GOP governor candidates take to the debate stage


Six candidates vying for the Republican nomination for Indiana governor espoused strong conservative values during a March 11 debate at the Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.

The primary election is May 7, with early in-person voting starting on April 9.

An audience of more than 500 listened to about 90 minutes of questions and answers with candidates Mike Braun, Brad Chambers, Suzanne Crouch, Eric Doden, Curtis Hill and Jamie Reitenour.

The first question from moderator Ann Marie Shambaugh, managing editor of Current in Carmel, focused on citizen-led ballot initiatives, which are not allowed in the Indiana Constitution.

“In some states, ballot initiatives or referendums allow citizens to create law by direct vote, such as Ohio, where last year voters legalized recreational marijuana and ensured access to abortion,” Shambaugh said. “What is your position on citizen ballot initiatives, and if elected governor, would you support introducing them in Indiana? If not, why do you believe citizens should not have direct oversight on such issues?”

For the most part, the candidates agreed that the existing system is best for Indiana. Hill said ballot initiatives work in other states, but not Indiana. He said initiatives tend to be led by emotions, rather than rational debate and he doesn’t support provisions for citizen initiatives.

Crouch, who is the lieutenant governor in Gov. Eric Holcomb’s administration, said elected representatives make the decisions in Indiana and she supports that process. However, she said, if the General Assembly approved a ballot initiative bill and it came to her as governor to sign, she would support it.

Braun, Chambers and Doden said they, too, would consider approving an initiative bill passed by the Legislature.

However, Braun — who is completing his first term as a U.S. senator —  said he would be concerned about outside money influencing the vote for ballot initiatives; Chambers stressed the need for a governor to get to know the state’s “customers” — the citizens; and Doden said he prefers Indiana’s representative form of government.

Reitenour, a political newcomer who said that God called her to run for governor, said that when government operates the way it should, there’s no need for citizen initiatives, but when there’s government overreach, she could see where it could be necessary.

Another question focused on improving education. Crouch said she wants to create a “cradle to career” program that focuses on the basics and provides career training opportunities.

“Increasingly, we need to be sure that our schools are teaching our children how to think not what to think,” she said, “We need to protect our most precious resource, which is our children, from indoctrination and manipulation.”

Braun said public education makes up half the state’s budget, and if the state isn’t getting that right, something isn’t working the way it should. He also touted getting back to the basics and providing training in the trades.

Chambers, who founded an Indianapolis-based real estate firm, said nothing is more important to the future than education.

“We have too much money going into administration, too much money going into buildings and not enough money going into teacher salaries,” he said, adding that he has a plan to modernize the state’s education system.

Doden, who led the state’s Economic Development Corp. under then-Gov Mike Pence, said the state has a constitutional and moral obligation to educate children. He touted vouchers, and said competition with private schools for state dollars will improve public schools. Doden also promoted his teacher-investment program to address teacher shortages, especially in Indiana’s rural areas.

Reitenour has chosen Paige Miller of Carmel to be her Secretary of Education, and said their plan includes going back to core academics, bringing in representatives from the private sector to mentor kids, and requiring apprenticeships for all graduating seniors. She said that while she prayed, she heard “education” in her heart.

“Why? Because that is where the enemy is aiming,” she said. “He’s aiming for our children.”

Hill, a former Indiana attorney general who served from 2017 to 2021, said the Holcomb administration, which he noted includes Crouch, shut down schools during Covid. He blamed that for poor test scores now. Along with the other candidates, he said he wants the schools to get back to basics, adding that he would streamline the state Department of Education.

The candidates also discussed state laws that preempt local ordinances — such as a recent bill that rolled back some municipal regulations around commercial dog breeding. They all said they preferred local control and bottom-up government, rather than top-down, although there was some spirited disagreement over the need for LEAP — a state economic development project in Boone County — with Chambers vigorously defending it.

The candidates also all supported a recent bill that limits a governor’s emergency powers.