The five major Republican candidates for governor on a stage in Carmel on Jan. 25, 2024. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)
The five major Republican candidates for governor tried to woo voters Thursday evening in a forum geared toward a conservative crowd in the wealthy and reliably Republican Carmel.
Questions from First Principles ranged from emergency powers and health care to economic development and education for the candidates, which included: U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, former Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden and former Attorney General Curtis Hill.
All agreed on several topics — such as increasing school choice and the role of parents in education — and all made the promise to eliminate the donor-funded Office of Equity, Inclusion and Opportunity tasked with measuring and tracking Indiana equity outcomes.
Reflecting on the last few years
Moderators asked about where each stood when it came to the governor’s emergency powers, specifically about a bill in the Senate that would limit a governor’s emergency declarations to only 30 days, with the option of renewing for another 30 days to receive federal funds.
Otherwise, the General Assembly would have the final say.
Much of the answers re-litigated the turmoil of COVID-19 and each decried the power of Gov. Eric Holcomb in the pandemic. A similar measure previously failed to gain lawmaker approval.
But only Hill, who was Attorney General in 2020 and challenged Holcomb on several orders, additionally called out legislators, who didn’t do anything for nearly two years, he said.
“They’re complicit in this too. You don’t go 23 months with emergency orders with a General Assembly that sits on its tail and doesn’t step in. So it’s not all the governor,” Hill said.
Chambers had to defend his record as the Secretary of Commerce, under which he announced the multibillion-dollar “innovation district” planned for Boone County, with Eli Lilly as the first public tenant. That project, known as LEAP, has been under fire for buying farmland and its potential need for hundreds of millions of gallons of water, which would be piped in from Tippecanoe County.
The other candidates criticized the lack of transparency and methods of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, which negotiates these deals.
“You cannot have a technique that’s going to try to lure in only the biggest companies. They’re expensive. Everyone else is competing for them and they’re generally only going to benefit a few places,” Braun said. “I want to fertilize the field of our own entrepreneurs … don’t spend big bucks as your only strategy.”
Wading into health care
Candidates also addressed a hot topic currently being weighed by state leaders: how to solve a $1 billion shortfall in the Medicaid budget and whether cutting a program for parents of severely disabled children is the answer.
As lieutenant governor, Crouch chairs the state’s Intellectual Developmental Disability Task Force, which she said is meeting Monday to press the Family and Social Services Administration, which oversees Medicaid, on cutting Legally Responsible Individual program flexibilities.
“As governor, I will call a Blue Ribbon Commission that I myself will chair and bring all of the stakeholders together — the insurance companies, the hospitals, the pharmaceuticals, the pharma benefits … and we will be together working on that issue to get the cost down,” Crouch said. “We can’t get health care costs down … unless we collaborate and, as governor, use the bully pulpit to make it happen.”
Medicaid enrollment wouldn’t be growing so much if Indiana’s workforce had better wages, Chambers said, saying Indiana average wages lag behind the nation.
“The hidden issue within that billion-dollar Medicaid mess is the fact that the Medicaid rolls have doubled within the last 10 years, which means people are stressed and struggling,” Chambers said. “We need to grow the economy in Indiana and put more money in people’s pockets.”
Doden criticized the “big five” non-profit hospital systems — which are already under scrutiny for their prices in the General Assembly in a separate law — for investing more than $30 billion on Wall Street, saying 30% of those funds should be back in Indiana under the Main Street Initiative he proposes.
His plan would provide $100 million annually for smaller communities to revitalize their downtowns — “It’s a real opportunity and something we cannot pass up.”
All five candidates said in a lightning round that they believe school board candidates should have to identify their party affiliation in elections.
The 90-minute event was preceded by a private, VIP event for donors to have one-on-one conversations with the candidates. The primary will be on May 7 and the winner will face Democrat Jennifer McCormick and Libertarian Donald Rainwater in the November general election.
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