Candidates for Indiana governor square off in second debate

INDIANAPOLIS — The candidates for governor of Indiana hit the debate stage on Monday night for their second of three debates before the November election.

Democrat John Gregg, Republican Eric Holcomb and Libertarian Rex Bell met at the University of Indianapolis for a televised, hour-long debate focusing on the economy.

Holcomb, the state’s current Lt. Governor, touted the state’s recent economic success, while Gregg was quick to point out the state’s lagging per capita income.  The former House Speaker also seized on the recent controversy over the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law by Governor Pence last year.

“This issue has hurt us economically,” said Gregg. “We need to show respect to all Hoosiers, its more than economic, it’s about respect.”

“I don’t believe you give certain groups of people that other people don’t have,” said Bell. “It was kind of an unnecessary law, I thought, that drew a lot of attention.”

Holcomb implied that it should remain a local decision, on whether not to enact a human rights ordinance.

“There are good people on both ends of this issue who have differing opinions,” said Holcomb. “We have in Indiana, local ordinances that allow folks to address the economic development side of this with local HRO’s and if local communities seek to take advantage of those, they have been, and if they seek not to, they haven’t been, and that’s been the balance.”

If elected, Gregg says he would sign an executive order that gives civil rights protections to state employees who are part of the LGBT community.

“We need to be a welcoming state and we’re not right now,” said Gregg, who mistakenly said during the debate that local HRO’s were no longer applicable because of RFRA. (They are still in effect because of the fix signed by lawmakers last year.)

Gregg acknowledged in a press conference after the debate that he was mistaken.

The controversy over Syrian refugees was also discussed, just hours after a federal appeals court upheld an injunction against the state’s ban on Syrian refugees, put in place by Gov. Pence.

“This could be decided on case by case basis and should be to see if these people are thoroughly vetted,” said Gregg. “I disagreed with what the Governor had done because it is wrong.”

“While I understand where Governor Pence was when he made the decision… we’ll continue to honor the court’s decision as this works through,” said Holcomb.

Holcomb and Gregg didn’t confront each other much during an initial debate last week on education issues before an Indianapolis audience consisting mostly of high school students. Gregg blamed Republican-backed school initiatives for Indiana’s teacher shortages, while Holcomb argued the state isn’t alone in struggling to attract would-be educators.

There’s one more debate scheduled, on Oct. 25 at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.

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