INDIANAPOLIS — The message from Indiana's gubernatorial candidates is almost universally about putting Hoosiers back to work, but their ideas for finding those "jobs, jobs, jobs" vary widely.
Libertarian Rupert Boneham, former Democratic Indiana House Speaker John Gregg and Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Pence laid out their ideas Saturday for journalists gathered at the Indiana Associated Press Managing Editors meeting in Indianapolis.
"Job creation has to be job one," Pence said, but the means for reaching employment goals varies greatly between the three men.
Pence detailed a possible "jobs Cabinet" that would be filled with business leaders and dispatch investment gurus across the state to back startup businesses. Boneham suggested Indiana farmers begin growing fiber crops, such as hemp and bamboo, to begin making clothes and other goods in-state. And Gregg said the state needs to look at its energy resources, saying that wind turbine parts should be manufactured in Indiana, not overseas.
"We want an Indiana where Hoosiers feel like they're getting their fair shake from government," Gregg said.
The winner of November's general election will take over for Gov. Mitch Daniels, who is barred from seeking a third term in office. The new governor will inherit a government with roughly $1.8 billion cash in reserves and the strongest credit rating from national bond rating agencies. But Indiana also weathered deep budget cuts during the recession and has shared in Rust Belt states' struggles with high unemployment.
While Saturday's separate forums gave the three equal footing to pitch their ideas, the campaign trail promises to be much less forgiving. Pence looks poised to easily dominate Indiana's airwaves with $4.9 million in the bank at the start of April compared to Gregg's $1.5 million in the bank. When asked if he would be buying airtime, Boneham lamented that he only had $35,000 on hand and has been splitting his time between the campaign and running his mentoring program for troubled youth.
In the last year, Pence and Gregg have both trickled out their plans for tax cuts in various forms. Gregg said he plans to roll out a new tax proposal in the coming weeks, and Pence said he'll detail his agenda closer to the state Republican convention in June.
While Pence and Gregg tried to grab Daniels' mantle for themselves on Saturday, Boneham was the only one to directly criticize the two-term governor, accusing him of centralizing government operations. He also turned the questions back on the members of the press, asking them to include him in articles about Pence and Gregg and stop using old photos of him from his time on "Survivor."
Meanwhile, Gregg argued that partisan bickering — which has deadlocked work in Washington — threatens to spread to Indiana if Pence is elected. The criticism appeared directed at drawing out Pence to talk more about social issues, something he has not done much of in the campaign.
But when asked about a social issue himself — creationism — Gregg struggled, saying he believes that biblical timelines may not be literal, but that God created humans. Pence answered the same question saying he is "open" and does not have a definite opinion.
Boneham distanced himself the most from the other two on social issues, saying he is an abortion-rights candidate who also supports same-sex marriage. Pence and Gregg have previously said they are anti-abortion candidates who oppose same-sex marriage.