GREENFIELD — The race to fill the seat of retiring state Sen. Beverly Gard is under way with two different campaign styles.
Democrat Michael Adkins is offering ideas for specific pieces of legislation he’ll pitch in the state Legislature if he’s elected. Republican Mike Crider, on the other hand, is running based on values and says he wants to wait to see which committees he’ll serve on before pinpointing his focus.
Both candidates, election experts say, are using their best strategies to secure the Senate District 28 seat. Still, it will be hard for a freshman lawmaker to get much accomplished in their first term, regardless of political party.
Adkins, chairman of the Hancock County Democratic Party, is catching up to a whirlwind of political campaigning by the opposite party in the spring. Adkins had no opponent in the Democratic primary, but three Republicans campaigned heavily for the GOP nomination, forcing Crider to campaign early and often.
Now, Adkins is offering up ideas that he hopes will grab the attention of undecided voters.
“I think that’s the responsibility of the candidate,” Adkins said of letting voters know what issues they will address if elected. “Too many voters simply look at labels. ‘Oh, you’re a liberal, you’re conservative, you’re a Democrat, you’re a Republican.’ But that doesn’t tell you what the person is going to do in the Legislature.”
Some people have told Adkins that they won’t vote for him because he’s a Democrat. Those concerns prompted Adkins to come up with a list of “common-sense proposals” he plans to work on if elected.
One proposal is to set up a low-interest loan program for cities and counties to tap into for infrastructure improvement projects. That, he said, would not only improve infrastructure like aging roads, but would also create more jobs.
Adkins also released an outline of several education proposals Tuesday. He wants to eliminate standardized testing, except for tests that are federally mandated. He said schools have become too bogged down with tests and bureaucracy.
Other education ideas include reducing student loans of college graduates who stay to work in Indiana. He would also propose boosting technical education in public schools by expanding vocational programs through Ivy Tech Community College.
Adkins also wants older teachers to be able to switch to part-time status and mentor younger teachers.
Another proposal, to set up a teacher advisory council for the Indiana Board of Education, is a statement that educators should be involved with state-level decisions for schools, he said.
“No issue concerning education should be approved without at least getting input from educators, because that’s not what’s happening today,” he said.
Adkins is affected by education issues first-hand. His wife is a teacher, and he is a regular substitute teacher.
Adkins is a retired insurance marketer and salesman, and he has also held positions in county probation and as a consultant for the Indiana Department of Mental Health.
He acknowledges that as a freshman legislator, it would be difficult knowing that it could take several years – if ever – for some of his ideas to come to fruition. As a member of the minority party that could be doubly true.
Indeed, if elected Adkins would be part of a small minority of Democrats in the chamber. Today, there are only 13 Democrats in the Senate and 37 Republicans. Senate Democrats make up the smallest caucus in the Legislature.
Still, he says, he would work to build consensus. He said the state needs to fund public safety, infrastructure and education, and his views would always be based on whether those areas are priorities
By contrast, Crider says he is spending much of his time on the campaign trail meeting constituents and letting them know about his basic views.
Crider said constituents are concerned about the economy and want a candidate who will work hard toward finding a solution. He says he will work toward creating an environment in Indiana that will stimulate job growth.
But until he is elected, he won’t know exactly what kind of issues he will address. That’s because lawmakers are assigned to committees to weigh in on issues. As a practical matter, senators tend to focus on issues tied to their committees. For example, Gard, a longtime member of the Senate’s environment committee, was author of numerous bills on the environment.
Crider is the disaster preparedness coordinator and security manager for Hancock Regional Hospital. But most of his career, 30 years, was spent with Indiana Department of Natural Resources, from which he retired; the last four years he was the director of the DNR’s law enforcement branch.
Crider says his experiences in public safety and budgeting could be a natural fit for committees he may serve on. But it’s hard to say how the first couple of years in the Senate will go.
“You’re going to be a freshman; whoever goes in, you understand there’s a pecking order that’s going to be involved,” Crider said.
Both candidates have been knocking on doors and meeting voters this summer and plan to continue to do so until the Nov. 6 election.
“We’re going to continue to hit the doors as hard as we can, particularly trying to target the voters that are swing voters, or not the hardcore Republicans but those who vote back and forth or who are undecided voters,” Crider said.
The contrast in campaign styles makes sense based on the parties each candidate represents, says Ray Scheele, professor of political science at Ball State University.
“What (Crider) is doing is probably a wise political strategy because it’s a Republican district,” Scheele explained. “As long as he can follow the line of what his principles are and this is what he hopes to bring about for the district in terms of the stances he’ll take, that’s probably all he’s going to need to say. The more specific he gets, the more difficulty he’ll run into.”
Still, he said Adkins is probably campaigning wisely as well by trying to attract independent voters. He said if voters can connect with Adkins’ ideas, they may vote for him.
Gary Crawley, assistant professor of political science at BSU, adds that much of what the state Legislature faces are future-oriented issues. Therefore, Crider’s strategy of telling voters how he’ll stand in general terms will give voters an idea of what kind of legislator he’ll be.
Crawley said perhaps voters will catch on to Adkins’ ideas. If voters want to hear details, they’ll like Adkins’ strategy.
Scheele said if Adkins wins the election, he will have an uphill battle getting his ideas passed without the help of Republicans. Because of the strong GOP majority in the Senate, Scheele said Adkins would need cooperation.
“Regardless of who wins in Gard’s district, they’re going to be a freshman legislator,” Scheele said. “The way the Indiana General Assembly operates is, freshmen don’t have much power…. You’re not going to make a whole lot of impact your first term of office.”