Crider, Bruno face off in virtual forum

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GREENFIELD — The candidates for state Senate District 28 faced off for the only time in the campaign on Monday, Oct. 12, although they didn’t meet face-to-face.

The candidates couldn’t meet or answer voters’ questions in person, but instead used the medium so many have adopted since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, speaking over the videoconferencing software Zoom.

The forum, featuring incumbent Mike Crider, a Republican; and Democratic challenger Theresa Bruno, was put on by the League of Women Voters Hancock County and the Daily Reporter. It was moderated by Betty Tonsing, a board member for the League of Women Voters. (You can watch the forum here.)

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“We like the idea of a forum, not a debate, because this is a friendly county,” Tonsing said. “We’re neighbors, and we want to be neighbors when this is all done… We want to hear views; we’re not interested in fisticuffs.”

Many questions asked during the 80-minute discussion had been submitted by voters. The Daily Reporter and members of the local League also prepared questions.

Candidates were able to make both opening and closing statements and were given 75 seconds to respond to each question.

In her opening statement, Bruno emphasized her experience as a community leader who works across county and party lines to find solutions.

“A lot of politicians like to say that they’re bipartisan,” Bruno said. “Well, I actually live it in my second job as a Warren Park town councilor. I was the first Democrat to be elected in 2015 to the board of Warren Park, so I work with all Republicans. To get anything done, I have to form coalitions with them and get along with them.”

She added with a smile, “It also helps that I bake delicious cookies, so they’re always willing to talk to me.”

Crider, a Republican, said it has been an honor to serve in the state Senate since he first was elected in 2012. During that time, he said, he’s focused on difficult issues like sexual assault and mental health.

“The work is not even close to done,” Crider said. “We’ve got a lot of work left to do. The success that I’ve enjoyed has been bipartisan success.”

Redistricting

Bruno said it makes little sense that Greenfield and the east side of Indianapolis, where she lives, are included in the same state Senate district. She said she would support an independent redistricting commission to counter credible assertions that election boundaries are drawn to favor incumbents. Such a proposal has been aired before in the Republican-dominated Indiana General Assembly, but it has gone nowhere.

“I do not believe that politicians should be picking and choosing their constituents,” she said.

Crider said he agrees that his district is a diverse one, but he said that has in many ways been a positive thing.

“It stretches me as a legislator and makes me dig into issues I probably wouldn’t have thought about otherwise,” he said.

During the redistricting process, he said, he would likely support whatever design makes it through the legislative process.

Policing

The candidates were also asked about whether they would support the idea of diverting some money from police departments to cover other issues, like mental health treatment.

Bruno said she is a supporter of the police, but that diverting some funds to help people with mental illness or addiction issues avoid the criminal justice system in the first place would be a benefit both to those people and to law enforcement.

“We kind of ask a lot of our criminal justice system and our police officers,” Bruno said. “We expect them to be police officers, enforce the law, but we also expect them to be social workers, addiction specialists, and everything like that. I really think, at the end of the day, we need to invest more in mental health and addiction treatment.”

Crider said the answer is not diverting funding from the police, but working to identify the best ways of addressing mental health problems. One of the bills he authored last session created the Indiana Behavioral Health Commission, which will aim to do just that.

“Most of the sheriffs that I’m friends with will tell you that the saddest thing for them is that about 40% of their population in their jails are folks that have addiction issues or mental health issues or, probably, both… This commission, I think, will give us the real data we need,” he said.

Education

Both candidates agreed that funding for schools is important and that it will continue to be a challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic, as money remains tight and teachers’ jobs become more challenging. Crider said he is proud of the legislature’s focus in the past few sessions on ensuring that school corporations are spending at least 85% of their funding on classroom expenses.

“Getting more dollars to the classroom will of course have benefits not just to the student, but to the teacher,” Crider said.

Bruno said the state would be better served if it narrowed the focus of its education spending.

“We spend a lot of money on education, but I don’t think we’re necessarily getting all the bang for our buck,” Bruno said. “We are spending it a lot on private schools, charter schools, virtual schools. School choice is fine and all, but we need to make sure that charter schools, these virtual schools, are held to the same standards as our public schools are.”

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You can watch the forum online at www.greenfieldreporter.com and on the League of Women Voters Hancock County Facebook page.

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