Candidates Forum draws large crowd as residents ponder voting decisions for Election Day

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Twenty-three candidates, or their representatives, shared their views with potential voters during the Candidates Forum held at the Historic Hoosier Theater in Vevay last Thursday night.

The forum, sponsored by the Swiss Roundtable, Switzerland County Farm Bureau, and the Switzerland County Chamber of Commerce, was attended by approximately 150 potential voters.

In addition to those in attendance, the forum was recorded for podcast by TheFlypod.com and was filmed and recorded by Madison TV-15.

Questions for the candidates were solicited through the Swiss Roundtable website as well as by mail, and at selected locations throughout the county. Prior to the forum, the Swiss Roundtable coordinating committee chaired by Sarah Brichto, and including Melissa Hughes, Nancy Peters, Andrea Kappes, Teresa Lyons and Darla McAlister, reviewed the questions that were submitted. Two or three representative questions were selected to ask each group of candidates.

The forum itself was opened with the Pledge of Allegiance led by Switzerland County High School senior Ashley Bovard.

Moderators Nancy Peters and Dr. Robert Findley then introduced the forum’s format. Each candidate was given two minutes for an opening statement, two minutes to answer each question, and two minutes to summarize.

While the candidates were on the stage, a power point presentation was shown on a screen at the right side of the stage. The presentation showed the job description of the office the candidates on the stage were seeking, as well as, in the case of local candidates, a brief biography of each candidate. The candidate biographies were prepared by Switzerland County High School senior Zach Osowski.

SCHOOL BOARD

Based on the number of potential questions submitted by the public, the upcoming School Board election holds high interest.

Seven School Board candidates: Bill Roberts and Mark Lohide from Cotton Township; Jim Phipps and Denise Maxwell from Pleasant Township; Wayne Daugherty and Ron Otter from the Town of Vevay; and Tonya Moore from York Township; made themselves available to discuss their views and their priorities.

When asked what their primary goal would be if elected to the School Board, candidates Denise Maxwell and Mark Lohide stressed the need for financial responsibility and an awareness and understanding of financial problems of the past.

Candidates Wayne Daugherty and Bill Roberts said the School Board needs to concentrate on providing vocational training that leads to meaningful trades for the 80-percent of students that currently do not go on to college. Both candidates said they would support a high level vocational school located in Switzerland County.

Ron Otter said his priority would be to help develop programs that will improve both the graduation rate and the college readiness rate.

Tonya Moore said she wants to see stronger discipline in the schools. She said many students stay home from school because they fear for their safety.

Jim Phipps said the School Board’s priority should be the long range planning that will lead Switzerland County schools through the next 5-10 years. He said the shifting of resources and the concern over revenues will be critical.

While each candidate had a specific priority, each explained their priority was needed to improve educational opportunities, graduation rates, and college and job preparedness, for County students and to allow good teachers to be creative and to teach.

A recent survey claims Switzerland County ranks 92nd out of 92 counties in the number of residents, per capita, that have earned bachelor of science degrees. The school board candidates were asked what their long range plan would be to change this ranking.

In response, Denise Maxwell said we first have to make school fun. Teachers have to become more creative, and must be allowed to be more creative. Ron Otter said we need to use our teachers as advisors and have a team of teachers work with the administration.

Tonya Moore said we have to improve our math and science programs. We need to have teachers who want to teach and who enjoy teaching. Candidate Mark Lohide said he thinks education should start with an all day Kindergarten. He feels teachers must be given the best equipment available if we are going to expect the best from our teachers.

“Education starts at home,” candidate Jim Phipps said. He explained that if we are to improve our graduation rate, we must first convince parents of the value of an education for the future; and we must involve them in guiding the education of their children.

When Bill Roberts addressed the question, he also stressed that students have to see the need and the value of a college education. He suggested that having current college students meet with current high school students might encourage the high school students to stay in school and to prepare for college.

Wayne Daugherty said when he was teaching he would sign high school yearbooks with the statement “Don’t forget where you came from.” He said it is not enough just to have more college graduates; we need to have a place for them to come back to. We need to have jobs and trades that keep our educated young people coming back to Switzerland County.

All of the School Board candidates were asked if they thought there was a need for long range planning. Each candidate said “yes.”

The candidates were told that Switzerland County School Board members receive $112 for each meeting they attend, which is the same pay (stipend) that School Board members in Indianapolis receive. At the same time, the current pay for School Board members in Madison is $50 per meeting.

Each candidate was asked: “If you are elected, will you work to reduce the pay you receive for attending meetings?” This was followed by a question on whether health insurance provided to teachers and administrators should be the same as that provided to School Board members.

The answers, in varying forms, were unanimous. They ranged from “I will work to adjust the stipend to $50” (Denise Maxwell) to “Pay is not important. I do not expect to accept payment.” (Ron Otter). Candidates Tonya Moore, Mark Lohide, and Jim Phipps said pay is not important and is not a reason to run for School Board.

Bill Roberts echoed the other candidates when he said: “I have no problem if everyone gets the same insurance.

The comment that drew the biggest laugh for the evening came when Wayne Daugherty explained his position on reducing the current stipend: “I’m not dumb. The political answer has to be yes.”

Given the opportunity to give a closing statement, each candidate expressed a desire to help our children get a better education which will lead to better job opportunities. After all, as Bill Roberts stated: “The future of Switzerland County is in their hands.”

COUNTY COMMISSIONER

With the responsibility, if elected, of providing guidance and direction for Switzerland County today and for the next four years, candidates for County Commissioner and for County Council at large generated the most interest, after the School Board candidates, in terms of questions submitted to the Swiss Roundtable.

County Commissioners are the executive governing body of the County. County Council is the financial body of the County.

Candidates for Commissioner, Brian Morton and Danny Hehe, were asked their views on the new Industrial Park site and the decision to tear down the old Markland Bridge.

In response, Brian Morton said he thinks there should have been something more concrete before the check was written to buy the property for the Industrial Park. However, since it has already been purchased, he wants to see every effort made to have buildings with employee’s cars parked in front as soon as possible.

He doesn’t want the Industrial Park to be known as the “two million dollar corn field.”

As for the demolition of the Markland Bridge, Brian Morton commented that nothing was ever mentioned about it before bids were taken. He feels that the county should honor the bid. He says the bridge has not been maintained. That It is a liability.

In answer to the same questions, Danny Hehe said he too wants to show the public we have more than a corn field. He wants to work with the Switzerland County Council and state representatives to get something into the Industrial Park as soon as possible.

As for the demolition of the Markland Bridge, Hehe feels that tax dollars should not be used to restore or to remove the bridge. He stated that we need to get more federal funding for projects such as the Markland Bridge. Danny Hehe stressed the fact that we also need funding to deal with other bridges in the county that need repaired or need to be torn down.

When asked what the County Commissioners need to do to “keep the ball rolling” on modernizing Switzerland County, improving tourism, etc., both candidates said the biggest improvement in the county has been the paving of our roads. Both agreed that the county needs to continue paving additional roads, while keeping present roads and highways properly maintained.

Brian Morton added that a new extension office is needed for the county.

COUNTY COUNCIL AT LARGE

When it was the turn for the Candidates for County Council, the question of the day was: “With the possibility of gambling casinos in Ohio and Kentucky in the near future, What would you do with the Riverboat revenue now if you knew this revenue would come to an end in five years?”

Four candidates for County Council at large – Steve Crabtree, Darrelll Hansel, John Keeton, and Steve Lyons – were on the stage, ready to answer the question.

“It wouldn’t be five years, it would be three months.” Steve Crabtree stated, if the money comes to an end, the end would be fast. He says he has always looked at riverboat money as a “grubstake.”

He has always supported the Industrial Park. He says, to recruit businesses, we have to have a “shovel ready” site so the business can build and move into the property quickly. Steve Crabtree feels the development of the Industrial Park will help replace riverboat revenues if they are lost. At the same time, he says if Belterra does leave the county will be okay, because the county has millions of dollars in its treasury.

Steve Lyons stated that gambling dollars should be discretionary dollars and as such can reach the saturation point as additional gaming facilities are built. He said the distribution of local riverboat money needs to be revisited and expenditures need to be reevaluated.

John Keeton said if we lose revenues we will have to adjust the services the county provides or the county will have to increase taxes. John Keeton said the county needs a “rainy day” reserve fund.

He pointed out that Switzerland County is the only county out of 11 gaming counties that does not have a reserve fund.

Darrell Hansel disagreed when he said: “I am not sure it is legal to have a “rainy day” fund.

“It might be okay to have a ‘building fund’ or something like that,” he said.

Darrell Hansel said it was not the intention to have the county run on riverboat money. He said the intention was to fund, through endowments, the various entities in the county. He feels that most of these entities are well funded now and should do fine on their own. At the same time, the Industrial Park will be important down the road – especially if the riverboat revenue comes to an end.

The four candidates concluded by explaining their qualifications and asking for everyone’s vote.

OTHER OFFICES

Greg Coy, Candidate for Judge of the Circuit Court commented: “Voting is a privilege. And receiving your vote is a privilege to me.”

Greg Coy’s comment expressed the thoughts of local candidates for Prosecuting Attorney, Monica Hensley; County Recorder, Darla McAlister; and himself, each of whom is running unopposed.

Each of the unopposed candidates gave their goals and their views on the responsibilities of the office they were seeking. Knowing that a vote shows support and confidence in the candidate, each, though unopposed, stressed the importance of being recognized through the ballot box.

In addition to local candidates, several state and national candidates, or their representatives, addressed the audience.

PRESIDENT

Dr. Jim Crone, who represented Presidential candidate Barack Obama, began his presentation with a brief biographical background of Obama and a general overview of some of Barack Obama’s views. Dr. Crone then passed out a paper detailing more of the life and views of Barack Obama.

NINTH DISTRICT CONGRESSMAN

Candidates for United States Representative, Baron Hill and Mike Sodrel, were represented by David Bond and Ryan Reger. Each answered questions on the current economic situation, ways to bring jobs to Southern Indiana, and on making health care available for all.

David Bond, Baron Hill’s campaign manager, stressed that Congressman Hill voted against the recent $700 billion bailout. In addition, David Bond said Baron Hill will support legislation that helps bring jobs back to America, including eliminating support for companies that send jobs overseas.

On the health care issue, he said the Baron Hill has introduced a bill to force insurance companies to sit down and work out a way to offer affordable insurance to all.

Ryan Reger, Mike Sodrel’s representative, said Mike Sodrel supports eliminating income and property taxes and replacing them with a larger sales tax. He said, this would free up the economy and bring jobs back to America.

On the health care question, Ryan Reger said Mike Sodrel supports small businesses being able to “bundle” their health care insurance so they can receive lower premium costs.

GOVERNOR

Scheduled next were candidates for Governor of Indiana featuring Libertarian candidate Andy Horning and Jill Long-Thompson, represented by Dustin White. The Candidate for Governor segment was moved to later in the program to accommodate Dustin White who was late due to a delay caused by a serious traffic accident on the interstate.

Once Dustin White was available, he and Libertarian Party candidate Andy Horning took the stage.

Andy Horning began by introducing himself as the Constitutional alternative. He said he is one of few politicians who have actually read the constitution. Andy Horning said he wants to govern government. He wants to cut government down to Indiana Constitution size.

He said the Indiana Constitution does not allow for many of our programs; including many of our taxes. When he asked if anyone in the audience had read the constitution, he said he was pleasantly surprised when two people raised their hands. At the same time he expressed disappointment. He said everyone needs to read it – and demand it.

Dustin White, Political Director for Jill Long-Thompson, simply said: “Jobs. That is what this election is about.” He said we are losing more jobs, faster, than any other state. In fact, Indiana has lost 64,000 jobs this year. In addition to Jobs, Dustin White said Jill Long-Thompson believes “we need to improve education, we need to increase graduation rates, and we need to revise our tax structure.”

In a slip of the tongue, Dustin White commented that “Jill has never voted to raise taxes – contrary to our competition who has voted to raise taxes several times.”

Libertarian candidate Andy Horning did not comment on the fact that he has never voted to raise taxes, and that he, like current Governor Mitch Daniels, is competing with Jill Long-Thompson for the office of Governor.

When asked what is needed to improve health care in the State of Indiana, Dustin White explained that Jill Long-Thompson feels we should create pools to allow people to buy into which will allow individuals and small businesses access to health insurance at reduced premiums. She feels that deregulation has resulted in many people losing coverage. Her goal will be to make health care manageable and affordable for all.

Andy Horning says we need to get politicians out of the health care business. We need to take health care to the free market. He says Doctors who have stopped accepting Medicare have been able to cut their costs by 50-percent. Over half of their staff spend their time filling out paperwork to meet government requirements.

Andy Horning says if we take the government and the politicians out of health care, costs will go down, and, insurance will be affordable. If we don’t, we might end up with a health care system like Canada or Italy. Andy Horning says we don’t want that.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE

Scheduled to follow the candidates for governor were the candidates for District 68 State Representative – Bob Bischoff, and Jud McMillin.

Both candidates promised to continue the fight to keep riverboat revenues in Switzerland County.

When asked if the recent one percent sales tax increase could eliminate property taxes, both candidates said “No.” At the same time, Bob Bischoff said that property taxes were down 36-percent as a result of the sales tax increase. Jud McMillin said he felt that some of the riverboat revenue should be used to further reduce property taxes.

In conclusion, Bob Bischoff said he feels the next session of the Indiana General Assembly will be all about revenue. At the same time, he stated that while Indiana is in good financial shape, there is much work to do on taxation and on revenue distribution.

Jud McMillin, while complimenting the work and efforts of Bob Bischoff, said he wants to continue Bob Bischoff’s initiatives while bringing new energy and new initiatives that will support Southeastern Indiana.

Bob Bischoff reminded the audience that he introduced the bill that eventually gave Switzerland County its own Circuit Court Judge.

When the candidates forum drew to a close, the audience showed its appreciation to all of the participating candidates, and to the organizers of the forum, with a standing ovation.

In reviewing the night’s activity, organizing committee chairperson Sarah Brichto said she felt the forum was a big success. She complimented all of the candidates for being well prepared and well spoken.

Libertarian Party candidate for Governor, Andy Horning said this was one of the best political meetings he has ever attended. He complimented Switzerland County residents on their attendance, their attention, and their questions both during and after the forum.

The entire Candidate forum can be heard on Flypod.com by visiting their website at http://www.theflypod.com/asp/newpage.asp?RN=12601. The podcast can be heard anytime, 24 hours a day, through Wednesday, November 5th. High speed Internet is required in order to listen to the podcast.

In addition to the Flypod podcast, the entire forum will be shown on Madison TV-15 tomorrow (Friday), Saturday, and Sunday at 7 p.m.; and on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday at 7 a.m. Those who do not have cable TV access to Madison TV-15 can listen to the forum by going to www.madisontv15.com on the Internet.