JASPER, Ind. – Had it not been for the third podium between them at Tuesday’s gubernatorial debate, Republican incumbent Mitch Daniels and Democratic candidate Jill Long Thompson might not have realized Libertarian Andy Horning on stage.
The first two spent the evening attacking each other’s policies and sometimes their character, while Horning protested the evils of big-party politics.
“For a very long time we have felt just that we don’t have a choice,” Horning said. “What do you hate most about politics? Every time we vote for a major party ticket, we vote for 100 years of division.”
But it was the big party tickets and the big issues that took center stage. The economy, I-69, health care, education and fuel costs were the focus of debate. Indiana residents who previously submitted questions were invited to the debate to pose their questions directly to the candidates.
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Sixty-year-old Paul Higgs, a retiree of Alcoa-Warrick Operations in Gentryville, Ind., asked if the candidates were in favor of removing the sales taxes on gasoline and other heating fuels.
Both Daniels and Horning opposed the tax cut, saying it was against the law and that it encouraged further dependence on oil.
“There’s no authority to do it,” Daniels said. “We don’t know exactly what the winter will bring.”
Horning added his opinion on the opposition of the tax cut, saying it “de-stimulates” other energy alternatives.
“If we have a problem with scarcity of fuels, that’s not the time to start subsidizing to use it more,” he said.
Long Thompson, however, was in favor of the tax cut, citing the recent economic downturn.
“Hoosier families are hurting, and they need a break,” she said.
When it came to the issue of social services, Horning took an unusual stance on child protection services.
“We have to put an end to the organization that takes kids away from parents,” he said. “Nobody should lose their child unless there’s some kind of crime that’s been committed.”
He clarified his position after the debate during questions from the press.
“Instead of paying people to take kids, we need to empower police and judges to do their jobs,” he said. “You shouldn’t take away children without some sort of criminal prosecution.”
Daniels had to answer to the press for an accusation Thompson made during the debate, saying Daniels uses the state airplane, funded by taxpayers, to fly back and forth from his vacation home in West Virginia.
“Alright, listen,” he said. “Every one of those trips had official business attached to it. If we didn’t need to do it, we didn’t do it.”
Daniels called the accusation “100 percent untrue” and deemed it a personal attack. Long Thompson responded by using a quote from Harry Truman.
“‘I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell,’” Long Thompson said. “It is wrong for the governor to use tax dollars to fly to a vacation home.”
Long Thompson also attacked what she called Daniels’ “privatization madness,” referencing the toll roads and welfare system.
“Food stamp numbers are up, not down,” Daniels argued. “There are now multiple ways to contact the system, where before there was only one person. If they were sick or on vacation you were out of luck.”
As far as the toll road is concerned, Daniels cited the $3.8 billion the state received from Macquarie-Cintra – a Spanish and Australian consortium.
“The fact is the toll road was undersold at a sale price,” Thompson said. “The company will recoup the $3.8 billion in 15 to 20 years. The tolls will not only be going out of this state but out of this country. We could have done the same thing.”
The next gubernatorial debate will take place on at 7 p.m. Oct. 14 in the IU Auditorium.
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