The Democratic candidates for Indiana’s Ninth Congressional District bring different backgrounds, perspectives and ideas of ways to improve the lives of central and southern Indiana residents.
But they all agree on one thing — the people of the Ninth District deserve a representative who actually speaks for them, something they say Republican incumbent Rep. Trey Hollingsworth does not.
Five candidates are campaigning to represent the Democratic party against Hollingsworth in November’s general election: D. Liam Dorris, Brandon Hood, James C. O’Gabhann III, Mark Powell and Andy Ruff.
Issues such as universal health care, better jobs and an approach to climate change are central to their platforms. But actually working for their constituents in Indiana is something the Ninth District desperately needs, they all agree.
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The Ninth District covers a large swath of southern Indiana, from Johnson County to the Ohio River. Hollingsworth, a Jeffersonville resident, won the seat initially in 2016 and was re-elected in 2018. He is running unopposed in the primary.
Powell, a Whiteland resident, was motivated to run for Congress due to what he sees as a void of leadership. He was appalled by the handling of former Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper’s arrest last year and took note that no elected officials were calling for Cooper to be removed as prosecutor.
“I still want people to understand that elected officials can still make a difference. If Mr. Hollingsworth would have said in April that Mr. Cooper should have resigned, that would have been the thing to do. That’s what leaders do,” he said.
Powell is a Lutheran pastor and chaplain who has run for Congress twice before. He has been involved in the political process in a number of different ways, including serving as city councilman in DeKalb, Illinois, being chief of staff for the associate house speaker in the Michigan House of Representatives and a Libertarian nominee for the Michigan State House of Representatives.
His unique background spanning different political parties and roles makes him the best bet to win the seat, he said.
“I think I’m the only Democratic candidate who can beat Mr. Hollingsworth. I’m not your typical Democratic candidate,” he said.
One of Powell’s main focuses is on economic justice, and he would support legislation that addresses homelessness and housing, a livable wage, job creation in rural areas and fully funding social safety net programs.
He wants to help create comprehensive immigration reform that is fair, safe and moral with compassion at its center. As climate change will be one of the most pressing issues facing the planet in coming years, Powell would emphasize protecting the environment, reducing greenhouse gases sensibly and investing in environmentally compassionate technology and jobs.
Health care is a human right, and if elected, Powell would immediately draft legislation to provide all citizens earning a household income of $99,999 or less immediate access to Congressional Health Insurance, he said.
All would be instrumental to supporting the middle class, Powell said.
“The multimillionaires and the billionaires have their representatives. Mr. Hollingsworth is worth $50-plus million. I don’t begrudge him that, but he doesn’t know what it’s like to be in the middle class. He doesn’t know what your life is like,” he said. “We need someone in Washington who knows what that life is like, who would speak up and speak out for our class of people.”
Ruff also felt he would be a more down-to-earth representative and considered it his duty to run this year.
“I don’t think (Hollingsworth) represents ordinary people. He works for and represents the ultra-wealthy and elite class,” Ruff said. “Whether it’s tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy, trying to undermine the small amount of progress we’ve made getting health care to more people, cutting Social Security … whatever it is that benefits that slice of people in our country, that’s who he speaks for.”
Ruff is a Bloomington resident and teacher who has lived in southern Indiana his entire life. He has served for five terms as an at-large member on the Bloomington City Council, and during his time on the council, he has learned to work well with people of widely differing perspectives and viewpoints.
Those skills would be greatly important in Washington, he said.
Ruff’s platform is built on a number of issues, first of which is to make elections and politics more equitable with campaign finance reform, removing what he calls “big money” from the process. Ensuring veterans are cared for and receive the benefits they deserve also is vitally important, he said.
Establishing Medicare for all, expanding and protecting workers’ rights, making higher education affordable, developing a responsible foreign policy agenda and confronting the climate crisis with bold public policy also are key issues.
“We have a list of critical issues in the country that need to be addressed, and they need to be addressed in fundamental ways, not tweaking around the edges,” Ruff said.
Hood is a Bloomington resident working in residential remodeling who opted to run due to what he sees as lack of true representation in Congress.
“People need a voice in Washington who will stand up for them, who will hold other politicians accountable and not just toe party lines. We have to try to be postpartisan instead of bipartisan. We need to include everyone, get everyone on board,” he said.
Though he has not held a public office in the past, he has been deeply involved in the political process in Bloomington and surrounding areas, raising awareness and fighting for issues of justice and equality.
“We like to say our experience is human compassion,” he said.
Many different issues facing the nation need to be addressed, Hood said, but there is a core group that require immediate action. Too many people can’t make a living wage in the current economy, so better jobs are a necessity. Universal health care, increased access to education of all kinds and criminal justice reform are all ways to improve life for all people.
“These are basic human needs. The people at the top need to understand that all of us at the bottom need a universal standard of living. There should be certain basic things in life provided to us, not that we need to pay for every little thing,” Hood said. “It feels frustrating that people are stretching dollars when they don’t need to.”
Until last year, O’Gabhann was a resident of Los Angeles, California, where he is a public school teacher. He is an Indiana native, having grown up in Tipton before moving west.
Running for Congress has been a goal of his for at least 10 years, selecting a phone number and starting an email account that ended in the digits 2020 to remind him of that goal. His central platform is creating a Rural Green New Deal, a plan that would foster industries and an economy that are carbon neutral and job producing.
He envisions himself as an Franklin D. Roosevelt with a 21st century edge, creating “a farm/labor alliance to build that economy and a single payer system to support the men and women that make it run,” he said.
A single-payer health care system is essential to strengthening the economy and addressing the ongoing pandemic, O’Gabhann said. Structural changes in the banking and finance industries are needed, and the country must address climate change in a meaningful way, citing programs put forth by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to reduce our addiction to fossil fuels and carbon.
Finally, Congress needs to address income inequality, which O’Gabhann said is now “humanly unfair.”
Dorris lives in Bloomington, served for four years in the U.S. Marine Corps and was a civilian contractor in Iraq. He earned his education in metrology, or the science of measurements, and continues to work in the field.
As a member of the working class, Dorris has centered his candidacy on Medicare for all.
“Hoosiers are afraid of getting sick or injured. Even the insured can’t afford it anymore. Health care is a human right, and our health is not a commodity to be negotiated,” he wrote on his website.
If elected, Dorris would like to focus on anticorruption legislation and reforming campaign finance laws to make elections more representative for the people. He supports the Green New Deal, a proposal spearheaded by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to address climate change and income inequality.
According to his campaign website, he also would fight for fair wages for workers and higher education for all who want it.
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Powell file” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Name: Mark J. Powell
Family: Wife and daughter
Occupation: Lutheran pastor; hospice chaplain
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science, St. Ambrose College; master’s of divinity, Christian Theological Seminary
Memberships: Rotary Club 1986-1989; Lions Club 1994-1998; precinct committeeman 1992-1996, 2002-2004, 2019-2020; Knights Templar; Lutheran Church International
Political experience: Write-in Republican congressional campaign, Illinois 14th Congressional District, 1986; 7th Ward City Councilman, DeKalb, Illinois, 1987; DeKalb independent mayoral candidate, 1989; 1994-1996, campaign manager, legislative assistant, Kansas House of Representatives; 2000-2003, chief of staff, associate house speaker, Michigan House of Representatives; 2003-2004, Michigan state House of Representatives Libertarian nominee; 2010 U.S. Congress District 4, Democratic candidate
[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”About the job” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
U.S. Congressional District 9
Duties: Approve the federal budget and propose and approve federal laws
Pay: Base salary $174,000
Term: 2 years
[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”O’Gabhann file” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Name: James C. O’Gabhann III
Residence: Los Angeles, California
Occupation: Public school teacher, Los Angeles Unified School District
Education: Bachelor’s degree in philosophy, master’s degree in health care management, California State University-Los Angeles; associate degree from Olympic College (Bremerton, Washington); additional studies at UCLA, Case Western Reserve University and several community colleges
Memberships: Holy Family Catholic Parish, Women for Women International, National Science Teachers Association, J Street and Americans for Peace NOW
Political experience: Kamala Harris for U.S. Senate campaign, campaigns for the American Federation for Teachers and National Teachers Association, participated in the first Earth Day march
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Name: Andy Ruff
Family: Wife, Susan Bollman; daughter, Anna; son, Hank; stepson, Adam
Occupation: Academic adviser at Indiana University
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, master’s degree in public affairs from Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs
Memberships: The Dew Daddies country music group
Political experience: Five-term city council member at-large in Bloomington; staff member for former Ninth District Congressman Baron Hill
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Name: Brandon Hood
Family: Three children, Cassidy, Taj and Emmett
Occupation: Residential contractor
Education: Life sciences degree from Ivy Tech Community College