Saturday, October 21, 2006

More On Blogger's Forum With Legislative Candidates

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit down with three Democratic legislative candidates in Marion County, who are all in very tight races. Rep. David Orentlicher (D) is facing a tough challenge from Kathryn Densborn (D). Challenger John Barnes (D) is seeking to unseat long-time serving Rep. Larry Buell (D). And challenger Russell Brown (D) is taking on Sen. James Merritt (R). The candidates shared their views on a wide range of topics. What I was most impressed from all three of them was how well they seemed to have researched the issues and developed thoughtful positions. While their views were in line with many in their party, their own positions were not taken in a knee-jerk manner. Here's some of what they had to say.

Top Legislative Priorities
All three candidates listed education as a top priority. Full-day kindergarten has been an issue Russ Brown has been touting a lot. In a recent debate with his opponent, Merritt switched his past opposition to full-day kindergarten to one in support Brown notes. Orentlicher has supported full-day kindergarten during his two terms in the legislature. On the question of education funding, Barnes reminds us that the state constitution doesn't give us a choice--the state's role in funding a public education system is clearly mandated, and the state has not been fulfilling its constitutionally-mandated duty. Brown used the opportunity to tout his proposal to provide tax incentives to encourage Indiana employers to help retain Indiana college graduates to stem the brain drain.

They all agreed that dealing with the problem of the insured must be a high priority. Orentlicher noted that he has participated in a health insurance reform study for some time. A model adopted by the VA hospitals is one that he thinks Indiana should take a closer look at. Brown believes the state needs to create a small business health insurance pool as a means of combatting the problem of the uninsured.

The candidates agreed that property tax reform that allows local governments alternative options for raising revenues to reduce dependency on the property tax is a top priority as well.

SJR-7 (Constitutional Amendment to Ban Gay Marriage)
All three candidates are opposed to SJR-7, which would adopt a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages, as well as prohibit the recognition of the legal incidents of marriage for unmarried couples, whether straight or gay. Orentlicher voted against the measure when it was adopted by the General Assembly in 2005 in the first of a two-part process to place the amendment before voters in 2008. The candidates were all familiar with the second paragraph of the proposed amendment. Brown remarked his astonishment that during debate on SJR-7, Sen. Brent Herschman (R) freely admitted that he had no idea what the second paragraph of SJR-7 meant. He thought many of the members were similarly uninformed about the language in the amendment. Barnes observed that, once an amendment to the constitution is adopted, it is almost never repealed.

Each of the candidates unique perspectives help explain their position on this controversial issue. All three candidates agreed that SJR-7 and other hot button social issues are creating an unfavorable perception of Indiana and hindering its ability to attract cutting edge industries and a highly-educated workforce. Orentlicher notes that a successful legislative effort to ban all research pertaining to cloning and continuing efforts to ban research on embryonic stem cell research has had the effect already of driving out researchers from the state. Brown grew up in Ft. Collins, Colorado where HP had a large presence. A culture of acceptance and diversity helped that community grown and thrive. And Barnes, as a long-term educator in Warren Township schools, has seen first-hand the benefit of promoting a culture of tolerance and acceptance of diversity in our public schools.

All three candidates agreed that the state's civil rights law should be amended to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Orentlicher cautioned, howevever, that with any legislative change, he would want to be extra careful not to effectively repeal any current local ordinances already on the books.

Voter I.D.
All three candidates oppose the state's current voter identification law. This will be the first general election at which voters will be required to submit a state-issued ID, such as a driver's license. Unlike some Democrats, these three candidates didn't reject out of hand the idea of requiring some form of ID. Their opposition is based on the restrictive nature of the law's requirement. They all agreed the law would be more palatable if the forms of ID permitted under the law were broadened considerably. They all agreed that the legislature should be more concerned with addressing election fraud in the form of absentee balloting as opposed to voter impersonation, a problem they see as being much greater. Their fear is that the current law will effectively disenfranchise voters for no other reason than it will create longer voting lines and people will walk away from the polling places.

All three candidates expressed concern about the current administration's desire to privatize many government services. Orentlicher concedes that privatization in some cases is desirable, but there are many services which are not suited for privatization. In the context of the toll roads deal, one of Orentlicher's greatest concerns is a provision in the new law which will allow the Governor to privatize other public roads without legislative input. He sees a real danger in such an open-ended law. They felt that the toll road deal was too rushed. Barnes points out that his opponent freely admits he didn't consult with his constituents on the toll road initiative. Instead, Buell voted his conscience. Brown lamented that the paultry sums local governments were getting from the deal in his district weren't worth the risks of a 75-year deal.

Part-Time Legislature/Conflicts of Interest
While Indiana's legislature is still considered a part-time, citizen legislature, the candidates find that most constituents don't understand this. Orentlicher, who is a professor at IU, notes the challenges in deciding what issues pose a conflict of interest. Some would argue that he should recuse him from voting on all matters pertaining to IU, including its budget. He thinks the broader public interest should allow him to vote on IU's budget. Talking to voters, Barnes finds people who assume he will be required to give up his full-time teaching job if he's elected. He intends to continue teaching like other teachers in the legislature if he's elected. Brown sees a need for tighter controls. He notes one senator who is a hog farmer helps write laws regulating hog farms. He sees an apparent conflict of interest in that.

Some people have asked why there were no Republican candidates at the blogger's forum. That question should be addressed to Bil Browning at Bilerico, the organizer of yesterday's event. As for my part, I make myself available to any of the Republican legislative candidates who want to share their views with me for publication on this blog.


Anonymous said...

You know what is amazing? That corruption wasn't the number 1 issue for these politicians. My God, after reading the post about the Hoosier Lottery I am shocked that this wasn't a priority. Also, they worry about Voter ID problems, yet more serious problems exist such as its illegal to have recall elections in Indiana. What good is voting when you can't kick out corrupt politicians who dont do their job! Why are we in a mess? Because the people have no clue as to what should be fixed!! We are in trouble!

Wilson46201 said...

I am so lucky! My Indiana Representative is John Day, my Indiana Senator is Billie Breaux. I have never found a reason to disagree with their votes - I just have to keep telling them to keep up their good work. Both do stellar jobs!

Anonymous said...

Lord save us from plebecites and recalls...we elect people to serve for defininitve terms. Absent impeachable offenses or health reasons, they ought to stay in office through their terms. As a stunning example to us that the ballot box is no quick fix. We need to think seriously about the candidates we elect.

Corruption isn't the number one problem. For these state legislators it ought to be the economy, stupid. Our economy nationally is held to gether with chewing gum and $400 billion in war expenditures trickling down through various defense contractor/subcontractor networks.

In this state, we're painfully switching form a manufacturing based economy to a I-don't-know economy.

I can't vote for all three of these candidates, but thanks, AI, for a thorough reporting job.

By contrast, Matt's column tomorrow will probably consist of 12-15 paragraphs he could've written in a few minutes with zero legwork.