Gregg, Holcomb tout agriculture as key to Indiana economy

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The candidates to become Indiana's next governor largely sided with rural interests during a forum Tuesday while discussing agriculture issues.

Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, and Democrat John Gregg touted their farm connections and belief that agriculture is a key to the state's economy during an event sponsored by the Indiana Farm Bureau.

Both were wary of greater government regulation of large livestock operations and allowing city governments to have authority over zoning and other matters outside their borders.

Holcomb touted a bill Gov. Mike Pence signed after this year's legislative session that limited the potential property-tax increases on farmland.

"I think we got it just about right," Holcomb said. "We're seeing the property taxes coming down that were once those double-digit annual increases. So, we're on the right path."

Gregg said he believed a broad study of the state's tax system was needed after the implementation of statewide property-tax caps that were added to the Indiana Constitution in 2010. He said local school districts had been hamstrung by the state providing a greater percentage of education funding.

"The Legislature is controlling more and more of our schools rather than our local school boards," Gregg said. "We've just about taken our school boards to where all they can do is hire and fire coaches."

Holcomb and Gregg each said extending broadband internet access to the 14 percent of the state without it was a priority, but didn't give specifics for how they would pursue that goal.

Gregg, Holcomb and Libertarian candidate Rex Bell spoke and took questions separately during the forum inside a farmer's pole barn near the western Indianapolis suburb of Brownsburg.

Gregg talked about growing up and living on a farm near the Knox County town of Sandborn in southwestern Indiana. Holcomb spoke about his family ties to the farm near the Knox County community of Oaktown where his father was raised.

The appeal to rural roots came even as Indiana's population has become more urban. The 2010 Census found 62 percent — about 4 million people— of Indiana's population lived in urban counties, up from 60 percent in the 1990 Census, according to a Purdue University Extension report.

Holcomb, who became lieutenant governor in March, was picked by state GOP leaders last month to replace Pence as the party's candidate for governor after Pence dropped his re-election bid to become Donald Trump's running mate.

Gregg, a former Indiana House speaker, had been locked a tight campaign against Pence that was a rematch of their close 2012 race.

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