Brian Howey: Many Hoosier Republicans refuse to debate

By Brian Howey

In 2019, Republican General Assembly leaders declined to pass legislation that would have created an independent redistricting commission.

In 2021, they drew congressional and legislative maps that burnished the lopsided GOP advantage that has them controlling 71 of the 100 House seats and 39 of the 50 Senate districts.

Last summer, they passed Senate Enrolled Act 1 that created the nation’s most far-reaching abortion restrictions on a bill that had virtually no one testify in support.

And now, in the homestretch of the 2022 midterm elections, many Hoosier Republican officeholders are refusing to debate or even appear at nonpartisan League of Women Voter forums.

Secretary of State nominee Diego Morales, Second Congressional District nominee Rudy Yakym and Third District Rep. Jim Banks have all refused to debate in recent days. The League of Women Voters of Hamilton County’s forum featuring candidates for Indiana Statehouse races became a one-sided affair after all five Republican invitees decided not to attend, according to the Current in Carmel website.

Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Mario Massillamany said he told the Republican candidates not to attend.

“I feel like in the past, we’ve been treated unfairly,” Massillamany said. “In the past, candidates have been attacked. I thought that it’s more important for us as Republicans to be knocking on doors and engaging voters one-on-one.”

Democrat State Sen. J.D. Ford tweeted: “My opponent was a no-show at a nonpartisan (not even a debate) candidate forum last Tuesday. It’s disrespectful to voters who use these forums to make an educated decision on who to vote for. It’s also sad for democracy that these candidates would rather not show than face voters.”

Banks, who heads the House Republican Study Committee, backed out of a WANE-TV debate scheduled for later this month.

“It’s a date we have a commitment,” Banks explained. “October 27th, I long ago committed to the Topeka Crisis Pregnancy Center up in LaGrange County, and I’m very much looking forward to speaking with them.”

Independent Third District challenger Nathan Gotsch responded, “It is so important for voters to be able to see the candidates together so that they can compare them and make the best decision in November.”

Democratic nominee Gary Snyder added, “If you can’t come back and face the issues and face the voters, then you don’t really need to be in Washington.”

Morales, who has faced allegations of sexual harassment and reports that he is an election denier who had twice been fired by past Republican secretaries of state Todd Rokita and Charlie White, declined to debate Democrat Destiny Wells and Libertarian Jeff Mauer. His campaign said Morales is focused on appearing in all 92 counties.

“If your ideas are so bad that you can’t even stand in front of a crowd of people, of your neighbors, to defend them, then something’s wrong,” Mauer said. “You need better ideas.”

What are they afraid of?

Tom Bonier, CEO of Target Smart, puts the Indiana voter registration gender gap at 6% favoring women after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. Dave Bangert of the Based In Lafayette substack site reports that absentee ballot requests have doubled in Tippecanoe County over the last mid-term in 2018 with Tippecanoe County Clerk Julie Roush saying, “The number of absentee ballots is unprecedented for an election like this.”

Bonier observed the “Dobbs effect,” saying, “The red wave is no longer inevitable and the notion that we are likely going to see a very close result in both the Senate and the House as younger voters and women engage in this election.”

This is a continuation of what I believe is a disturbing trend in Hoosier politics where self-funding candidates, like U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, have refused to debate or even attend town halls in their districts.

Not all Republicans are refusing. U.S. Sen. Todd Young has accepted an Indiana Debate Committee event set for Sunday where he will appear with Democrat nominee Thomas McDermott Jr. and Libertarian James Sceniak.

A final thought: If you’re a nominee who fears debates or even appearing at public forums to explain your policy positions to voters, you should choose another line of work.

Brian Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at, where this column was originally published. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol. Send comments to [email protected].