39 in Fort Wayne. All the debates are available online at http://indianadebatecommission.com and several local television and radio stations are carrying them live or on tape delay. Check local listings for television and broadcast times.
Samm Quinn is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.p>
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