SOUTH BEND – A few sharp exchanges punctuated Wednesday’s mostly pedestrian and repetitive governor’s debate.
The event, conducted in a Notre Dame auditorium before 483 Hoosiers, used the same format as the first debate last week. As a result, all three candidates regularly used the same phrases uttered just days ago.
One new area of discussion was how to finish the construction of Interstate 69 between Bloomington and Indianapolis now that the state has used or allocated all the Indiana Toll Road lease proceeds to other projects.
Democrat John Gregg, who served six years as Indiana House Speaker before leaving the legislature in 2002 to practice law full-time, said he would use highway trust fund dollars to leverage private dollars – raising $3.5 billion to aid Indiana’s roads, bridges and rail.
That would create 97,000 good-paying jobs, he claimed.
Republican Mike Pence promised to “finish the job” but had no plan other than fighting for more dollars from the federal government and being “innovative.”
He is finishing his sixth term in the U.S. Congress. Prior to that he ran a conservative think tank in central Indiana and operated a statewide radio show.
Pence has a commanding lead in all polls that have been publicly released. He also has a money edge – raising millions more than Gregg.
Libertarian Rupert Boneham simply pointed out that the money has disappeared despite promises from state leaders that the Toll Road lease would pay for it.
He is best known for competing on Survivor and this race is his first entry into politics.
The most pointed moment in the debate came from Pence when he reacted to criticism from Gregg calling him a show horse who misses votes in Congress and has never passed a single bill.
“You are down to being a one-trick pony,” Gregg said.
Pence responded during a question from a single mother about government assistance, saying his website contains information on bills he authored and that his overall voting record – not just recent committee votes – is at 95 percent.
“We don’t need negative personal attacks in a campaign for governor,” he said. “We need a governor who will attack the issues.”
Gregg then used that same single mother to point out that Pence’s campaign has said it will focus on traditional families with a married mother and father in the home to combat child poverty.
“I take offense his family plan doesn’t consider me and my boys a family,” said Gregg, a single father.
Pence clarified his position after the debate, saying families “come in all shapes and sizes” and his policy simply involves making sure there are no government barriers to traditional married families.
“None of that is intended to diminish the heroic efforts of single parents,” he said.
When pressed about fiscal integrity, Gregg heralded that he is the only candidate to have passed a balanced state budget. And he noted his were bipartisan.
But Pence said the state was in a deficit most of the years Gregg was in the Houses’ top leadership role.
“When I look at your plan it looks like we’re headed for the same path again,” he said.
Gregg finished by saying, “I don’t have any fancy slogan for what we’re trying to do. I’ve just got Hoosier common sense.”
The third and final governor’s debate will be next week in Fort Wayne.