By Pete Smith
Up until this week, all the candidates for Congress had to do was raise money for yard signs and local advertisements. But separate debates held for the Democrat and Republican candidates forced four political newcomers to carve out their identities under the soft lights of the local forums in the hope of replacing incumbent congresswoman Susan Brooks in the May 6 primary or the November general election.
And there was surprising diversity of opinion among all the candidates, leaving a small pool of likely voters largely composed of party faithful with a clear choice for who they would like to represent Indiana’s 5th Congressional District on Capitol Hill.
Incumbent Susan Brooks made her case before about 150 people who gathered at Central Christian Church in Carmel on April 22.
“I am proud of my record,” she said. “I am about governing … and what we can do to encourage job creation.”
During her first term in Congress, Brooks was the subject of peaceful protests from constituents – many from her own parish at St. Monica Catholic Church – that encouraged her to embrace immigration reform. Brooks answered that question decisively in the debate.
“I am not in favor of blanket amnesty,” she said, noting that Congress needs to work to find a way to determine which illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay and which should be deported.
Brooks also said that working with veterans on their casework is one of the top priorities of her staff and that local veterans need help finding jobs, housing and mental health care.
Challenger David Stockdale, who enjoys Tea Party support, came out to set a clear contrast between himself and Brooks.
Stockdale said he would like to shrink the size of the federal government by reining in spending and supporting the free market.
He also challenged Brooks for voting with Republican Party leadership 97 percent of the time and said he would not support John Boehner to be speaker of the house. He also said that it was necessary to freeze federal employee salaries until veterans get the benefits they deserve.
Stockdale noted that his wife’s family legally immigrated to this country, but that he doesn’t support blanket amnesty and that more work is needed to secure the country’s borders.
Challenger Mike Campbell did not attend the forum. He does not reside within the boundaries of the 5th District and maintains a home in Cambridge City, Ind., in the eastern portion of central Indiana. Current newspapers are not aware of a campaign website, campaign manager or even a fundraiser for the candidate.
About 60 people gathered on the second floor of Carmel’s American Legion Post No. 155 on April 23 to listen to the three Democrat candidates for Congress.
“As you can see looking around this room, there’s more than one Democrat in Hamilton County,” joked Rosemary Dunkle, president of the Hamilton County Democrats’ local club chapter.
Shawn Denney is a former banker and current school teacher from Indianapolis who was trying to appeal to labor union workers and teachers through his family history.
His main focus was on promising to work on equal-pay legislation, promoting and improving Obamacare and working to provide lower-cost pre-school and higher education – specifically two years of free community college.
“If Tennessee can do it, we can do it,” Denney said.
The stances were all framed around the idea of providing future generations with the same opportunities that his father’s generation had.
He said he supports Roe vs. Wade, a single-payer health care system, student loan forgiveness for teachers and opposes working with the Tea Party because they don’t promote equality.
David Ford, the youngest of all the candidates at 29, focused on his experience as a weather forecaster during his eight years of service in the U.S. Air Force.
He often read quotes from John F. Kennedy and Marcus Tullius Cicero to elaborate on his ideas of justice, tolerance and governing.
And applying his military training to the campaign, he implored voters to reject divisive issues and focus instead on building alliances with independent voters and disaffected Republicans so that the Democrats could overcome a 4-to-1 disadvantage in likely voters and defeat a Republican candidate he perceives as weak.
He said he wouldn’t tow the party line on every issue and declared opinions on issues like Obamacare, abortion or Common Core immaterial saying simply, “It’s irrelevant.”
That was because a multitude of questions posed to the candidates were state issues or ones that a congressman wouldn’t have the opportunity to influence in the next two years, he said.
The most important issue to Ford was working on a way to convince Congress to learn from Indiana’s experience with debt and put the federal government on a more sustainable fiscal path.
Allen Ray Davidson said he was running in part due to the Hatch Act which allows current state employees to run without fear of losing their jobs. He also worked to highlight his 20 years of public service working in state government.
He also highlighted his Democrat upbringing in Texas, an experience he credits with a distrust of the oil industry he sees as the driving force behind problematic efforts like the push for the Keystone XL Pipeline.
He said that he supports Obamacare as a step toward a single-payer system and the importance of the choice that Roe vs. Wade provides. But above all he would focus on unemployment, underemployment and wage stagnation that are hindering people’s ability to meet their basic needs.
In closing he said that his qualifications and experience are what matter.
“I can fix problems, not just talk about it,” he said.
Contributions raised through the beginning of April:
Susan Brooks $885,987
David Stockdale $16,140
Allen Ray Davidson $777
Shawn Denney $225
David Ford $6,736
SOURCE: Federal Election Commission