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Stating their case for the Statehouse

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An accountant. A fire chief. An engineer.

Three men with diverse backgrounds all have the same goal in mind as the Tuesday, Nov. 6 general election nears. Each would like to succeed New Castle graduate Doug Eckerty as the District 26 senator, the northern portions of which include Henry County. Eckerty, a New Castle graduate who has held this office since 2010, decided not to seek a third term.

Oct. 23, Republican Mike Gaskill, Democrat Dave Cravens and Libertarian Greg Noland had a chance to state their case for the Statehouse during a “Meet the Candidates” forum sponsored by the Middletown/Fall Creek Public Library.

Their backgrounds

Gaskill, the Republican, is a Pendleton resident who majored in accounting and computer science at Anderson University. Described as “the young man who saved a lot of money while he was growing up working at McDonald’s and mowing a lot of yards,” Gaskill rose in the ranks to work for a Fortune 500 company in Indianapolis. 

Today, Gaskill is his own boss.

“About 25 years ago I decided to start my own business,” he said. “I’m an insurance and financial services provider in Anderson. I’m fortunate enough to work with my dad and two of my grown adult children and two of my kid-in-laws. I’m very happy to work with the generation ahead of me and the generation behind me.”

A Republican who hopes to help his party maintain a 41-9 stranglehold on the Senate, Gaskill is no stranger to public service or politics. He has served on the South Madison Community School Board and is currently an incumbent Madison County Councilman.

“You might be interested to know when I first got on the county council one of the problems we had was daytime meetings when people couldn’t come and I was the deciding vote to move those meetings to the evening,” Gaskill said in reference to a Henry County Council candidate’s contention meetings here should be moved from afternoon to evening.

One of Gaskill’s opponents – Cravens, a Democrat – is Anderson’s fire chief. He told the Middletown crowd his life story includes Henry County connections.

“I am a product of Henry County,” Cravens said. “My wife and I met in New Castle and lived in New Castle for many years. Our family is from Sulphur Springs. We have grass roots here.”

An Anderson resident, Cravens said he is associated with many union organizations, including carpenters and professional firefighters.

Noland, the Libertarian, also claimed Henry County connections. Noland said when he was a young man, he belonged to the Order of Demolay, an organization dedicated to developing young men between the ages of 9 and 21 into better leaders of character. 

“I was one of the presiding officers and I had the honor of initiating 52 young men into the Order of Demolay and starting a chapter here in Middletown in 1971,” he said. “It’s really exciting for me to be back here.”

Noland is a former plant superintendent of a Fort Wayne foundry and a degreed engineer from General Motors Institute.

The issues

Infrastructure, taxes, the drug problem and broadband internet access were all issues each candidate responded to during Tuesday’s event. 

State tax increases will not be an issue, however, if Gaskill has anything to say about it.

“I’ve signed a pledge and I will not, under any circumstances, vote for a tax increase.” 

Gaskill said he’d also be careful with the filing of legislation. 

“You pass a law to fix this problem, but you may create three or four more,” Gaskill said. “So I would be very careful.”

The need for broadband was cited by moderators at the forum. Gaskill said that need will only be solved when government and private industry work hand-in-hand.

“There can be partnerships between government and private industry,” he said. “There’s a lot of different topics as a state legislator that you’re going to have to make decisions on. To go in and pretend like you’re an expert in these areas when you’re not is just fooling yourself. I know how to use broadband internet but I don’t know how to provide it. But I have seen in every situation there are experts you can go to and find solutions. But broadband access is important to our students, it’s important for business and we’ve got to find a way to make that happen.”

For Cravens, the Republican assertion that Indiana’s low tax rate and balanced state budget make it one of the better places to live doesn’t resonate.

“Indiana is 48th in quality of life and 42nd in per capita income, so we need better job creations,” Cravens said. “We’re a great manufacturing and agricultural state, but we must change. We must become more diversified.”

“We need to work on infrastructure,” Cravens added. “Not everybody can afford those federal grants with their matching fund requirements.”

Then there is the drug problem that’s taking away so many people in this part of the state.

“I deal with the drug problem firsthand every single day as a fire chief,” Cravens said. “I’ve been on 100 overdose calls. We need resource so people can get off drugs, get jobs and get a second chance.”

Cravens also expressed concern about water quality and the gerrymandering of this district that’s formed the shape of salamander. His Facebook page lists more than a dozen organizations that have endorsed his candidacy.

“Over the last decade we have developed several commercial real estate properties across the community,” Cravens’ Facebook site read. “I have held several positions in local municipal government and have many years experience in dealing with multi-million dollar budgets. I believe in hard work and the working man.”

For Noland, the Libertarian, the biggest issue might just be the legislators themselves, who pass too many laws with too little thought for the consequences.

“As a senator, I need to be looking at laws that are going to maintain your freedoms and your liberties and keep your own money in your pockets. You folks are the people who spur the economy, not the government. You people are the ones who create jobs, not the government. It’s this community that will rise up and provide the jobs and I want your money to be in your hands. As a legislator, that’s what I would be working for."

As far as the drug problem is concerned, Noland says a major change in thinking is required. 

“For 50 years we’ve had a war on drugs and it hasn’t helped,” Noland said. “If we’re going to protect our children, we need to legalize marijuana. I know we’ve all been trained to think the other way for many years but if we’re going to protect our children – because this stuff is in schools and being sold on playgrounds. If we are going to protect our children, we have to get it into the drug stores where somebody is looking at their ID and saying, ‘young man, you can’t have this until you’re 21.”

Noland emphasized the issue of bringing greater broadband access to the area is a task beyond what the legislature could – and should – do.

“I believe government has no role in doing broadband,” he said. “We, as a community, need to bring broadband here ourselves. One of the people in our community needs to step up and start a business and create broadband. That’s how it should be done. When government gets into things, it ends up costing more and we usually have poorer service. I think those kinds of things need to remain in the private sector.”