Indiana’s candidates for governor climbed onto the flatbed trailer that served as a stage, flanked by straw bales in the background, to address ag issues at Mike Starkey’s farm recently. Indiana Farm Bureau Inc. hosted the event, known as Before the Harvest.
The candidates were given questions prepared by IFB in advance. Each candidate appeared on stage with moderator Dave Russell, a freelance broadcaster, one at a time. Each was allotted 30 minutes to answer a set of prepared questions. Here is a portion of the forum.
Question: What role should state government play in the construction and maintenance of local roads? How should they be funded in our state?
Rex Bell (Libertarian): All road-use taxes should be used on roads. My first step as governor would be to realign that money to go to roads. If that still wasn’t enough, then we could address it.
John Gregg (Democrat): We need to include state roads in the discussion. We have dropped down on funding local roads. There is $500 million in the Next Generation Trust Fund, and I believe the next generation is here. We should use that money and split it between towns and cities for use on roads and bridges. One in five bridges will soon be obsolete. We can address this issue without raising taxes.
Eric Holcomb (Republican): Infrastructure will remain a top priority. It’s not only about economic opportunity, it’s also about safety. We had a great start on this challenge this year, with the Legislature providing $500 million. The bottom line is that we have to develop a state and local infrastructure program.
We are actually doing that right now. A legislative committee is meeting this summer. We need to see their report, think about it objectively and keep all possibilities on the board [as we seek solutions].
LIMIT GOVERNMENT: Rex Bell believes that less government is better government.
Question: What would your administration focus on in the area of environmental preservation?
Bell: The state should be involved if there is blatant pollution or something of that nature. We need to remember that Indiana is a farm state. When changes have to be made, we need to weigh [them] vs. the fact that farmers need to remain efficient.
Gregg: I worked in the coal industry, and I didn’t like bad operators. I don’t want regulation for regulation’s sake. I want regulation to control the bad actors. We have to use common sense, and at times that may mean that government gets out of the way!
Holcomb: I don’t support some of the things the federal government does, such as the Waters of the United States issue. That may be the biggest land grab of my lifetime. It’s an example of what happens when not all of the players are at the table. You get a half-baked plan. On the other hand, when local, state and federal officials work together, good things can happen. Indiana is proof positive of that. One example is the success story in the Western Lake Erie Basin [in northeast Indiana].
AG VIEWS: John Gregg (left) and Dave Russell, a freelance broadcaster who moderated the event, share a lighter moment during the Indiana Farm Bureau ag forum.
Question: Explain your position on livestock expansion in our state.
Bell: As long as it can be done without severe contamination, that’s fine. We are a farming state. If someone moves out into a rural area and is offended [by smells or dust], they can move back to town.
Gregg: I am all for livestock and poultry expansion. Animals are a value-added commodity. I want to see it expand. Personally, I live about 2 miles from a CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation]. We never smell it. He is a good operator. Rules need to be there for the bad actors.
Holcomb: It needs to expand, whether it’s a production or animal-processing site. If you fly over the state, you see about 83% of the land in farms and forests. We have room for livestock enterprises. It will take education [of our residents]. We have the Indiana Land Resources Council, which offers zoning templates and other information that local officials need to make decisions. We are equipped with tools for success in this area.
DISCUSSES ANNEXATION: Eric Holcomb lays out his views on the issue of annexation during a recent ag forum for governor candidates.
Question: What do you see as the future of township government?
Bell: Of any government we have, I appreciate it more when it is small and closer to home. I would not want to see it eliminated.
Gregg: I have represented two townships myself as an attorney. For care of local cemeteries and for its original purpose, poor relief, it’s important. Township trustees in rural areas are essential.
Holcomb: The best government is that closest to home. I support township government. It is here to stay. It needs to be up to the people to hold them [township trustees] accountable.
Question: Do you support the idea of replacing county commissioners with a single county executive?
Bell: We refer to this as the "Boss Hog" idea in my neck of the woods, based on Boss Hog in the "Dukes of Hazard" TV show. No, I don’t support this. We need a structure with checks and balances. Our current system needs to stay.
Gregg: No. If you do that, small towns and rural areas will lose the ability to have someone who understands our positions. Three heads are better than one in this case.
Holcomb: No. We’ve been there and done that in Allen and Vanderburgh counties. We need to let [our current system] work.
Question: How much authority should local government have to regulate beyond their borders?
Bell: One county could try to interfere in another county. That’s not a good idea.
Gregg: We have some [entities] that go out 2 miles. Some try to go out 5 miles. All like going beyond their borders. It’s all for local control. But that means our farms have control, too. This is one thing that endangers farming. Communities going beyond their borders is a problem, especially in farm country.
Holcomb: Anytime communities go beyond their borders, they need permission. They need buy-in from ag and rural interests. That’s the bottom line. The 2015 Indiana General Assembly addressed it, and Gov. [Mike] Pence signed a law saying as much.
Question: Would you support the elimination of involuntary annexation?
Bell: Yes. I have always supported this idea.
Gregg: (Not asked due to time limit — see answer in question above.)
Holcomb: Any annexation should have an agreement to it. I get the need for growth, especially in the immediate time frame more than in the future. But there has to be an agreement on both ends.