INDIANAPOLIS — The three candidates vying to be the next governor of Indiana took to the debate stage on Tuesday trying to appeal to voters with their vision for how the state moves forward.
The influence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Eric Holcomb's handling of the crisis and what the candidates would do if they are elected the next governor were a central part of the discussion on Tuesday.
Democratic challenger Dr. Woody Myers and Libertarian challenger Donald Rainwater both used the debate to take aim at Holcomb's handling of the pandemic.
"The reality is that only you can determine what risk you're willing to take and what are the appropriate measures that you need to take for yourself, your family, your business, your church or any other situation you might find yourself in," Rainwater said. " You see, the reality is there is no one size fits all solution to anything and there is no if you do this you'll be protected because this is a virus. You can only do what is easiest and best for you to protect yourself. The reality is the one thing that we do know is that the Constitution is there to protect our individual liberties and make those choices for ourselves."
Myers said it is the government's job to lead and if he's elected, public safety will be his first priority, including a stronger mask mandate on day one.
"We do need a real mask mandate in Indiana, a mask mandate with consequences for the small percentage of Hoosiers who chose not to protect themselves or protect others," Myers said. "It's very similar to what we did years ago when we told people that you couldn't light up a cigarette anywhere you wanted to light it up. You had to go into an area where it wasn't going to hurt other people."
The governor argued he has used the power granted him through the state's constitution to guide Indiana through the public health emergency.
"We're in an emergency, a public health emergency. We do have a state-mandated mask requirement throughout the state," Holcomb said. "It's a strong statement that says this works and believe you me we are seeing cases rise, we are seeing deaths rise and we know how it's spread. Wearing a mask, physically distancing and out of large crowds, good hygiene will help us slow that spread."
The Indiana Debate Commission moved the debate to a virtual format for the first time in its history. The candidates — Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, Democratic challenger Dr. Woody Myers, and Libertarian challenger Donald Rainwater — still participated in-person at the WFYI studios in Indianapolis.
The three candidates were in separate spaces from each other and the moderator during the one-hour event.
Another hot topic during Tuesday's debate was the increase in gun violence in Indiana and whether or not stricter gun laws would help curb that violence.
Each candidate had a different opinion on what would help.
Governor Holcomb said he would continue to work with police and local communities.
"Our Indiana State police partner with local communities and we'll continue to do that. We also want to make sure that we protect our red flag law that makes sure that people who are a danger to themselves or others are identified and those weapons are removed from... with law enforcement and the court's involvement of course," Holcomb said.
Rainwater said violence come from evil, which can't be legislated.
"I don't believe the problem is red flag laws, I also don't believe the problem is guns. People are violent because there's evil in the world. You can't legislate that. What you can do is create an environment where people know that if they do something against someone else, they will pay a severe penalty for that aggression," Rainwater said.
Myers' response touted the work he is already doing with gun safety and the group 'Moms Demand Action.'
"I know that we can do a much better job on gun safety in Indiana and I'll fight for that as your governor. I'm the only candidate that has been named a gun sense candidate by Moms Demand Action... I'll be in Washington DC testifying to make our gun laws a lot safe than they are today," Myers said.
Holcomb noted he has increased funding for public education by $1.6 billion and he created a commission to discuss ways to increase teacher pay. He added the average teacher should make $60,000 a year with a beginning salary of $40,000.
"We allocate over 50% of our total revenue of our state budget to education," Holcomb said. "That doesn't mean we're there yet."
Myers, however, said Indiana's teacher pay is well below that of other states, and Indiana loses teachers to Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois. He said he would appoint current Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick as his secretary of education.
Myers also said the state gave public school teachers a 2.7% raise, while charter school and voucher program instructors received a 25% increase.
"It's like giving a sandwich to a starving person," he said. "After 15 years, it tastes good, but it doesn't do the job. It doesn't get us anywhere close to where we need to be."
Rainwater said he would decentralize education, give local school districts more control and allow parents to choose where they send their children to school.
"That will be the first step to getting teacher pay to where it should be and getting education back into the classroom where it belongs instead of a political tool used by big government," he said.
A second debate between the candidates will be held Oct. 27 and will follow a similar format.
Ahead of Tuesday's showdown, WRTV's Rafael Sanchez talked to his Political Insiders about what to expect from the debate. Watch their discussion in the player above.