Two Hendricks County residents, Republican Pete Miller and Democrat Charles Bender, both of Avon, are vying for the District 24 seat long held by former State Sen. Connie Lawson (R-Danville) prior to her appointment as secretary of state last April.
Meanwhile, Republican Rod Bray, the son of longtime State Sen. Richard Bray (R-Martinsville), is being challenged in Senate District 37 by Democrat Jim Cahill. Both are from Morgan County.
Those four were joined Wednesday night by Democrat Richard Thompson of Parke County, who is challenging incumbent Republican Jim Baird of Greencastle in House District 24. Baird was not in attendance Wednesday night.
Miller and Bender were asked to identify the two main issues in their Senate campaigns.
Bender focused on "fixing the DCS (Department of Child Services)" and furthering Hoosier education.
Miller, meanwhile, said adult education must be improved and a continued focus of fiscal responsibility is a must for Indiana's future.
Bender pointed out that three million jobs are open across the nation, many of those in Indiana.
"We need to get people better educated," he said, "so they can do those jobs."
Miller agreed. Adult education needs "more attention," he said, in order to match workers' job skills to available jobs.
Fiscal responsibility, the GOP incumbent said, is essential but can be more difficult when there is more money at the state's disposal.
"With a large surplus," Miller said, "it's tempting to craft something that would spend it down. It's more difficult to say 'no' to folks and be fiscally responsible when there's more money on the table."
Meanwhile, both Bender and Miller said they would favor a restructuring of the formula for funding road improvements for Indiana's 92 counties. Currently, pickup trucks are not taken into consideration as part of the per-vehicle formula for distribution of tax dollars for road repairs and improvements.
"The status quo needs to be revisited and revised," Miller said. "Local governments are being squeezed. The general principle is that those who pay for it should benefit the most.
"Putnam and a lot of counties are struggling with road money, and part of that is due to the formula we have."
Bender agreed. "It's time we need to restructure that formula," he stressed.
Even in presenting their final statements, both men tended to agree.
Miller, who formerly worked in the governor's Office of Management and Budget before succeeding Sen. Lawson back in April in his first-ever election venture, said he "offers a unique set of skills" and the opportunity to help ensure fiscally responsiblility.
"We can only try to get more for less so long before we have to do less with less," Miller added as a note of caution.
Bender, who retired after 41 years with IBM Corp. with innovative awards for financial management, said he wants to share his "unique life history."
A veteran of the Vietnam War, he said he is now involved in what he sees as a "war on women and children" by the state and federal governments.
In District 37, Bray and Cahill clashed mainly over the issue of Right to Work legislation.
Cahill -- a former president of his local Teamsters Union in Morgan County -- was schooled "by the school of hard knocks, not college," he said. Cahill said he would repeal the Right to Work law.
"I'm a big opponent of Right to Work for Less," Cahill said. "I think that's the biggest difference between us."
Bray, an attorney since 1994, said Indiana is the 23rd state to pass Right to Work legislation, calling it "a matter of freedom for employees to be members of an organization if they want to, not because they have to."
The legislation, the Republican candidate said, has been "important to bring back manufacturing jobs in Indiana."
Five companies have come to the state specifically because of Right to Work legislation being passed, Bray said. "It's one more tool in the tool box."
Cahill, however, called is "simply a law to bust unions."
"I whole heartedly disagree with it," the Democrat hopeful added.
"My philosophy," he said, "is that it forces a union to earn its membership, not require it."
Meanwhile, House District 44 candidate Thompson said he became interested in running for the position after attending cracker barrel sessions and failing to get answers or even responses from the incumbent.
"My opponent is voting on bills where he doesn't know the issues, and that scares me," he said.
Thompson said he is "totally against (school) vouchers" and sees them as robbing public schools of needed funds.
"What parents are going to want to see no bands and no sports," the Parke County Democrat said. "But that's what's going to happen."
Senate District 37 is composed of Morgan County and portions of Johnson, Owen and Putnam (Warren, Washington, Jefferson and Cloverdale townships and six precincts in Greencastle Township).
In Putnam County, District 24 encompasses Russell, Franklin, Jackson, Clinton, Monroe, Floyd, Madison and Marion townships as well as five precincts in Greencastle Township: Greencastle North, Limedale, First North, Second East and Second West. The Senate district also represents the majority of Hendricks County.
House District 44 now covers Putnam and portions of four other counties, five townships in Morgan, a chunk of northern Owen County (the four townships across the northern tier, including those feeding into Cloverdale Schools), northern and eastern Parke County and a portion of western Hendricks.
The debate was co-sponsored by the Greencastle League of Women Voters, WGRE and the Banner Graphic. Panelists were Beth Newton Watson of the League of Women Voters, Ariella Ford of WGRE and Banner Graphic assistant editor Jared Jernagan.
Kate Hendrickson of WGRE served as the moderator.