The League of Women Voters of Brown County sent questionnaires to all candidates with opposition on the fall ballot in the following races: U.S. Congress District 9, State Senate District 44, State House District 65 (ran in 9/28 paper), Brown County Council at-large (ran 10/5), Brown County Commissioner Districts 1 and 3 (ran 9/28), Brown County recorder (ran 9/28) and Brown County School Board (ran 10/5). They will appear in the Brown County Democrat as space is available over the next few weeks. The League of Women Voters of Brown County — a nonpartisan organization — chose the questions. Answers appear in the candidates’ own words, though some were trimmed to fit available space.
NOTE: District 44 candidates will debate in Brown County Thursday, Oct. 13. See the forum schedule here: http://www.bcdemocrat.com/2016/09/30/candidate_forum_schedule-2/
Please describe the occupations, training and experience that qualify you for this office.
Linda Kay Henderson (D): I have an extensive background working with communities to address issues that matter to families. With a strong focus on workforce development, youth and family issues and community and economic development strategies. Currently I am the community relations specialist with the IU School of Public Health and an adjunct instructor at Ivy Tech Community College. Previously worked at Indiana Youth Institute, Purdue University and Indiana Prevention Resource Center. Also have a background working with persons with disabilities. I have served on a number of boards, including the Girl Scouts, Fair Board, Lawrence County Public Defender board and Families Forever.
Eric Koch (R): Eighth-generation Hoosier; graduate of Georgetown University and the Indiana University School of Law; attorney; owner of a title insurance agency; co-owner of the family farm; hospital board member for 15 years, most as chairman; member of Indiana House of Representatives since 2002, presently assistant Republican caucus chairman, chairman of the House Committee on Utilities, Energy & Telecommunications and member of the House Judiciary, Rules, and Ethics committees; married to Connie, a second-grade teacher, and father of three sons. My legislative work has been recognized by the Indiana Rural Health Association, the Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association, the Southern Indiana Drug Task Force, the National Association of Retired Federal Employees, the Bloomington Area Chamber of Commerce and others. I have been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the Indiana State Police Alliance PAC, the Indiana Professional Firefighters Union, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the Indiana Manufacturers Association, the National Federation of Independent Business and the Indiana Farm Bureau ELECT-PAC.
What are your top three priorities for state government?
Henderson: 1.) Working together, across the aisle to address issues facing families: good jobs, good education and good roads. 2.) Education must be a top priority. It is the ground floor to economic development. We need strong public schools and teachers need to be supported and celebrated. This includes supporting funding of preschool as well as working to expand workforce training programs. We must look at education and training as a lifelong endeavor. 3.) The heroin/meth epidemic must be addressed aggressively. This epidemic requires a multifaceted approach if we are to make a real impact, focusing on prevention and intervention. Recent studies have indicated that the increase in heroin use among 12- to 17-year-olds has increased by 80 percent. We must focus on reaching kids long before they get to 12 years old to make an impact. Also mental health and treatment services must be addressed.
Koch: My top priority is to continue to be an effective, conscientious and responsive legislator for my constituents. This includes having a personal understanding of the unique nature of each county and community. I maintain close working relationships with local elected officials and school leaders and have assisted them with many issues specific to Brown County. We must also continue the policies that have put Indiana at the top. In July, CNBC’s 2016 report card on “America’s Top States for Doing Business” ranked Indiana No. 1 for lowest cost of doing business and No. 1 for infrastructure. Chief Executive magazine ranked Indiana No. 4 in workforce quality, No. 10 in taxation/regulation, and No. 17 in living environment. In the 2017 session, my priorities will include ensuring adequate funding for K-12 education, a long-term infrastructure plan that includes local needs, adequate funding for public safety, and addressing the impact of public and tax-exempt land on the local tax base.
The state study committee on redistricting will report back in December. What is your position on nonpartisan redistricting?
Henderson: I support nonpartisan redistricting. The “super majority” situation in Indiana is a strong argument to take this responsibility away from “political operatives.” The current partisan system is a hindrance to electing persons who are more aligned with the average Hoosier.
Koch: Indiana’s system has worked well. Our redistricting process in 2011 was done with bipartisan support and without any legal challenges.
Indiana has one of the largest school voucher programs in the U.S. What is your position on the continued expansion of the school voucher program? How do you balance public funding for private education against maintaining a viable public school system?
Henderson: I support Glenda Ritz’s position recommending a halt to expansion of the voucher system and assessing the impact of the voucher system. I do not like taking dollars away from public education to support private endeavors. We have a responsibility to our public schools and teachers to see that they are adequately funded and supported. My interpretation of Article 8 in the Indiana constitution: The legislature is responsible for providing and supporting public education. The voucher system which takes money away from public schools may be a direct violation of our state constitution.
Koch: State tuition support per student for Brown County has gone from $5,432 (statewide average of $5,614) in 2002 to $7,057 (statewide average of $6,528) estimated for 2017. The intent of the voucher program was to give low-income students an alternative when their needs were not able to be met in public school. In fiscal year 2015, 33 Brown County students used vouchers. It is my understanding that this number is now about 25. Children living in other school districts who receive a voucher actually have a positive impact on Brown County funding, in that a voucher student costs the state either 90 percent or 50 percent of the amount that would otherwise go to the home public school, which leaves more money in the fund and drives up per-student funding for all other schools. Nonetheless, we need to monitor the impact and give public schools more freedom to be innovative so there can be a level playing field. I have drafted legislation that would require the Indiana Department of Education to report where vouchers are being used to the student’s home public school corporation to better understand why that option is being chosen. It was based on a suggestion by Brown County Schools Superintendent Laura Hammack.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed a stop-gap road funding bill. How should roads and other key infrastructure be funded long-term?
Henderson: I support John Gregg’s plan to establish a long-term dedicated funding source to improve state and local roads and bridges. This plan includes creating the Hoosier State Infrastructure Bank; long-term funding for state and local projects; creating an infrastructure roundtable; and creating an open, searchable infrastructure database for accountability and transparency. A plan needs be implemented so we do not find ourselves in an infrastructure “crisis” again. I like this proposed plan because it is looking at needs long-term.
Koch: Through the passage of HEA 1001 and SEA 67, the General Assembly has provided $1 billion in new state and local road and bridge funding over the next two years with no state tax increases or debt. Brown County units of government recently received over $1 million. As these bills progressed, I maintained communication with Brown County’s elected officials and highway superintendent to ensure the county’s unique needs were considered. As an example, half of the matching grant funds were reserved for counties with populations of fewer than 50,000. A committee will report back to the Legislature next year on long-term funding solutions. I have also been working for the past several years on water and wastewater infrastructure issues. The EPA has estimated that over the next 20 years the cost of our state’s water and wastewater infrastructure improvements will be $14 billion. We have been proactive in data collection and are a national leader in water policy.
In Brown County, our economic well-being is linked to the beauty and availability of public lands, many managed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Where do you stand on funding DNR and our park system?
Henderson: The legislature needs to look at alternative funding strategies for the DNR, possibly returning to funding through the budget and/or seeking federal grant dollars to assist. The DNR has experienced about a 20 percent drop in its budget over the last 12 years and currently there are approximately 15 percent staff vacancies. I do not support relying on aggressive harvesting of timber to fund the DNR. This is particularly detrimental to Brown County.
Koch: The DNR general fund appropriation actually increased from $41.6 million in fiscal year 2015 to $44.2 million in fiscal year 2016.