ZIONSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg
finally drew Mike Pence out of his shell Wednesday in their first debate
after months of criticizing the Republican congressman in what has been a
fairly lopsided race.
Gregg hit Pence in their first direct battle of the election for missing
votes in Congress and opposing the auto bailout. Pence, who attempted at
times to continue a front-runner’s strategy of largely ignoring Gregg’s
attacks, hit back Wednesday with a critique that Gregg was part of a state
government that left Indiana “effectively bankrupt” a decade ago.
Gregg, Pence and Libertarian candidate Rupert Boneham met at Zionsville High
School for the first of three debates before the November election. The
meeting marked one of the first times Pence has acknowledged any of the
critiques Gregg has lobbed his way over the past year, but the Republican
congressman largely stuck to what has been a highly disciplined message,
talking about his “roadmap” about 10 times throughout the night.
Pence has held a large fundraising lead throughout the campaign, and the few
public polls taken this year have shown him with double-digit leads over
Gregg. Gregg tried a more direct message Wednesday night as he seeks to make
up ground in the final four weeks, appealing directly to “Lugar Republicans”
and flatly rejecting “ideologues” from any party.
Boneham got in a few shots Wednesday, criticizing a lack of transparency in
state government, but was more often used as a buffer by Pence, who dodged
as many Gregg critiques as possible.
Indiana’s next governor will inherit a full plate, beginning with work on
the state’s next biennial budget. Daniels is leaving his successor with an
estimated $2 billion in cash reserves and a pending drop-off in
transportation funds of roughly $500 million a year.
The new governor also will have to negotiate with veteran lawmakers during
the 2013 session, including Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma, who said
last week that new tax cuts sound good on the campaign trail but might have
to wait as the state phases out the inheritance tax and decreases its
corporate income tax.
The 2013 legislative session also promises to force a few divisive social
issues before the new governor, including efforts to teach creationism in
Indiana schools and a proposal to write Indiana’s ban on gay marriage into
the state constitution. Boneham is the only one of the three candidates to
say he would oppose the ban.
Pence took his first direct hit on Gregg after asking how the candidates
would maintain balanced budgets. Pence snapped back when Gregg appeared to
dodge the question:
“Maybe the reason you didn’t answer the question about fiscal responsibility
is because for five of the six years that you were speaker of the House,
Indiana ran deficits,” Pence said.
Touting himself as the best candidate to continue the fiscal prudence of his
fellow republican, Gov. Mitch Daniels, Pence said Indiana residents should
be proud of Daniels’ “honestly balanced budgets.” Gregg, though, used the
reference to Daniels to highlight what he said were differences between the
current governor and Pence.
“Mitch Daniels shows up to work every day,” Gregg said. Pence’s attendance
throughout his career has been strong but has recently dropped precipitously
as he began spending more time fundraising and campaigning.
At least one of the Hoosiers picked by the debate commission to ask
questions was unhappy with the candidates dancing around questions.
Michelle McGuire, 27, and Janette Gallup, 31, sisters who co-own an
insurance company in Anderson, said they wanted to see more specifics from
all the candidates on stage. McGuire punctuated her question about the
candidates’ positions on the federal health care law with a request: “Please
be as specific as possible.”
“I was kind of disappointed with their responses,” McGuire said after the
debate. The question was personal for the two sisters: Their mother is
battling cancer and was denied coverage earlier this year because of her
previous battle with breast cancer. The first bill that came in the mail was
for $116,000 over one week of treatment.