By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – Five candidates running for the Indiana General Assembly provided nearly an hour of insights into their approach to governing during a forum Wednesday, Oct. 14, in Warsaw.
The candidates include the race for House District 22 (Republican incumbent Curt Nisly and Democrat challenger Kelly Thompson); Senate District 18 (Republican incumbent Stacey Donato and Democrat Laura Fred-Smith); and one of two candidates running for House District 18 currently held by Dave Wolkins. Republican Craig Snow, of Warsaw, participated, but his opponent, Democrat Chad Harris, of Wabash, did not show up despite plans to apparently do so.
The forum was much like the one held in the primary and was organized by the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce and the Kosciusko County Bar Association. The full forum can be seen online here.
Questions came from four moderators – three reporters and a lawyer – and focused on policy issues and priorities.
Each of the five was asked to recap their thoughts on the state’s handling of the pandemic.
Nisly set himself apart from the others, saying the response was worse than the virus itself.
He said he believes the government response was worse than the disease, especially on businesses and the direct impact on people.
“There are ways to do this without government over-reach,” Nisly said.
The other four fell in line in supporting Gov. Eric Holcomb’s early demand to temporarily shut down the state.
Snow, who is the CEO for Silveus Insurance, said he agreed with the early efforts by the governor, but adds, “As a business owner, it was very difficult to be shut down.”
He said he thinks businesses should have opened faster and believed legislators should have returned to Indianapolis for discussions on the topic.
Fred-Smith said she was pleased with the early efforts. She thinks officials need to look at the current circumstances. “If we need to step back and go back to some of our more strict guidelines I would do that,” she said.
Thompson said she strongly supported the governor’s efforts. “I think we opened too quickly. I think from the beginning we should have made it clear the benefits of wearing masks,” Thompson said. “We let it become a political issue. This should have never been a political issue.”
Donato said she stands with the governor’s early efforts. As for masks, she said she supports the use of masks and wears one for the sake of other people.
Candidates were asked what should be done to reignite the economy to where it was before the pandemic.
Nisly said he thinks the COVID-19 response has been unbalanced. “I think we’ve seen this year how when things get out of balance with one of those, how it affects everything else,” Nisly said.
Snow said he was frustrated by how larger than normal unemployment payments gave less incentive for workers to return to the workforce.
Thompson said the state needs to look at why more companies are not choosing to locate in Indiana. Additional infrastructure, assistance with childcare and stronger schools could help in that regard.
Additionally, she expressed support for legalizing cannabis. “Seventy-seven percent of people in Indiana want to legalize cannabis. Right now, we are bleeding jobs and bleeding dollars across state lines because we refuse to step into the 21st century,” Thompson said.
Donato pointed to economic development and a sharper focus on broadband issues. She also said people need to shop local instead of turning to the internet.
Fred-Smith, a longtime teacher, said a greater emphasis needs to be placed on education and new technology. “We could be a leader in green energy. We could be a leader in hemp manufacturing for materials for clothing and plastic.”
Candidates were also asked about their legislative priorities.
Thompson, a mother of six and grandmother of six, supports increased teacher pay.
“We need quality early childhood education,” she said. “The return on investment is 14 and a half dollars for every dollar we put into it,” she said.
She also said more needs to be done to address the housing shortage and infant mortality.
“It should not be safer to give birth in the Gaza Strip than it is to give birth in Indiana. That is a shameful crime,” she said.
Donato mentioned healthcare transparency which makes available to the public information on the health care system’s quality, efficiency and consumer experience with care, including price and quality data so consumers know what they are getting.
She also mentioned the need for improved broadband and education.
Fred-Smith said, “Education is going to be a top priority for me.”
She said more focus is needed on healthcare and infant child mortality rate and the need for more broadband internet access.
Nisly said his focus remains on securing the liberties of the people with a specific focus on the rights of the unborn and protecting the Second Amendment. He supports constitutional carry.
Nisly said he also wants to limit the emergency powers of the governor and health departments.
Snow said he would emphasize the need for economic development, housing and broadband.
He would also like to look for new efficiencies by eliminating some regulations.