INDIANAPOLIS — Candidates for Indiana governor faced off Monday night in a town hall forum, with Republican Eric Holcomb arguing for a continuation of the economic development policies of governors Mike Pence and Mitch Daniels, while Democrat John Gregg called for abandoning conservative social issues such as the religious objections law that punctuated Pence’s time in office.
The candidates appeared alongside Libertarian Rex Bell and did not speak directly to or debate each other. Rather they each answered questions asked by a moderator or members of the audience.
The forum was to be about economic development and the economy, but touched on gun rights, immigration, LGBT rights and the degree to which the state should fund preschool.
“Kentucky has pre-k. Where I’m from that’s something we laugh over,” said Gregg, a former Statehouse speaker.
Gregg’s education proposals include making state-funded optional preschool available for all of Indiana’s some 80,000 4-year-olds, phasing in the program over three years with an initial cost of $150 million from existing state funds. Holcomb is supporting state-funded preschool only for low-income families, saying a universal program being back by Gregg could cost the state $500 million a year.
Holcomb sought to align himself with the state’s popular former governor Daniels while criticizing the fiscal management of state government in the late 1990s, when Gregg was in power and the state cut taxes while expanding spending, blowing through the state’s budget reserves.
“Our state was in somewhat of a fiscal mess at that point,” said Holcomb.
Holcomb, whom Pence appointed as lieutenant governor in March, has said the state’s balanced budgets and strong reserves help attract business investment to Indiana. He touted those policies for helping drop the state’s unemployment rate to 4.5 percent in August, below the national mark of 4.9 percent.
The meeting Monday night was sponsored by the Indiana Debate Commission and was moderated by John Ketzenberger, president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute.
The candidates have one more debate scheduled, on health and social issues. It will take place Oct. 25 at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.