Genuine problems find way into debate between lieutenant governor candidates


(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star

Suzanne Crouch and Christina Hale discussed topics that affect lives in Indiana. In a recent debate between the two candidates for lieutenant governor, Hale described the ideal result of their exchange.

“It is an opportunity to really change the public conversation to what really matters to people,” said Hale, a state representative from Indianapolis and running mate of Democrat John Gregg. Their ticket faces Republican governor candidate Eric Holcomb and Crouch, the current state auditor, in November.

“What really matters” typically loses attention to sexier political issues. Take infrastructure. Please. That odd word encompasses roads, bridges, power supplies, sidewalks, broadband internet fiber optics and other physical components that make a place functional for people. Infrastructure can determine the livability of a rural community, town, city or state. It is important. Yet, on the national presidential campaign trail, infrastructure barely registers a blip. A Google News search of the words “Donald Trump Hillary Clinton infrastructure” produces 342,000 hits. If you replace “infrastructure” with “email,” the hits skyrocket to 29.9 million.

Refreshingly, Hale and Crouch talked about agriculture, roads, bridges, broadband, energy, annexation and the rural economy. Few, if any, of those subjects could inspire a comment that goes viral on the internet. In fact, nothing could go viral except the flu bug in many rural Hoosier communities because of the lack sufficient broadband internet service. The lieutenant governor hopefuls emphasized that problem. Strong broadband access could helps one-person entrepreneurs and family farms to reach customers in bigger markets.

That matters. Small businesses (those with 100 or fewer workers) employ half the Indiana workforce, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Farmers comprise part of that equation, too. Agriculture accounts for $11.2 billion of the state’s economy. Farmers need good roads and bridges to truck their produce and meat to buyers, but 4,168 of Indiana’s 18,953 bridges are rated structurally deficient by the Federal Highway Administration. Hale called the situation “outrageous,” though she overstated the percentage of deficient bridges. Crouch said, “We must not rest until we have a long-term solution to our infrastructure funding.”

However, Gov. Mike Pence and the General Assembly opted in March for a short-term, $800-million road funding plan. That will keep crews busy for the coming year, upgrading the pressing needs. But the state needs to commit an additional $250 million annually to maintain roads at a “fair” or better rating, the Indiana Department of Transportation calculates.

Neither candidate offered many specifics, nor did they suggest funding roads by raising the state gasoline tax, which has remained unchanged since 2003. Still, Hale highlighted her ticket’s plan to divert existing funds into a $200-million Hoosier State Infrastructure Bank, which would provide low-interest loans to local governments to build infrastructure, broadband capabilities and other projects.

Email, gun confiscation and speech plagiarism never came up in Tuesday’s one-hour debate. Instead, Crouch and Hale dealt with genuine problems experienced by Hoosiers. Reality, in other words.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to [email protected].

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