Columnists

Many Hoosier Republicans Are Refusing to Debate

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 lop-sided 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 mid-term elections, many Hoosier Republican officeholders are refusing to debate, or even appear at non-partisan League of Women Voter forums.

Secretary of State nominee Diego Morales, 2nd CD nominee Rudy Yakym and U.S. 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. This included State Sen. Jim Buck and Reps. Donna Schaibley, Jerry Torr and House nominees Alex Choi and Fred Glynn.

Hamilton County Republican Party Chair Mario Massillamany said that he told the Republican candidates not to attend. “I feel like in the past, we’ve been treated unfairly,” Massillamany told the Current. “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 non-partisan (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.”

Rep. 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 3rd CD candidate 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.” Democrat 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 has 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 says that 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?

In 2012, Republican U.S. Senate nominee Richard Mourdock appeared at a debate with Democrat Joe Donnelly and said that when a woman is impregnated during a rape, “It’s something God intended.” His support collapsed among independent voters, giving Donnelly an upset win. A similar thing happened to Missouri Republican Senate nominee Todd Akin.

A decade later, the mainstream Republican position on abortion restrictions is to press for a total ban, though Indiana’s SEA1 signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb has exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. In January, it is expected that many legislative Republicans will seek to end those exceptions. This, despite the fact that many polls show wide support for abortion access. A recent poll for Indy Politics by ARW Strategies revealed that 51% of voters say they’re more likely to vote for a candidate in state Senate and House races this fall who support abortion rights, while 35% say they’re more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes abortion.

There are other cross-currents that are leaving a muddled picture. Tom Bonier, CEO of Target Smart, puts the Indiana post-Dobbs voter registration gender gap at 6% favoring females. Reporter 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 Clerk Julie Roush saying, “The number of absentee ballots is unprecedented for an election like this.”

Bonier observed on Oct. 1 of 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. Reps. 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 Oct. 16 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.

The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com