Fidler, Beck share views in opponent-less debates
An empty podium may have comprised one side of the Watson Forum stage but the other side was full of ideas and energy as the first of two Candidate Forums sponsored by the Greencastle League of Women Voters unfolded Tuesday night.
The one-hour program was designed to pit the candidates for District 44 state representative and 4th District U.S. Congress against each other in front of panelists from the League and its co-sponsors, WGRE Radio at DePauw and the Banner Graphic. However, League representative Leslie Hanson announced that both Jim Baird, Republican candidate for U.S. Congress, and his son, Beau Baird, GOP candidate for State Legislature, had declined the invitation to participate.
That allowed Tobi Beck, Democrat candidate for District 4 U.S. Congress from Avon, and Kim Fidler, Democrat candidate for District 44 legislator from Greencastle, to solo in front of the 50 or fewer people on hand at Watson Forum in the DePauw Media Center and those watching the cable access channel or listening to WGRE, making the evening more job interview than debate.
Fidler was up first, listing her campaign priorities as being “very common sense,” and stressing that “regardless of party, we all deserve legislators who are accountable, accessible and transparent.”
“My first priority is public education,” said Fidler, who taught at South Putnam for 16 years and has been a Uniserve director for the past 12 years. “That includes adequate funding for traditional public schools; school safety, including drinking water, mold, having counselors and school resource officers; no diversion of money for vouchers for charter schools; ending the school letter grades that are punitive; federal and state funding for general diplomas; and adequate funding for child protective services.”
She went on to list infrastructure, healthcare, human rights, passage of a hate crimes bill in Indiana, a living wage, equal pay for equal work and repealing right-to-work and restoring the common construction wage in order to help working men and women as other priorities.
Asked if one education issue could be resolved in the next legislature, which she hoped it would be, Fidler opted for adequate funding.
“Included in that is the funding of pre-K, and the ridiculous thing is that for legislators to fund pre-K, they decided we also needed to put $1 million toward virtual preschool. So we’re going to put our little guys and girls on a computer and expect them to do well. The whole reason for pre-K education is to bring kids into a safe environment with teachers who care for them and help them when their home environment maybe isn’t what it should be,” the Democrat legislative candidate said.
“I know it sounds like, ‘You just want to throw more money and more money at the problem’ where we’re spending that money on standardized testing. We need to be spending more on pre-K and paying our teachers well. They spend money in the community when they’re paid well, so it’s win-win, right?
“Funding -- not necessarily more tax dollars, just better use of our tax dollars -- that would be awesome.”
Fidler was asked where she stood on restricting sales of guns, and she was quick to invoke some personal experience in her answer.
“Growing up in a family where we relied on hunters for food and didn’t always have a lot of money, my father hunted, my son hunted, my brothers do. I think it’s important we look at the types of weapons that are available to ordinary citizens but not restrict in any way a person’s ability to protect themselves.
“So when asked about the Second Amendment,” Fidler continued, “I do believe that there really isn’t a need for average citizens to have military-style weapons, but I think that is a bone of contention, and there’s a belief that ‘all Democrats just want to take away guns.’ That’s really not accurate at all.”
In being asked about infrastructure concerns, Fidler said that despite the state having a surplus of funds for quite some time, Indiana sadly still hasn’t maintained its roads, bridges or sewers. But that’s not the only infrastructure issue, she said.
“I think that infrastructure also includes affordable rural high-speed internet and cell phone service,” Fidler suggested. “According to what I’m hearing, $1 billion is being dedicated by Gov. Holcomb for the Next Level Connections plan, and of that, $100 million is being set aside for rural internet, but I feel that’s really not enough to take care of the issue.
”We have so many of our rural schools and homes without internet service. Purdue University estimates 93,000 Hoosiers live in internet darkness, and that bridging the internet divide could bring $12 billion in economic impact to Indiana with schools, businesses and farmers benefiting from the rural internet.
“I think it’s a shame we have parents taking their kids to McDonald’s or Starbucks for internet service,” Fidler said of the current situation in many areas of District 44. “We pay taxes, we deserve services.”
Asked about possible legalization of marijuana, Fidler said, “it’s very important we not wait” in contrast with what her opponent had said last spring when he suggested waiting to see how other states fared before getting involved with the product.
“I have had the opportunity to talk to several people from Colorado and some other states that have already legalized it for medicinal purposes,” Fidler told the forum audience, “people really could benefit. As far as the recreational (marijuana), it’s a question of funding. We’re always talking about not having adequate funding.
“I would remind you at one point alcohol was under prohibition with the 18th Amendment of the Constitution, then the 21st Amendment repealed that with common sense. With laws of (using it while) working, operating equipment, driving under the influence, just like with alcohol, I think legalization could work here.”
She reminded the audience of a poll published in the Banner Graphic that showed 65 percent of District 44 residents favor legalization.
“Any time that 65 percent of our constituents want something,” she added, “we really need to pay attention to that. It doesn’t matter what we want personally, we’re a representative.”
Meanwhile, Tobi Beck, District 4 Democrat candidate for U.S. Congress, said she decided to run for office “as an extension of my duty in the military” after her congressman reportedly refused to come to a town hall meeting to meet with his constituents.
“I looked at that and said, ’We can do better. We deserve better,’” said Beck who has been deployed with military police to “all sorts of places” to see “all manner of businesses with the world from Cuba to the Haitian refugee crisis to Somalia, dealing in Operation Restore Hope where we did combat missions on almost a daily basis.”
That has given Beck varied perspective on immigration, the first topic she was asked to address.
“I recognize we do need strong borders,” Beck said. “I recognize far and above our immigration system has significant problems but the methods with which we are currently trying to secure those borders and the methods with which we are currently targeting specific races, specific types of people is not American.
“This is a country built on immigrants,” she continued. “If we can rebuild our immigration system to create legal immigrants, to fix those problems, that’s what we need to be concentrating on, ways to create and rebuild our immigration system. We have so many jobs available for immigrants, we have so many places that immigrants to this county have bolstered the country, have made us what we are.”
It has been issues like that, Beck said, that have emerged while she’s campaigned in the 16 counties of the sprawling 4th District.
“I literally put on the pair of combat boots I wore in Somalia and walked across all 16 counties in this district with the intent of talking to any body who would talk to me,” Beck said, “because that’s what it takes to represent the people of a district, not just one party or another but every person in the district. They deserve a voice in Washington, and I’m willing to fight for them for it.
“So is it possible to put a Democrat in this office? Yes, but let’s stop looking at parties and start looking at people and the people willing to fight for voices in this district,” the candidate added.
Yet District 4, Beck said, is considered the “most gerrymandered district in the fifth-most gerrymandered state in the nation.”
”That said,” the Democrat candidate continued, ”one of its great challenges is that we have everything from the extension of Indianapolis, giving us very urban and suburban areas, to the rural areas all the way out in some of the rural counties such as Putnam, White and Clinton. So that’s a huge mix. We have a massive amount of farmland, we have manufacturing, we have some of the best research facilities here in the district in Hendricks County. So we have a wide band of everything in district.
“The question,” Beck asked, ”is what’s important? What’s good for all of us? Farmers have needs the urban areas may not, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have a representative to represent each of us in those areas. Nobody needs to lose in order for everybody to win. But to do that, we have to put a person in office to represent us who’s willing to have that fight, who’s willing to go and take that message and have the energy to do so.”
Subsequently asked what America’s greatest international challenge might be, Beck responded, “Wow, do I have to pick one?”
Tariffs is what she chose.
“Right now,” she said, “one of our largest challenges in this district is how the tariffs are impacting us, straight down the line, everything from farmers to steelworkers to manufacturing to small businesses.
“Small businesses are being impacted by a 25 percent jump in the price of steel, but farmers are being impacted as well,“ Beck said, saying the United States has become an “unstable supplier” of soybeans and corn because of the tariffs.
“With this latest round of tariffs impacting us,” she continued, “contracts are no longer being dropped, they’re simply canceling them, and that’s made us an unstable supplier. And once you’re an unstable supplier, your contracts aren’t coming home. We’re going to be faced with huge challenges in the very near future because of those tariffs. That is possibly our largest challenge worldwide right now.”
With no candidate to debate face to face, Beck was asked how she differs from her opponent.
“First of all,” she said, gesturing toward the empty podium to her right, “I’m the one here, and that’s not exactly a joke. The difference is, I’m standing here, I’m walking through the counties, I’m actively engaging people.
“It’s a matter of ‘let’s talk to people,’” she added, “there’s our biggest difference. I’m actively engaging a population that I want to represent in order to get as many views as possible.
“When we first look at it and say, ‘What’s the biggest difference between you and your opponent,’ I think this scene actually is that picture,” Beck said, again gesturing toward the podiums and back again. “What we need out in Washington is someone to represent us, not a corporation, not a party, not a person, not a rubber stamp for anybody else but representing this district and its people.”
Asked how she would deal with the present polarized political climate, Beck again pointed to her military background.
“How do we start reaching across the aisle?” she asked. “We start looking for common ground. Right now there are 17 people who have served in the military who passed their primary and are currently running for Congress on both sides of the aisle, who have a knowledge of working with each other even if we don’t necessarily love each other.
“In the military,” she continued, “you don’t necessarily like the guy next to you but you’re gonna work with him. And that’s the kind of ethic we get from it. So part of the job is to recognize I don’t have to like the person, I have to work with him. We have to work together, and it’s reaching across the aisle -- and I hate that phrase.
“Let’s think about the issue,” the candidate added, “let’s work through the problem and find our common ground because we agree on so much more than we disagree.”
Representatives have “spent so much time shouting at each other and not working for even the things they agree on,” Beck said, “that they’ve forgotten how to agree.”
The second of the two Candidate Forums, sponsored by the Greencastle League of Women Voters, WGRE and the Banner Graphic is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 9, starting at 7 p.m. It will feature candidates for county commissioner and Putnam County Council.