Candidates for Indiana governor take the virtual stage for final debate

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INDIANAPOLIS — Candidates in the final Indiana Gubernatorial debate fielded questions from the public Tuesday as they gave one final appeal to Hoosiers heading to the polls.

The debate comes as a historic number of Hoosiers have already voted. For those who have not made their ways to the polls, the candidates hoped the debate would sway their decision in their direction.

The debate was dominated by COVID-19, with each candidate doubling down on how to handle the ongoing pandemic. Challengers Dr. Woody Myers (D) and Donald Rainwater (I) both disapprove of how incumbent governor Eric Holcomb (R) has responded.

One of the questions asked was if they would mandate a COVID-19 vaccine.

Holcomb said he wouldn’t mandate a vaccine but would encourage it when it is safe and went through proper approval.

“We want to make sure that we’re ready to rock and roll when it does come to Indiana, getting it out to the front line, getting it out to the most vulnerable, getting it out to our schools and long-term care centers,” Holcomb said.

Rainwater argued that any vaccine will have side effects and health risks. He said it should be up to the individual to weigh those risks.

“It must be a citizen’s responsibility to determine what level of risk they’re willing to take what level of risk they are willing to put their children under and government should not be involved in that decision,” Rainwater said.

While Myers did not take a side in requiring a vaccine, he said immunizations have been cost-effective life savers for years; hoping one would be available soon.

“We don’t know the full side-effect profiles yet and we don’t know all of those restrictions, but they are going to be coming,” Myers said.

The candidates also discussed how people can get jobs to break free of government assistance programs. In April, Indiana had a 17.5 percent unemployment rate. As of September, Indiana had a 6.2 percent unemployment rate.

Holcomb said it comes down to growing the state’s ecosystem to make sure jobs are everywhere. He remarked on the number of jobs available in the state, saying the key is to “skill up” Hoosiers.

“Our goal is to move more have nots, currently, into the have category by economically empowering them,” Holcomb said. “The jobs are there, the jobs are coming, the key for the next decade is to skill up our workforce.”

Rainwater blamed the unemployment on Holcomb, saying he shut down the economy. He said he would never determine who is and isn’t essential.

“What we need to do is reinvigorate the small business community and family farms in Indiana to ensure that Hoosier jobs are created by Hoosier businesses, and that those jobs are allowed to stay open, even in a crisis,” Rainwater said.

Myers blamed the unemployment on trade policies by President Donald Trump and the pandemic. He says the state needs to do more about education and economic development.

“We got to bring a new breed of 21st century companies to the state of Indiana and not depend on the old approaches that just aren’t working anymore,” Myers said.

Another discussion point that came up was decriminalizing marijuana. Two of Indiana’s neighbors, Ohio and Illinois, have both decriminalized and allowed medicinal marijuana. Michigan has also allowed medicinal marijuana.

Holcomb said it is not up to him to pick and choose what laws to not follow. He says while it remains illegal under the federal government, he supports researching marijuana’s medicinal use.

“We got one of the best ag schools in the country and we got the best medical school in the country, Purdue and Indiana University. We wrote to the FDA, we wrote to the CDC and we said ‘let’s do some medical research on this,’ Holcomb said.

Both Rainwater and Myers disagreed with Holcomb, calling for the legalization of marijuana, at least medicinally.

Rainwater called for the complete legalization of all forms of cannabis, calling it an opportunity.

“We have an economic crisis in our state and we have the ability to create new agricultural, manufacturing and retail opportunities for Hoosier business owners just by legalizing and decriminalizing cannabis,” Rainwater said.

Myers called for decriminalizing simple possession and medicinal marijuana, saying it is time to give people the option to get that treatment.

“It is time to decriminalize simple possession of cannabis in the state of Indiana. It makes no sense to be on the border between Indiana and Illinois and walk across the border and become a criminal,” Myers said.

Another topic of discussion was racial justice. In Indiana, protests took place after officers shot and killed two men and fatally struck a pregnant pedestrian in three separate incidents just hours apart.

Governor Holcomb said they are bringing in a 3rd party to review every agency. He also announced that he would appoint a new cabinet officer for inclusion and opportunity.

“Economic empowerment will go a long way, but we need to be looking at housing, transportation, health outcomes all the above including our training at the ILEA (Indiana Law Enforcement Academy), the way we train our officers and we will have bodycams come next year.”

Rainwater said the state can start by decriminalize cannabis and get people out of jail who were arrested for possession. He also called for being aware of disparities in laws and regulations that adversely affect minorities.

“Most of these things are government-related, because when government oversteps its bounds, it usually does so in a way that adversely affects the minority community.”

Myers called for increased transparency along with body cameras and dash cameras. He also called for bias training and oversight.

“The vast majority of our officers do exactly as they’re supposed to. They know that the small percentage is hurting the reputation of the profession,” Myers said.

To close the debate, the candidates were asked what the biggest issue they thought was facing Indiana.

Holcomb defended his record and promised to bring Hoosiers more jobs.

“The biggest issue I think facing the State of Indiana, and every other state in the nation, is how we are able to skill up our workforce,” Holcomb said.

Rainwater asked voters if they were better off today than four years ago, pushing liberty.

“Under a Rainwater administration, we will bring Hoosiers’ freedoms back,” Rainwater said.

Myers pointed towards his credentials as the state’s former health commissioner.  He pledged public safety as a top priority.

“Under that umbrella, we’ll have public health, criminal justice reform– those things that keep Hoosiers safe,” Myers said.

The election is on November 3. Indiana voters can vote early in-person at several voting locations or via mail if they cannot be there in person. For more information on Indiana elections, go here.

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