Despite their political differences, the three men running for Indiana governor outlined similar outlooks for running the state during a forum Tuesday, from proposing improved job training to imposing tax cuts. But which taxes should be cut and when highlighted their differences.
Democrat John Gregg, Republican Mike Pence and Libertarian Rupert Boneham varied most on their tax plans during their discussion with retired Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard.
Gregg, a former state lawmaker, came across as knowledgeable and jovial as he reiterated his call for eliminating the sales tax on gasoline. Pence, a congressman, argued his proposal for cutting the state income tax by 10 percent, and held tightly to the script he has used throughout the campaign.
Boneham, a youth mentor, stumbled through general calls for lower taxes on business, though he was largely in agreement with Pence and Gregg on most issues.
The three spent close to a half hour each talking with Shepard at a forum hosted by Indiana University's Public Policy Institute in Indianapolis. The forum offered a preview of the debates each will participate in before the election day, though their messages could get drowned out by the massive on-air fight already under way between Pence and Gregg.
Gregg appeared most at ease in his conversation with Shepard, rattling off the names of businesses around the state and local officials he knew from the campaign trail, while riffing generally on Shepard's questions. Asked about education, he echoed remarks from Pence and Boneham that college education needs to be more affordable.
"We've done a great job in Indiana of making college accessible through our public universities," he said. "I think our challenge for the next governor and for all of us as a people is to make sure it's affordable."
Pence offered hints at some new ideas he'll be rolling out in the coming weeks. He proposed creating a blue-ribbon panel to examine the state's infrastructure needs. He said the lease of the Indiana Toll Road under current Gov. Mitch Daniels gave the state millions of dollars to begin infrastructure projects that had remained on drawing boards awaiting funding.
Since then, however, planning has dried up, and Indiana needs to find the best ways to build infrastructure to serve Indiana's strengths in manufacturing, agriculture and the life sciences.
"I think roads mean jobs," Pence said.
Pence and Gregg reiterated proposals to cut various taxes and try to increase vocational training. Boneham largely agreed on the broader points of cutting taxes and making college more affordable, but occasionally diverged from the group, throwing his support behind a mass-transit system in central Indiana at one point.
"That is a giant opportunity for us to encourage more work for Hoosiers," said Boneham, a former reality television star.
The three candidates expect to meet again for three debates hosted by the Indiana Debate Commission before November's election.
While the campaigns have released their own ideas about how they would run the state, they have yet to engage each other in any serious debate, directly or through press statements.
Gregg has gone after Pence throughout the campaign — at one point milling through Pence's congressional record and a 1991 collection of essays Pence edited at a conservative think tank to cobble together what he argued would be the "Pence Plan for Indiana."
But Pence, who has a massive fundraising lead, has largely ignored Gregg throughout the campaign focusing instead on a tightly written script about jobs and economic development.