Republican gubernatorial candidates talk education, economy at Carmel forum


The five Republicans seeking to become Indiana’s next governor shared their views on education, the economy and several other topics during a Jan. 25 forum presented by First Principles Forum at the Tarkington Theatre in Carmel.

The candidates, U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, former Indiana Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden and former Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill took turns answering questions from moderators Joy Pullman, executive editor of The Federalist, and Fanchon Stinger, a former Fox 59 news anchor.

The Republicans agreed on several things: a desire to eliminate the state’s equity, inclusion and opportunity office; a willingness to send National Guard troops to help secure the Texas border; and that the late Antonin Scalia is among their favorite Supreme Court justices of all time. But throughout the 90-minute event, they aimed to set themselves apart in other ways.

The primary election is May 7. The winner will run against Democrat Jennifer McCormick and Libertarian Donald Rainwater in the Nov. 5 general election.

The following highlights remarks from each candidate.

Braun: Not afraid to ‘poke the bear’

Braun, a Jasper native nearing the end of his first term in the U.S. Senate, touted his experience as an entrepreneur and business owner among his top qualifications to become governor.

“If you want to run the biggest business in our state, maybe you should have spent some time signing the front side of a paycheck,” he said.

Braun said he will continue to hold on to his core values and isn’t afraid to “poke the bear” when necessary to affect change.

Braun said he supports a bill being considered in the state legislature that would limit the governor’s power to declare an emergency and pointed to his work in Congress to rein in federal government power during the pandemic. He said restrictions in Indiana during the pandemic were more in line with policies in nearby blue states than others led by Republicans.

“It was shameful what (Indiana) did,” he said. “When you start doing things like, ‘You’re an essential business, and you’re not,’ that is government gone wild.”

Chambers: ‘A growing economy’ benefits all

Chambers, Indiana’s former secretary of commerce, said he believes the most important role of the governor is to grow the economy and thereby benefit all Hoosiers.

“A growing economy affords us the ability to do a few things: to fix education, to back our police and make sure our public safety is protecting us from increasing crime, to deal with mental health and health care,” he said. “A growing economy affords us the ability to fix things and shrink government and improve overall quality of life.”

He said a healthy economy begins with some of the state’s youngest residents by ensuring they receive an education that prepares them well for the workforce. He said Indiana has a “backwards-looking education system.”

“It needs to be forward-looking to embrace the economy of the future, (by) making education more individualized and really modernizing it as much as we can,” he said. “Performance-based outcomes work for business, and they should be able to be applied to education as well.”

Crouch: Fauci and feds “lied to us”

Crouch served as the state’s lieutenant governor throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but she said many of the state’s efforts to stop the spread of the virus – from mandates to lockdowns – were based on faulty information from national leaders.

“(Former White House medical advisor Anthony) Fauci and the federal government lied to us, and as a result of many actions that were taken at the federal and state level impacted our freedoms and caused harm to Hoosier families,” she said. “When I am governor, I will allow Hoosiers to make decisions regarding their health.”

She said she supports the bill under consideration by the state legislature that would limit the governor’s emergency powers to 30 days.

A former state auditor, Crouch has proposed to “axe the tax” by eliminating the state income tax.

“My opponents, special interest groups and big spending bureaucrats are screaming bloody murder and saying it can’t be done,” she said. “But that money is not theirs. It’s yours. And you will always spend more wisely than the government.”

Doden: Preventing federal government overreach

Doden, an entrepreneur from Fort Wayne, said he wants to take a closer look than his opponents at how state agencies are spending taxpayer dollars.

“How those agency heads spend that money really matters to how we serve Hoosiers,” he said. “I’m the only candidate on this dais that said every agency head has to reapply for their job. We’re going to bring in super-talented people that come in and serve.”

For Doden, a top priority if elected governor is to issue an executive order to ban closures of coal plants unless there is a plan to compensate for its loss with another form of reliable energy. He said a federal effort to take coal plants offline is set to lead to higher energy prices in Indiana.

“We’re going to keep the federal government from overreaching and causing us the problems that are in our power supply right now,” he said.

Doden also aims to revitalize small towns throughout the state and is a proponent of zero-cost public adoptions.

Hill: Tear down the school system

Hill, who served as attorney general from 2017 to 2021, said he supports the idea of school choice, but that “federal entanglements” are harming the state’s education system.

“We need to do something about our school system. We need to tear it down and get back to basics,” he said. “It’s not enough to simply have choices. In my administration, we’re going to look for curriculum change. We’re going to bust down what’s going on – this has been years in the making – so we can develop a new solid system so that our kids can be as bright and as strong as they need to be moving forward.”

Hill voiced his opinion on several social issues and referenced an advisory opinion he issued in 2020 regarding the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

“I believe in the truth. And that’s why I was a little perplexed as attorney general when the BMV put an X on the driver’s license to create a third classification of gender,” he said. “I fought that, beat it back and they took it back. Why? Because the truth is, there are only two genders, male and female, and that’s worth fighting for.”