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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Candidates tackle tough issues at forum

Thursday, October 7, 2010

(Photo)
District 44 Indiana state representative candidates Nancy Michael (D) and Jim Baird (R) engage in a discussion at Wednesday night's local candidates' forum at the Watson Forum in the Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media on the DePauw campus. Both highlighted issues such as education, health care reform and tax caps, among others. Banner Graphic/JAMIE BARRAND
GREENCASTLE -- Health care. Same-sex marriage. Tax caps.

Those were just some of the issues District 44 Indiana state representative candidates Jim Baird (R) and Nancy Michael (D) discussed Wednesday night at a local candidates' forum.

The event, hosted by DePauw University radio station WGRE FM 91.5, was held at the Watson Forum in the Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media on the DePauw campus.

The first question placed before the candidates was what new initiatives they would focus on if elected.

"Education and jobs will be No. 1," Michael said. "We need to focus on what we can do to make Indiana a better environment for new business, and we need to make sure we are hiring Hoosiers first. There are also a lot of problems with education funding."

Baird said a first order of business for him would be to "stabilize the government and activate an entrepreneurial attitude."

"The key to that is education," he said.

Baird said he found it alarming that statistics showed only 58 cents for each of Indiana's education dollars actually ended up being used in the classroom.

"Teachers are being shorted in their ability to educate our greatest resource," he said.

Michael said the issue of overcrowding at Indiana's prisons weighed "heavy on my heart."

"Overcrowding is an issue that needs to be addressed by looking at sentencings," she said. "I would also concentrate on mental health. There are 29,000 people waiting on waivers (to be able to access mental health treatment), and that's unacceptable."

When asked about energy conservation, Baird said he considered the issue "extremely important."

"Indiana still uses a lot of coal, and we have to protect those jobs," he said.

Michael said she believed sustainability was not just an issue for Indiana, but for the entire United States.

"We are the ones who are going to have to set the pace for change," she said.

Baird agreed.

"We have to use technology to integrate and develop products that are more efficient," he said.

Michael said energy conservation would continue to be a hot button issue for a long time to come.

"The demand is there; the sources will come," she said.

The candidates had vastly different takes on the subject of access to health care.

"Access to health care is a right," Michael said. "I really struggle with this, because there are people who, through no fault of their own, simply can't afford it. This is a big issue."

Baird didn't agree.

"I'm not sure it's a right, but it is important," he said. "Obamacare is not the answer ... it negates our Healthy Indiana Plan."

"Obamacare" is a colloquial name that has been attached to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23. The law includes numerous health-related provisions to take effect over a four-year period, including expanding Medicaid eligibility, subsidizing insurance premiums, providing incentives for businesses to provide health care benefits, prohibiting denial of coverage or claims based on pre-existing conditions, establishing health insurance exchanges and support for medical research.

The costs of these provisions are offset by a variety of taxes, fees, and cost-saving measures, such as new Medicare taxes for high-income brackets, taxes on indoor tanning, improved fairness in the Medicare Advantage program relative to traditional Medicare, and fees on medical devices and pharmaceutical companies. There is also a tax penalty for citizens who do not obtain health insurance (unless they are exempt due to low income or other reasons).

The Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP) is Indiana's affordable health insurance program for uninsured adult Hoosiers.

The program is sponsored by the state of Indiana and only requires minimal monthly contributions from the participant.

HIP is for uninsured Hoosier adults ages of 19-64. Parents or caretaker relatives of children in the Hoosier Healthwise program are likely candidates for HIP. A pre-existing or high-risk medical condition has no effect on eligibility.

HIP offers full health benefits including hospital services, mental health care, physician services, prescriptions, diagnostic exams and disease management.

Baird said President Obama's healthcare reform would cause "a burden to the state."

One issue the candidates did seem to have like minds on was same-sex marriage.

"There is a law on the books now that says (same-sex marriage) is illegal," Michael said. "We hear a lot about changing the Indiana constitution, and I don't think we should. I believe we should keep it."

For Baird, the issue was more about principles.

"I'm a Christian, and I think marriage is between a man and a woman," he said. "However, I also recognize that this is a free country, and people should be able to do what they want to as long as it doesn't infringe upon the rights of others."

Something Baird was in favor of was the voter ID law, which requires individuals to show picture ID before casting ballots at polling places.

"There are a lot of individuals who have entered this country illegal, and we need to verify who they are," he said.

Michael disagreed.

"I think the law keeps people out of the polling places," she said. "It's unnecessary and inconvenient."

Baird and Michael agreed that Hoosier farmers are playing a big role in protecting Indiana's natural resources.

"The agriculture industry does a tremendous job, in my opinion, of protecting our soil and water," he said. "Great efforts are made by our farmers to protect the environment."

Michael concurred, adding that she thought the agriculture industry was "overregulated."

WGRE station manager Tyler Archer introduced the candidates and outlined ground rules for questions and ensuing discussion. The forum was moderated by Stephen Kendrick of WGRE.

Panelists were Pam Propsom of the Greencastle League of Women Voters; Meredith McGrady of WGRE News; and Jamie Barrand, editor of the Banner Graphic.

A second forum will take place on Oct. 13, and will feature Tim Bookwalter (R) and Robert Perry (I), candidates for Putnam County prosecutor, and Steve Fenwick (R), Garry Clark (D) and Joe Tesmer (I), who are all seeking the office of Putnam County sheriff.

That event will also take place at the Watson Forum, and will begin at 7 p.m.