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Candidates tell background and views at Chesterton Duneland Chamber forum

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

About 65 members of the Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce gathered at the Hilton Garden Inn in Chesterton to feed democracy while feeding themselves and getting acquainted with those on the ballot for the upcoming General Election on Nov. 6.

The Chamber’s Public Policy committee hosted Wednesday’s luncheon with 17 candidates in attendance vying for the offices of U.S. Representative, Governor, State Representative, South County Commissioner, County Council at-large and Duneland School Board.

“It’s a way to educate the members of our chamber,” said committee member and Chesterton attorney Chuck Parkinson who welcomed the guests along with Chamber Executive Director Heather Ennis.

Each candidate was allotted three minutes to speak about their background, accomplishments and what their goals would be if elected.

Governor race

State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, is not up for reelection this year but spoke in support of John Gregg, the Democratic hopeful for Indiana Governor.

Tallian said Gregg is a former State Rep. and was Speaker of the House in the mid-1990s during the time the Statehouse consisted evenly of 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats and has worked on many bipartisan issues. That is something that is needed in the current Statehouse and Senate where Republicans are in the majority, Tallian said.

Having a Democratic governor would help create a balance in state government, Tallian said. “We need a balance. When we don’t get it, we have one-sided government.”

Gregg’s opponents are Republican Mike Pence and Libertarian Rupert Boneham, neither of whom were represented at the forum.

U.S. Representative

In person, Republican challenger for the U.S. Representative for Indiana’s 1st District Joel Phelps said he hopes to be elected to Congress to build up Northwest Indiana’s status as a national competitor for economic development citing the advancement of railways and the Gary/Chicago International Airport.

He said “we need to stop settling” for what we have and pursue avenues to grow infrastructure such as intermodal transportation which could bring 15,000 jobs.

“I think we need to do better,” Phelps said.

The race’s Democrat incumbent, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, was not present but his Chief of Staff Mark Lopez informed Chamber members of the Congressman’s wish to bring home the 60,000 U.S. troops still stationed in Iraq.

Visclosky will also work toward better access to healthcare and, in a separate effort, continue to get the federal government to invest in public infrastructure.

Lopez said Visclosky has worked with Indiana Republican Governor Mitch Daniels to garner $71.3 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the Indiana Rail Project.

State Rep. races

All representative seats in the Indiana Statehouse are up for a vote this year. In Duneland, voters living in District 4 will choose between Republican incumbent Ed Soliday and Democrat Greg Simms. In District 9, Republican Dan Granquist is vying for the seat currently held by Democrat Scott Pelath.

Soliday said he would like to see better cooperation in the Statehouse as the art of politics is to make friends, not enemies.

His second ambition would be to create jobs by creating infrastructure and dislikes the fact infrastructure is becoming more and more a partisan issue when before it had always been bipartisan.

“If we cannot move more goods and people, we cannot compete,” said Soliday.

Lastly, Soliday said he would like to see better training programs in the state. He also said there is a need to improve pre-kindergarten education to help children develop reading skills.

His opponent Simms was not at the forum.

Currently the Assistant Minority Leader in the Statehouse, Pelath said he is thrilled to be able represent sections of Porter County after last year’s redistricting and said there needs to be “less ideology, less partisanship, and more cooperation” among State officials.

He is also a proponent of passing legislation that would raise wages for the working class instead of bills that only benefit big business.

Giving workers money to spend will help businesses grow and hire more employees, Pelath said. He would also like to invest more funds in education and offer quality education to all students, not just those who are better off.

Granquist said he would like to use his expertise as a business attorney to help young businesses get off the ground by imposing “good laws and good values.” He said he can bring new perspectives to the Statehouse and would concentrate his efforts on building infrastructure.

Granquist said he has worked occasionally with the Chesterton Town Council and was there for the groundbreaking of its new utility project.

Surveyor

One candidate in the contested County Surveyor’s race spoke at the forum, Democrat incumbent Kevin Breitzke.

Holding office for 16 years, Breitzke pledged to continue running his as one of the most efficient Surveyor’s office in the state. He said he has increased in house work and for each of the last six years has accomplished 30 projects.

Breitzke said he will continue to enhance areas of the county that were tagged for improvements in the 2010 Comprehensive Drainage study, including the Gustafson Ditch and Swanson-Lamport which cross Duneland.

Breitzke faces a challenge from Republican Richard Hudson, who did not attend.

County Commissioner

Meanwhile, there are two races for County Commissioner this year, one contested and one uncontested.

Squaring off for the South County Commissioner seat are Democrat Laura Blaney and Republican Mike Heinold.

Blaney said she has the ability to work well with others in not so easy situations and that means reaching across the aisle. One example she gave was the partnering with Chesterton Town Council members Sharon Darnell and Jeff Trout on the 49 Corridor Project.

The Commissioners and the Council will need to work together to get tasks done, she said.

A County Council member for six years, Blaney said delivering good “customer service” is one of her priorities.

Heinold said his 25 years of business experience will benefit the County as working with others to create a budget and stay within those budgets is something he does daily. He also cited his IT and sales experience as something he will bring to the table as a commissioner.

To guide him, Heinold stated his three imperatives to good government which he based on a model developed by businessman Franklin Covey. First is to serve every citizen, second is to honor fiduciary responsibility and third is to synergize ideas.

Northern County Commissioner Republican John Evans planned to speak at the forum but was attending to funeral services for Lorain Bell.

County Council at-large

Voters are to elect three for the at-large seats up for grabs on the County Council this year.

Two of which are incumbents Dan Whitten and Sylvia Graham, both Democrats, while the Republican hopefuls are all new faces – Mark Hoffman, Ralph Neff and Joe Wszolek.

The third Democrat running is former County Council 1st District Representative Robert Poparad.

Whitten is the current Council president and has been a member for eight years. He is in favor of smaller government and economic development. Jobs he said are of the utmost importance to build a better future for the county.

Drainage projects are also near and dear to Whitten and partnering with municipalities. He prides himself on the ability to work with members of both political parties. To get the most accomplished, deals need to be bipartisan, he said.

Graham listed boards she has served on over the years including the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District and the County Plan Commission. She has voted in support of developments such as the U.S. 6 Overlay District plan and the St. Andrew’s medical campus next to the new Porter hospital and said they are examples of good growth.

“I have the time and energy for one more term,” she said.

After leaving the Council in 2010, Poparad said he believes he will bring something to the table if given the chance to rejoin. He said members of the current Council are not “playing well together in the sandbox.”

Poparad explained to Chamber members the role of the Council is to spend their money and it is something he takes seriously. He said he has strong knowledge of government from also having served three terms on the Burns Harbor Town Council.

Newly retired Valparaiso High School coach Hoffman said if elected he will devote his time to being a team leader on the Council. Faith, family and education have always been his top priorities, he said.

Hoffman has lived in Porter County and coached for about 40 years. He earned many accolades in his career including Indiana 5A Coach of the Year. He said his passion for coaching can be applied to public service.

Wszolek has also earned many merits in his 22-year profession as a real estate appraiser and the experience has let him understand what people want out of life, giving him a valuable perspective if elected to the Council.

Wszolek said he would push for joint planning meetings between the Council and the Commissioners to develop a “roadmap” for the County and get the budgets under control.

Wszolek is the current president of the Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals.

Duneland School Board

With no partisan affiliation, three of the six running for Duneland School Board gave their time so Chamber members could put a face to a name.

School Board incumbent Nick Jurasevich is in a contested race with Kristin Kroeger to keep the Jackson Twp. seat, which he has filled for ten years. If retained, Jurasevich said he would strive to serve not only the student population but all the stakeholders in the community, as it is implied in his definition of the “Duneland Difference.”

Having a strong leadership on the School Board and fostering faith in the students will prompt student achievements, he said. Having the energy to set clear goals is something needed on the board, he added.

Kroeger said her two children attend Duneland Schools and she applauds the quality of education.

Having worked as a consultant for businesses for 19 years, Kroeger said her background will help her implement strategy and change as a School Board member.

The nearly even split in voting for this year’s referendum to raise property taxes by 22 cents per each $100 of assessed value has divided the community, Kroeger said. She wants renew the bond between the school and the community. One cannot be vibrant without the other, she sad.

Four are competing for the School Board’s at-large seat. John Marshall, a former board member, was the only candidate in that race who was on hand to speak at the forum.

Marshall said he is passionate about education and would like to reach out to state officials on the topic of changing the state’s funding formula for public schools. The formula gives more money to struggling schools per pupil and less to higher performing schools like Duneland.

He also wants the state to honor a request of providing more school buses. The School District has had to adjust its schedule by about 35 minutes because of limited transportation equipment.

Keeping up with technology is another of Marshall’s goals.

The other at-large candidates, not in attendance, are William Barkow, Dan Vondrasek Sr., and Dane Lafata.

The Duneland Teachers Association is hosting a public forum exclusive to the two School Board races this Monday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m. at Chesterton Middle School.

Early Voting

Parkinson informed Chamber members they have the option of voting before the Nov. 6 elections. Early voting is taking place from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Chesterton Town Hall on Monday through Friday and on Saturdays, Oct. 27 and Nov. 3.

 

Posted 10/25/2012