COLUMBIA CITY — The main event for the May 23 annual Lincoln Day dinner was a candidate forum, with four Republican candidates running for governor in 2024 — Suzanne Crouch, Eric Doden, Mike Braun and Jamie Reitenour.
Local politicians, area leaders and community members gathered in the Eagle Glen Event Center for the event hosted by the Whitley County Republican Party.
Moderator for the evening was Whitley County Prosecutor D.J. Sigler. He asked the candidates to appeal to the public regarding why they should be elected, also asking them to discuss how they would use their backgrounds if elected to governor.
Crouch is the current lieutenant governor for the state. It's this experience, along with experience in other positions at the state and local level, that has played a part in her platform and what she would focus on. To it, Crouch detailed going from county auditor to county commissioner, state representative, state auditor and to her current position.
“It is my experience at the state and local level, in the executive and legislative branches, knowing what I know about government, how it works and how it can work better for you be able to bring that experience, that leadership, that compassion, that ability to get things done and to have that relationship at all levels — to be able to take a vision as governor of the state of Indiana and make that a reality," she said.
Braun, who has served as a U.S. senator, also drew on his previous experiences in government, as well as his years as an entrepreneur.
“One thing I pledged when I got elected senator is I would visit every county every year, and there were at least 10 to 15 counties that had never seen a governor or U.S. senator. You learn a lot when you see the broad spectrum of our Hoosier state. Anyone can visit me on a Friday in my hometown. I want to hear what the problems are. I want to hear it from all of you. I have been very accessible as a senator and I will continue to do that when elected governor," Braun said.
Doden, when discussing his campaign, focused on his years running a business, as well as his role as the president of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. He focused specifically on the development of the Regional Cities Initiative, an initiative that took two years for approval, he said.
"If we are going to grow the economy in the state of Indiana, we have to inspire the private sector to fall in love with their community again and fix these communities, and that is why we pitched the Regional Cities Initiative," Doden said. “In one year the private sector did $1.25 billion in deals in three communities that began to transform those communities."
Reitenour said it was faith that inspired her to run for office, but she also reflected specifically on how COVID impacted her as a Republican Party member.
"I think we went through COVID as a Republican conservative party saying we are a party that touts faith. We are a party that has a religious root … I wasn’t feeling a lot of freedom during COVID," she said. "I look at this as an opportunity to change the course we’ve been on for some time and instead go in a different direction, which is guided by 'We the People.' You are the ones that make the decisions for your lives. And our state is better because of who you are. You are the better. It’s not bullet points. It’s true.”
An important question raised to each candidate is how best to address the rise of Fentanyl use in the state.
For Crouch, there were three directives that need to be taken.
"1. We send National Guard troops to the border to protect and keep the Fentanyl out. 2. We levy the harshest penalties possible against those who are dealing. 3. We provide the mental health and addiction services that those who have come under the spell of drugs can have," she said.
With experience at the federal level, Braun expressed the focus must be on controlling the border as a priority while also tackling it internally.
“Until we secure that southern border that is a welcome across regardless," Braun said. “We need to look at where most of the issues occur. It’s happening some places even worse. (We need to) do something different from what we’ve done in the past.”
Doden shared stories of interacting with local leaders in other parts of the state on this issue, discussing the solutions already being pursued. He agreed criminals should experience harsher penalties, but also felt treatment assistance should be made affordable to those in need of it.
"There’s not going to be a simple answer here. We’re going to have to do a lot of listening and a lot of learning," Doden said.
Reitenour said she believes in speaking directly to those being affected by drugs, but also taking prevention measures with younger children affected by this issue.
"We need to talk to the people taking the drugs. Many of our families are broken, and so when I look at this issue I say there is absolutely a lot going on at the border, but how do we cast new vision for these kids on the ground, these people getting involved in drugs," she said. "I say we go to the sheriffs, we go to our good Indiana state troopers and we bring them to the forefront and we bring them to these areas and shine a light on good. People need to see goodness."
Lastly, each candidate had some time to discuss their platform as they continue their campaigns.
"I'm running for governor to protect our conservative values. Values that say parents should control what is being taught to our children. Values that say we will stand shoulder to shoulder with our law enforcement and we will enforce our crime laws to the fullest and send a loud message to those criminals and fentanyl dealers that you may get in our southern borders, but watch out when you come to Indiana. Conservative values that say we will never spend outside our means and we aren’t going to saddle our future generations with a mountain of debt. Conservative values that say our jobs and our companies will have an environment to compete with every state and every country including China and win. Conservative values that say we will always be here for the most vulnerable, and we will never abandon those struggling with mental illness and addiction because they are our friends, our neighbors and our family members,” Crouch said.
Braun acknowledged each candidate had similar values that led them, but encouraged each in the audience to consider the steps each candidate has taken to lead them to this election.
“I think the most important thing about the future is to look at what someone has done in the past. We’re all going to share similar ideas. But if I’m going to throw in with someone I want to make sure they know how to get from here to there," Braun said. "Try to figure out who’s going to be best at getting you here to there to make our good state an even better one.”
“We have to have 12 strong regions (in the state)," said Doden, while also adding, “we need to protect the vulnerable. That’s why I am ardently pro-life. It’s not just a religious issue for me, it’s a human rights issue. But we are also having ideas like zero cost adoption. We have 13,000 kids in foster care that would love to be part of a loving home, and when we give those kids that opportunity we are going to empower parents to adopt them, pay for that and pay for the aftercare. We have a $20 billion per year budget and we have 30 agency heads that manage that money, and under my leadership we will have 30 agency heads that will manage that money effectively for the people of Indiana. We are already requiring all agency heads will have to reapply for their job if we become governor. We are deeply committed to having an efficient and effective government for the people of Indiana.”
Reitenour reflected on growing up in a house with Navy chaplains – those who had to understand the highs and navigate the lows. She also discussed a desire to focus on conversations with the public.
"You deserve better than what you have been given. Our country deserves better, and the reason our country is where it is today is because so many of us trusted the bullet points. I’ve been a Republican my entire life. I love my country," Reitenour said, adding she wanted to "focus on what we are allowed to do per the constitution because I don’t want to come outside of that and start walking into the areas where you should be making your decisions for your family. We are in a point in time in our country where if something doesn’t change we are going to lose the ability to raise our families the way we always wanted to. People have to stand and I am simply here to reflect 'We the People'.”
Other candidates who have announced their intention to run for governor include Jennifer McCormick (Democrat) and Donald Rainwater (Libertarian).
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.