First published on October 27, 2020 in TheStatehouseFile.com
The three candidates for Indiana governor faced off once again in the final of two gubernatorial debates Tuesday, discussing marijuana, vaccines, child welfare and gerrymandering, among other topics.
The debate, moderated by Nadia Brown, a political science professor at Purdue University, was broadcast from WFYI in downtown Indianapolis. The candidates and moderator were once again seated in separate rooms because of the risk posed by COVID-19.
Questions for the candidates came from citizens across Indiana and the answers underscored the different approaches to governing from Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, Democrat Dr. Woody Myers and Libertarian Donald Rainwater.
Their contrasting answers to a question about whether marijuana should be decriminalized or even legalized made their differences clear.
Rainwater and Myers agreed that marijuana should be decriminalized in Indiana, but the Libertarian went a step further and said marijuana needs to also be deregulated. His reason was so that big pharmaceutical companies cannot control the market for profit but instead individuals can create businesses in farming, manufacturing and retail.
Rainwater referred back to this answer on a later question on how the state can help fix racial disparities, saying that decriminalization and freedom of those incarcerated for possession of marijuana would help work towards racial equality.
Myers touched on his medical background and said cannabis needs to be legalized for medical usage, citing the assistance it could give to veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Holcomb disagreed: “I don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing which laws to legalize at the state level while they are illegal at the federal level.” He added that marijuana still needs to be researched to determine whether it is effective for some medical conditions.
“Thirty-four states have already done the research, governor,” Myers said. “They’ve looked at it very carefully, and they’ve come to the same conclusion that I have.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic still spreading across the country, the candidates fielded a question about vaccines and whether they should be required once they are widely available.
None of the candidates said that the vaccine should be mandated. Holcomb said the vaccine should be encouraged when it is safe and that we need to make sure we’re “ready to rock and roll” when the vaccine is ready.
Myers said that vaccines have proven to be lifesavers over the last 100 years, but there will likely be some Hoosiers for whom the vaccine is not recommended after research is done into potential side effects.
Rainwater reiterated his position that Hoosiers should get to choose what risks or protective measures they take during the pandemic.
“I am absolutely opposed to mandating vaccines, masks, business closures, the closures of churches in violation of the 1stAmendment, or any other government mandate that decides whether or not someone is put at risk,” Rainwater said.
The candidates were asked about the solution to the high infant mortality rate in Indiana, followed by how they would assist the Department of Child Services in helping children in bad homes during the pandemic.
Holcomb cited the decrease in infant mortality rates in Indiana and the decrease in staff turnover at the DCS, with 600 new employees recently added. In both instances, Holcomb said the state was moving in the right direction.
Myers said that a commission had been appointed by the state to investigate maternal mortality, but the recommendations were not implemented. He noted Indiana’s second in the nation rating for child abuse and fifth in the nation rating for child deaths, saying that Indiana’s child protection agencies need more technology and case workers. Myers also said this issue is fueled by an inadequate response to the opioid crisis, which left families at risk.
Rainwater said issues of infant and maternal mortality are tied to poverty and reducing regulations and completely reopening the state would help Hoosiers get jobs that would allow them to pay for healthcare.
Rainwater used a question about problems within DCS to criticize Holcomb for bringing in a consulting firm from Georgia to identify issues within the organization.
“If you talk to anybody who is a foster parent, or trying to adopt today in Indiana, they will tell you that the problems persist,” Rainwater said. “That all they did was throw taxpayer dollars out and it didn’t fix anything. We need to hold people accountable and make sure we put the children first.”
Towards the end of the hour-long debate, which was marred by a brief technical glitch, candidates were asked whether they would support a nonpartisan commission to draw legislative district boundaries to address the issue of gerrymandering.
Rainwater and Myers, whose party has been out of power for 16 years, said they supported a nonpartisan commission to draw the boundary lines without regard to party affiliation.
Holcomb opposed the nonpartisan commission, saying people elected the legislature to represent them in the process, which is done every 10 years after the census.
“Our districts have been looked at by the courts, and they have withstood that scrutiny because we have kept communities intact,” Holcomb said. “And I would just say that when you’re looking for a nonpartisan individual, easier said than done.”
“I do want to point out that both Dr. Myers and I are for this, but the candidate who is the member of the party with the supermajority is against it,” Rainwater said.
Myers said the current maps look bizarre and he supports a nonpartisan commission because many other states have used the method.
The candidates also addressed questions on supporting local economies, expanding broadband internet, untested rape kits and daylight savings time. Video of the debate can be viewed here, along with footage of the first gubernatorial debate on Oct. 20.
Taylor Wooten is a reporter at TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.