Pointed exchanges between the frontrunners, GOP challenger Mitch Daniels and incumbent Democrat Joe Kernan defined the debate, while Libertarian Kenn Gividen attempted to portray himself as the candidate of alternative ideas.
Kernan was the Hoosier state’s lieutenant governor until last September when his predecessor, Gov. Frank O’Bannon died in office.
“I never imagined that I would be standing here this evening as the governor of the state of Indiana,” Kernan said in his opening statement.
Kernan went on to slam Daniels, President George W. Bush’s former budget director, for the administration’s economic policies, which he said hurt Indiana’s economy.
In addition to his critique of the president, Kernan attempted to focus on the future, touting his “Action Indiana” plan, which he said would turn the state’s ailing economy around.
“It is a positive view of the kinds of things that we need to do in our state to continue to move forward,” Kernan said. “It is a positive view of our future.”
Daniels blasted Kernan’s plan as “empty and inadequate” and merely “warmed over plans, press releases, and task forces in the face of the monumental challenges we face in our state.”
Daniels then unleashed a blistering attack on the O’Bannon/Kernan administration and their Democratic predecessors’ record.
Daniels said it was time end “16 years of one-party rule,” which had led to low wages, lost jobs, a record number of bankruptcies, and “an endless stream of scandals and fiascoes” in state government.
“Hoosiers know we need not settle for this performance, that we can aim higher and do much better,” Daniels said. “It will take a crew change to achieve it.”
The governor countered that the economic recession, which he said hit Indiana “hard and hit us early” was the reason for the state’s economic woes.
Kernan criticized Daniels for his stand against steel tariffs, a move the Democrat said hurt Indiana’s steel industry by not protecting from the “dumping” of cheap overseas steel.
“[Y]ou look at why we’ve lost manufacturing jobs and are now losing high-tech jobs, not just in Indiana but across the country, and it has to do with failed policies in Washington where the belief is that outsourcing is a good thing for our economy,” Kernan said.
Daniels shot back that Kernan had “outsourced” government contract work to other states.
“By his own confession, the state of Indiana is spending 40 cents of every procurement dollar out of state and 15 cents that we know of on professional services,” Daniels said.
In a rebuttal Kernan said Daniels, whom he referred to as “my friend from Washington,” had overseen “a billion dollars worth of contracts that went overseas.”
For his part, Gividen said Indiana should capitalize on its central geographic location to win jobs that can’t be exported.
“The state of Indiana is perfectly suited to be the distribution hub of the nation,” Gividen said. “Those are jobs that can’t be exported to India, but those are jobs that can be imported to Indiana.”
The candidates also clashed over prescription drugs. Kernan favors the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada if other solutions for lowering drug prices fail, while Daniels opposes the importation plan as untenable and unsafe.
“We have the opportunity to provide solutions here in the state of Indiana by working together,” Kernan said. “But if we’re not able to figure it out, if we’re not able to come to a resolution, I will support the reimportation of drugs from Canada and other countries.”
Daniels said buying drugs in large numbers from Canada would leave U.S. buyers vulnerable.
“There will never be enough drugs in a small country the size of Canada, not enough legitimate drugs to meet the demand of the American market,” Daniels said. “And it’s an invitation to ripoff artists and middlemen to make a huge profit at the expense of innocent senior citizens and poor people in this country.”
Gividen said the answer to high drug costs is the end of overbearing government regulations on both sides of the border. He said health care and prescription drugs were cheap before major government regulation began after the 1960’s.
“The government decided that they would fix the problem,” Gividen said. “And when the government tries to fix the problem, they always make it worse. And so, once again, the solution is get the government out.”
A uniquely Indiana issue arose around the question of extending Interstate 69 from Indianapolis to Evansville. Each candidate offered a different solution.
Kernan said the lack of a good road from the southwest part of the state to the capital disenfranchises the region’s citizens, adding he fully supports the new highway but is opposed to paying for it with tolls.
“Any discussion about having folks have to pay in order to get back and forth to Indianapolis, whether they’re coming from Evansville, from Crane, or from South Bend, should be off the table,” Kernan said.
Daniels said he supports the road project because a new thoroughfare would be an economic boost to the state. The Republican said he supports using tolls because there is no money for it in the state budget and he does not want to pay for it with new taxes.
“Let’s get honest about something,” Daniels said. “There is no money around to pay for this.”
Gividen said he was for building the new road, but along an alternative route. He said he would support tolls over taxes and that state government should explore the idea of a “trucks only” toll lane.