Democratic incumbent Julie Thomas is running against Green Party write-in candidate Randy Paul for Monroe County Commissioner in District 2.
Paul said running as a write-in candidate is not a level playing field and creates a barrier for him in the election. To be an official candidate on the ballot, a candidate must have 1,100 signatures of registered voters on a petition, he said.
Paul said he was unable to receive the number of signatures because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Indiana Election Commission did not allow him to get signatures online, he said.
He said has always been an advocate for social issues and spent 40 years in the Democratic party. However, last August he set up the Green Party in Monroe County because he wanted to give voters another option. Paul said he hopes his campaign has given people ideas for actions to take in the future.
“Even if I don’t do well in the election on the 3rd, I have a sense right now that I’ve made a difference,” he said.
Thomas was elected to the Monroe County Council in 2008, started serving in 2009, until 2012, when she was elected as a Monroe County Commissioner. She said she appreciated learning the financial side of the county council and is now part of the legislative side of local government.
Thomas said she has made a lot of great connections as the longest serving commissioner working with township trustees, city officials, IU, the hospital.
“All of these relationships have really been so important,” she said.
Paul said his top priorities are to bring trust to county government, compliance of the Americans with Disabilities Act, focus on racial equality, implement a living wage and support individuals struggling during the pandemic.
Thomas said her top priorities if reelected are environmental sustainability, transparency and response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monroe County has a majority of white individuals in government, Paul said. He said he thinks more people of color need to be recruited and elected to positions in county government to give a new perspective.
Thomas said she hopes diverse individuals apply for positions in local government to give their input and experience. She said more people have attended their meetings on Zoom and when meetings are in person again they will broadcast on Zoom as well so people can join online.
Paul said he believes Monroe County has done a good job combatting COVID-19 because of the Health Department. He said he was disappointed in IU students’ response early on in the school year because of partying.
Paul said he believes the local government needs to create relief programs for people who lost their jobs, healthcare or homes during the pandemic.
Thomas said the Monroe County Commissioners are focusing on getting residents through the pandemic by implementing initiatives to make sure people don’t lose shelter or utilities and funding food banks. She said they are also providing businesses funding through social service organizations. They are offering grants rather than loans because businesses are suffering, she said.
Thomas said she believes IU has done a great job responding to COVID-19 due to a strong relationship between the university, Monroe County, the community and the hospital.
“I would like to think that we’re out of the woods,” she said. “But, you know what, it’s going to be with us for a while and we don’t know how long.”
Monroe County needs to get a good handle on the pandemic before recovering the economy, Thomas said She said when a vaccine is available, the second testing site which was recently built may be a distribution site.
Paul said in terms of police reform he thinks social workers should respond to calls with police and people struggling with substance abuse should go to treatment centers instead of jail.
“I think budget is not the only way to handle the problem we’re talking about,” he said.
Thomas said Monroe County conducted a criminal justice reform study last year to create a more fair and equitable justice system for everyone and they will work with consultants to implement the results of the study.
The county commissioners can make recommendations about funding for police departments, but the sheriff and county council have to make those changes, Thomas said. She said she would like to see social workers go with officers to deal with disputes.
Thomas said the county commissioners have signed a contract for implicit bias training for the civil side of county government employees and are waiting for county council approval before it can be implemented.
“We’re moving forward with trying to ensure that we create an equitable and respectful environment within county government,” she said.
Paul said he thinks the country’s response to climate change has been sidetracked by the politicization of the Green New Deal.
“I think people are missing the point,” he said.
Most social problems could be solved by the Green New Deal, Paul said. The Green New Deal would offer wind and solar energy, green jobs and green technology, he said.
Paul said he thinks the County Commissioners need to focus more on the Green New Deal and responding to climate change.
“If we don’t do something, my grandchildren will not survive,” he said. “I don’t want to hear any more excuses.”
Thomas said she has worked on projects related to sustainability such as working with the community to implement solar panels on buildings and creating a food composting system where food can be composted rather than sent to a landfill.
Thomas said to help Bloomington combat climate change individuals must do things to reduce their carbon footprint. She said recently the government has focused on protecting the water supply at Monroe Lake and improving access to and rates of recycling.
People can contact the Monroe County Commissioners through their website with questions.