There were no rude interruptions or outbursts when two of the three candidates for the Indiana District 69 state representative seat faced off in a public debate Tuesday night in Seymour.
Incumbent Republican Jim Lucas and his challenger, Independent Katrina "Kat" Hardwick, both of Seymour, spent 90 minutes going back and forth answering questions on topics including the pandemic, the economy, law and equality, agriculture, education and abortion.
Democrat Jeffery Prewitt of Seymour, also on the ballot, did not participate in the debate.
Questions for the event were curated from those in leadership roles in Jackson County. Candidates learned of the topics last week but were not provided with the specific questions ahead of time, said moderator Dan Robison, president of the Seymour Chamber of Commerce.
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About 50 people attended the debate in person at the Knights of Columbus, and nearly 300 watched a livestream of the event on The Tribune’s Facebook page.
District 69 includes Brownstown, Hamilton, Jackson, Redding, Vernon and Washington townships in Jackson County and parts of Jennings, Bartholomew and Jefferson counties.
Lucas is seeking his fifth term in office, while this is Hardwick’s first foray into politics.
One of the most dominant issues of the night was the COVID-19 pandemic and how the state is handling the situation.
As a health care worker, Hardwick said she puts her faith in science when it comes to making informed decisions related to the virus.
"COVID is very real. I trust science, I trust health care workers and I trust doctors," she said. "I trust all the people that have the expertise to give us the correct answers when it comes to COVID. That’s why I look to them to make the decisions on what we need to do for our citizens."
Lucas agreed the virus is real but said it’s the response causing the most devastation to individuals, businesses and local economies.
"We have put almost 800,000 Hoosiers out of work this summer, and that’s something that cannot be ignored," he said. "We have long-term consequences that we are going to have to deal with, domestic violence, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, anxiety, depression, suicide, not to mention the financial aspects of it."
While he acknowledged the 3,500 Hoosiers who have died from COVID, Lucas said the statistics of the virus are being skewed.
"While every death is a tragedy, approximately 67,000 Hoosiers die every year," he said. "As much as we hate it, that’s life."
Lucas said he is frustrated by the state continuing to operate under Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s orders.
"Currently, the people do not have a voice," he said. "We’re going into our eighth month of a declared emergency, and it has basically become executive branch rule. We have yet to experience the explosion we’re going to see of the need for social services, so those are things we have to consider as we move forward in dealing with this."
Although she feels Holcomb started on the right track with implementing closures and requiring citizens to wear face masks, Hardwick doesn’t believe the state has followed through on the measures.
"There wasn’t enough across-the-board consensus," she said. "You had some people wearing masks and hunkering down, but you had other people going out freely not wearing masks and not following the mandates."
She described the pandemic as an enemy attack and said citizens should listen to and follow the decisions being made and implemented by local and state leaders.
"We all have to be on the same page," she said. "We all have to work together, and we have to think about our fellow citizens. I feel that is what is lacking."
Moving on to the economy, candidates responded to questions on poverty and homelessness in the district.
A total of 24% of Jackson County households are considered asset limited, income constrained and employed, Robison said.
To improve the situation, leaders need to provide an environment that allows for job creation, Lucas said.
"The best way out of poverty is a job, and we cannot keep paying people to not work," he said. "I’m all for helping people that need help, but it has to be short-term solutions."
It’s government’s role to make it easier for businesses to create jobs, including low taxation and regulation, Lucas said.
"Stay out of the way of job creators and let them come in, and pretty soon, the solution will present itself and the problem will be solved," he said.
Hardwick agreed creating jobs and opportunities is a step, but she would like to see the state move toward a "livable wage."
"When someone works 40 hours a week and they don’t have the income to afford the rent, then that’s an issue," she said.
Minimum wage needs to be studied and increased so citizens are able to afford to live, she added.
In regards to the increasing number of homeless people in Jackson County and throughout the district, Hardwick said it should be a priority of leaders to help take care of the most vulnerable populations.
"There are many circumstances that lead to homelessness," she said. "One of the largest populations of homeless people seems to be veterans."
Local programs like the Jackson County Cold Night Out Shelter are great models of what communities can do when working together to address an issue, she said.
But what really needs to occur to improve homelessness is to address the root causes, she said.
"Better opportunities for jobs, better wages, mental health," she said. "We really need to focus on mental health so we can treat these things before they end up leading to homelessness."
The final question allowed the candidates to identify their top priorities, if elected, for the next two legislative sessions.
Lucas said gun rights has always been at the top of his list. He said citizens should have the right to defend their loved ones.
"I think it’s wrong and criminal that the state requires us to get a license to exercise a constitutional right, so I will be working on constitutional carry," he said.
Legalization of marijuana also continues to be a priority, he added.
He wants to see the medicinal use of marijuana made legal.
"The side effects are very minimal, and the benefits are countless," he said. "We need to look at agriculture. Hemp is a great agricultural opportunity that we are not taking full advantage of."
Health care and education also are important issues, he said.
Hardwick listed strengthening public education as one of her main legislative focuses.
She said many schools are overcrowded, underfunded and lack the resources they need to be successful. Standardized testing also is an area she would like to help change.
"Even if we have to have some method of testing, we clearly don’t have testing that works, that does what it’s supposed to do," she said. "As a mother of a child that goes through this, I understand that firsthand, and when I listen to teachers and educators that I know, I trust what they have to say."
A second priority is to increase access to affordable health care, including mental health care.
The two cannot be separated, she said.
"I want this to be comprehensive because I think a lot of our issues and problems stem from untreated mental health," she said.
She also wants to see the state move forward with legalization of marijuana.
"I think it could do so much for our economy here," she said. "I think it could do so much for many who are suffering and in pain, for many veterans with PTSD. Those would be three areas I would definitely be focusing on."
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To view the whole debate in its entirety, visit facebook.com/seymourtribune.