Five gubernatorial candidates appear on a debate stage in downtown Indianapolis on March 27, 2024.  From left, pictured are Curtis Hill, Brad Chambers, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Eric Doden and U.S. Sen. Mike Braun. (Screenshot from WISH-TV livestream)
Five gubernatorial candidates appear on a debate stage in downtown Indianapolis on March 27, 2024. From left, pictured are Curtis Hill, Brad Chambers, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Eric Doden and U.S. Sen. Mike Braun. (Screenshot from WISH-TV livestream)
The Republican contenders for governor quickly started attacking their opponents, with accusations of “selective hearing” and “revisionist history” thrown throughout a 90-minute debate Wednesday night.

Questions submitted by the public to WISH-TV ran the gamut, from taxes and diversity to education and “outsider” status. 

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, Brad Chambers, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Eric Doden and former Attorney General Curtis Hill are each running to succeed term-limited Gov. Eric Holcomb along with Jamie Reitenour, who wasn’t invited to either of the debates. Hill didn’t qualify for a Tuesday debate


Crouch’s most comprehensive campaign platform, a proposal to “axe” the income tax, attracted an early wave of attacks and was roundly panned by her competitors in the debate as a “gimmick,” “a promise (she) can’t keep” and something “sensational … to grab attention.”

“There’s nobody in this room that wants to pay taxes. But the reality is that we have services that are necessary,” Hill said, noting the income tax brings in roughly $8 billion in state revenue. 

Hill has proposed cutting the state’s taxes on gasoline — which he dubbed the “Mike Braun tax” because of the former state representative’s role in passing the funding mechanism in 2017. Braun said that vital revenue shored up Indiana’s flagging infrastructure.

“Everyone on this stage is going to be for lowering income taxes, but how are you going to do it? The only way you’re going to do it is … to tackle each agency,” Braun said. “… Who do you think is going to have the best ability to actually lower it by getting in and getting your hands dirty?”

Chambers said the income tax dollars are resources for education, law enforcement, mental health services and more. To cut taxes, first the economy needed to grow, he said. 

“You cannot cut your way to success. You’ve got to do it incrementally and over time and with a plan,” Chambers said. 

Instead, Doden proposed a review of property taxes, which he said were a bigger concern for residents, especially elderly Hoosiers.

“… seniors on fixed incomes are telling me that there’s a possibility that they could lose their home and I think that’s just wrong,” Doden said. “I think we need to work with the General Assembly to make sure we have a cap on their taxes so they can plan.”

In a 30-second rebuttal, Crouch said that cutting income taxes was the number one way to help small businesses and attract residents to the state — a move states like Kentucky and Iowa were already pursuing.

“(They) say we can’t do it but that money is yours; it’s not theirs. And you will always spend it more wisely than the government,” Crouch said. “Other states are already doing this … we don’t want to be left behind; we want to be competitive.”

Is anyone an outsider?

WISH debate moderators noted that the stage included a sitting U.S. Senator, a lieutenant governor, a former attorney general and two people who had led the state’s economic development agency — the last a reference to Doden and Chambers. But with that assortment, could anyone be considered an outsider?

“I don’t know,” Crouch responded to audience laughter from the debate crowd. “But I’m proud of my public service … I have a track record. I led the fight to expand broadband throughout Indiana. I protected our farmland and our military sites. I stood up and fought FSSA…” 

Some opponents have embraced the label — including Chambers, who has #Outsider on his campaign RV, an accompanying ad and calls Braun a “career politician.”

“Everybody else has been on the ballot multiple times,” said Chambers, who has never run for political office previously. “I respect public service. My point of view is that someone needs to be the CEO of a state and coming from outside in like (former Gov.) Mitch Daniels in 2005.”

But Braun said he thought of himself as an outsider, saying that he’d spent his life railing against institutions and bucking trends. He said the “ultimate outsider” endorsed him but didn’t use former President Donald Trump’s name. Moderators verified that was his reference.

“(I’ve) been the loudest voice in the U.S. Senate about fiscal integrity, so you can do it in many different ways. And it’s going to boil down to who is really going to shake the system up,” Braun said. 

Prior to his time in the U.S. Senate and Indiana House of Representatives, Braun was elected to a local school board.

Both said their business acumen made them ideal for Indiana’s executive office, denigrating anyone who “hadn’t signed the front of a paycheck.” 

Hill said some were “inside outsiders” or “folks who claim to be outsiders but they’re deep, so deeply rooted” to politics. 

All of the candidates agreed that Indiana’s Office of Equity, Inclusion and Opportunity should be eliminated, a proposal first suggested by Hill. The role is paid for by CenterPoint Energy’s charitable arm and was created in the aftermath of racial justice protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“When you’re talking about the Secretary of Commerce, is there a higher job, a more influential, more inside job? I don’t think so,” Hill said. “Mike Braun says he’s an outsider because he worked for 37 years — no you’re not, Mike. You’ve been in the system long enough. It doesn’t make you an outsider.”

Doden said he had other priorities and believed Hoosiers did too. “I don’t know why we’re arguing about outsiders here. I think what voters are going to look at is who has a plan and what kind of leader do they want?” Doden said.

The next scheduled appearance for gubernatorial candidates will be hosted by the Indiana Debate Commission on April 23. Early voting starts for Hoosiers one before the primary election on May 7. To check one’s voting status, visit Registrations are due April 8.

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