Candidates say jobs are the top priority–but how to create them?
by Michael Puente
In most general elections in Indiana, the race for governor would be the top attention getter in the field of candidates and races for state offices.
But not this fall.
The race for U.S. Senate between Republican Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock and Democrat U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly is being watched not only here in the Hoosier state, but across the nation and, in fact, the world.
That's because the winner will replace longtime and internationally respected U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar. The outcome could play a role in determining if Republicans take back the U.S. Senate in the fall. Mourdock beat the 80-year-old Lugar in the Republican primary in May.
Which candidate wins this race could be decided by the voter turnout for the White House.
It's likely that President Barack Obama won't spend much time campaigning or spending money in Indiana like he did four years ago, and that could impact the turnout for Donnelly.
Both Donnelly and Mourdock are getting campaign funding help from outside interests, but this race isn't the only one generating buzz.
The race to replace Gov. Mitch Daniels between current U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, a Republican, and one-time Indiana House Speaker John Gregg, a Democrat, will have arguably the most impact to everyday Hoosiers.
Races for the 1st and 2nd District Congressional seats in Northwest and Northern Indiana will also help shape economic policy for not only Indiana, but the nation.
Under Daniels' watch, Indiana's reputation nationally has been uplifted for economic growth and keeping taxes down.
Daniels himself was being courted as a possible vice presidential nominee on the Republican ticket before deciding to become Purdue University's next president.
But Indiana's rosy glow isn't without some pain. Manufacturing and unemployment continue to be troubling factors.
So how will candidates tackle job creation and economic development in Indiana if elected? From a state level, let's start with candidates for governor, Pence and Gregg.
“First and foremost, I think the next governor of Indiana needs job creation job one,” Pence says. “As I've traveled around the state over the last year, Hoosiers say they want to see us move our state from reform to results. I believe we've made extraordinary progress over the last year. We've become, in many respects, the fiscal envy of the country. I think we can take our state from good to great.”
Pence says he wants to increase private sector employment with an emphasis on manufacturing, agriculture, life sciences and logistics in order to find jobs for the 250,000 Hoosiers who remain jobless.
Pence plans to get there by enhancing career, technical and vocational career opportunities for high school students by engaging local employers and educators in “demand-driven” curriculum and by providing applied learning opportunities.
“Indiana has the third highest percentage in the country of high school-only graduates in our adult population. And, only 1 percent of high school graduates last year graduated with a core 40 with technical honors. We can do better,” Pence says. “It's going to take marshaling all of the focus on state government to increase private sector employment and create new investment in manufacturing. We have the best educated and best skilled workforce in America.”
Meanwhile, his Democratic opponent, John Gregg, echoes the call that job creation needs to be the state's main priority and having education play a leading role.
“That means investing in education and working to build the best workforce in the country,” Gregg says. “That means giving Hoosiers a reason to have faith in their government again and that begins with bringing an end to the Washington-style politics of fighting just for fighting's sake and focusing on divisive social issues. … We've got opportunities in this state in agriculture, advanced manufacturing, energy, life sciences and transportation.”
Gregg says Indiana won't be able to attract good jobs without a well-educated workforce.
“The best ideas don't come out of Indianapolis or Washington, D.C. We've got to give teachers, administrators and folks at the local level a seat at the table. We need to use some Hoosier common sense and bring everyone to the table to work together instead of forcing mandates on our educators,” Gregg says.
The other races will take the general election winner to the nation's capital to work for Hoosiers.
In Congress, representatives and senators have to craft legislation not only for their own district, but the nation as a whole in mind.
First Congressional District
In the First Congressional District race, longtime Democrat Congressman Pete Visclosky takes on Republican political newcomer Joel Phelps.
The district includes most of the counties of Lake, Porter, Newton, Jasper and Benton, along with the northwest corner of LaPorte County that contains Michigan City.
“I'm very aware that jobs and economy must remain our first priority because the recovery has been so tepid. And that the government of the United States does have a responsibility to invest in our infrastructure because that is what makes the private sector efficient and productive,” says Visclosky who has served in the U.S. House of Representative for 27 years.
Visclosky hopes to increase jobs not only in Northwest Indiana but across the nation through infrastructure investment.
Congress passed a massive highway bill in late June that hopes to salvage highway and transit programs thereby saving three million jobs for the next 2 years.
Visclosky's bread and butter, however, is protecting steel jobs. As chairman of the Congressional Steel Caucus, Visclosky has pushed for a permanent steel import monitoring program, and works against unfair trade policies from countries such as China.
“China is a huge problem as far as their unfair labor practices and no environmental standards. The Chinese manipulate their currency every day; that must stop,” Visclosky says. “There would be less people in Lake and Porter county working in steel; in Chicago in steel; in Toledo in steel; in Pittsburgh in steel if we were not as aggressive in trying to enforce our trade statutes,” Visclosky says.
Phelps is a married father of three boys who lives in Portage. He's an industrial engineer by trade.
“There are two things we do well in Indiana – make things and grow things. Here in Northwest Indiana, we should be a manufacturing powerhouse. But it's going to take someone to be a cheerleader in Congress for Northwest Indiana,” Phelps says.
Phelps disagrees with the focus of the Marquette Greenway Plan pushed by Visclosky. It's an initiative to clean up the region's lakeshore and develop improved access for visitors.
“Parks are nice, but I think we ought to attract business or a manufacturing base,” Phelps says, adding he'll work hard to attract companies willing to relocate or set up shop in Northwest Indiana.
“We need to develop our shoreline better. With all the incentives Indiana can offer, there's no reason we shouldn't be able to get businesses into those areas,” Phelps says.
Visclosky says the Marquette Plan doesn't attempt to return all land off Lake Michigan back to public uses, only where it might make sense, such as the development of the Portage Public Marina.
Phelps says he'd also like to secure more federal dollars to develop the Gary Chicago International Airport. “We need a lot more federal money to make the Gary airport the center of intermodal transportation that it can be. If we could develop our strategic objective at the Gary airport, that could be like a new steel mill in Northwest Indiana. That would create an immense amount of profitability, jobs and opportunity for local businesses,” Phelps says.
2nd Congressional District
In Indiana's 2nd Congressional District, Democrat Brendan Mullen faces former Republican Indiana state representative Jackie Walorski. The district encompasses most of north central Indiana and includes the cities of South Bend, Elkhart and Mishawaka.
Democrat Joe Donnelly currently fills the seat but is not running for re-election, instead opting for a run for the U.S. Senate.
Mullen, a West Point graduate who served in Iraq, says he wants to develop small business and force the government to stop giving money to bailout big banks.
“We need to make sure we close the loopholes that give our largest employers tax breaks for sending American jobs overseas,” Mullen says, adding that his experience as operator of a small informational technology firm will help in creating jobs for his district.
“We are building a grassroots campaign to take on special interests and overcome partisan finger-pointing to solve the tough problems that face our state, our country and to create good jobs. Hoosiers want someone whose priority is to stand up for our middle class families and protect seniors and Medicare not millionaires and billionaires at the expense of everyone else,” Mullen says.
Mullen says one way to help the economy in South Bend and throughout the nation is by developing a fair tax code.
“One that doesn't give tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans and oil companies when our deficit continues to grow out of control and ensures Hoosier workers and middle class families aren't paying a higher tax rate than millionaires,” Mullen says. “As a small business owner and a father, I understand how challenging it is to grow a small business, make payroll, and provide healthcare and other benefits for employees and still have enough left over to care for my family.”
Walorski says she hopes to use her time in the Indiana legislature as a model for the U.S. Congress. It's the same model, she says, that helped lower property taxes, keep unemployment in check and allow Indiana to have a triple A bond rating.
“I think the same model applies,” Walorski says. “I think we have something to share from the state of Indiana when it comes to pro-growth and pro-business policies.”
Walorski says small business will be able to grow and thrive if President Obama's Affordable Healthcare Act is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. But the Court upheld most of the law in late June.
“When I talk to small business owners, the number one thing they say to me is stop the uncertainty. It's not that private industry doesn't have money to invest. They are unwilling to invest because of the uncertainty of ‘Obamacare,'” Walorski says. “The uncertainty with healthcare premiums; the average healthcare premium increase was almost 45 percent.
“No one is willing to spend money or to invest or hire, expand or take risks until they realize that there is a plan. The uncertainty comes from red tape,” she says.
Walorski says small business owners want less government interference with regulations, tax structure and a lack of permitting. “The number one thing people say is get this government off my back,” Walorski says.
As a U.S. Senator, policies are developed less to do with a specific geographic location and more with overall effectiveness for the entire country.
With that in mind, Republican Richard Mourdock says he wants to remove obstacles to job creation.
“I see it as a national job and what is causing business not to make investment today,” Mourdock says. “It's the uncertainty of government regulations with tax laws.”
Mourdock says American business can adjust to just about anything but they must know what the rules are. “I believe we are on the verge of an American renaissance in manufacturing and business.”
Mourdock says he's excited to support new technologies to help find oil and natural gas that can make the United States energy independent. But he says those technologies can't emerge by over regulation by the federal government in areas such as the environment.
“Government regulation, such as cap and trade, must be based on sound science, not just popular science,” Mourdock says.
Democrat Joe Donnelly, the current U.S. Representative in Indiana's 2nd district, says his priority will be about jobs not politics.
“What we want to continue to do is create jobs in Indiana,” Donnelly says. “We want to make sure that we have a friendly environment for our business growth.”
Donnelly, too, wants to ensure fair trade with other countries. “I want to make sure that we have fair trade, and not just free trade. We want to make sure the rules are the same for both sides. This has helped create jobs in the steel industry by stepping up and making sure that Chrysler had a chance to get additional loans that they have paid back. The mills in Northwest Indiana are extraordinarily busy because they are making so much steel for automobiles.”
Donnelly has developed a multi-point jobs plan that includes developing the country's energy production and expanding educational opportunities while reducing government regulations.
“What we are trying to do is focus on the growth of small and mid-sized businesses and give them the opportunity to compete with anyone in the world,” Donnelly says.
The election is Tuesday, Nov. 6.