By Shelby Mullis
INDIANAPOLIS — The second governor’s debate made the differences between Democrat John Gregg, Republican Eric Holcomb and Libertarian Rex Bell clearer after the first primarily highlighted similarities.
With a topic of Hoosier jobs and the economy, the candidates answered questions Tuesday night from audience members and the moderator regarding an evolving job market, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the resettlement of Syrian refugees.
Democrat John Gregg winks at the media after answering questions. Photo by Addison Laker, TheStatehouseFile.com
Each candidate focused on what they’re known for. While Holcomb said wages are going up, Gregg argued Hoosiers are working harder for less. Bell talked about avoiding government intrusion and returning control to local governments.
The three candidates agreed to push for an atmosphere more suitable for job growth, where business would compete for workers, but Gregg said a decrease in economic growth was caused by Gov. Mike Pence’s 2015 signing of RFRA.
“We need to show respect to all Hoosiers. It’s more than economics—it’s about respect,” said Gregg. “There’s a distinct difference between my opponent and I in this matter.”
As governor, Gregg said he would sign an executive order to give civil rights protections to members of the LGBT community who are employed with the state. He also referred to his economic plan, which lays out a “marketing fund to work and undo the damage” left by RFRA.
Similarly, Bell said he did not agree with Pence’s signing of the legislation, calling it unfair to grant certain people rights over others based on religion.
Libertarian Rex Bell speaks to the media after the second governor’s race debate. Photo by Addison Laker, TheStatehouseFile.com
Holcomb, who joined the Pence administration as lieutenant governor in March, said at a state level, both sides of the issue refuse to compromise.
“We have in Indiana local ordinances that allow folks to address the economic development side of this with local [human resource officials], and if local communities seek to take advantage of those, they have been,” Holcomb said. “And if they seek not to, they haven’t been. That’s been the balance.”
Syrian Refugee Resettlement
Just hours before the debate, a federal appeals court blocked Pence’s attempt to stop aid to Syrian refugees resettling in Indiana. When Pence banned the aid in November last year, he cited security concerns in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks.
Holcomb said he understood Pence’s concern of safety, he wouldn’t deny refugees if it follows the court’s ruling.
“I would continue to allow refugees to come in here,” Holcomb said. “I would support it as long as it’s working in the court’s rule.”
Gregg said to ban a person because of their religion is wrong and instead advocated for assessing refugees on a case-by-case basis. Bell had a similar argument against the ban saying each person is an individual and the remedies used for terrorists should not be used against an entire group of people.
“To place an entire nation and group them all together, it just didn’t set well,” Bell said.
Republican candidate for governor Eric Holcomb speaking to the media after Monday’s debate. He said he would allow Syrian refugees to settle in Indiana. Photo by Addison Laker, TheStatehouseFile.com
The Debate’s Influence
Cathy Watness, a University of Indianapolis student who calls herself “very political,” said she had not made up her mind prior to Monday’s debate.
“I’m interested in all three candidates,” Watness said. “Politics affect every aspect of our lives, whether we acknowledge that or not. I haven’t really done too much research on the candidates, so I’m going to wait and be surprised.”
And surprised she was. After the debate, Watness said Gregg was the clear winner for her.
“Once you focus on people, all the other issues will fall into place,” she said. “Gregg focused on the people.”
The candidates will travel to Evansville’s University of Southern Indiana on Oct. 25 for the third and final debate of the election season.
Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.