The election is just two weeks away, and for those few of you undecided voters out there (glad to see you made it out of the cave you’ve been living in for the past year), I’ve tried to summarize each of the gubernatorial candidate’s positions on the issue this blog is most concerned with. A quick search of the campaign websites for Indiana’s gubernatorial candidates would seem to indicate that our state doesn’t have a poverty problem- this in spite of the dismal statistics I put up in last week’s post. Upon further inspection of the candidate’s sites I was able to find a few brief mentions of poverty, although with none of the urgency that the issue deserves.
The issues section of Mike Pence’s site goes so far as to mention the fact that 20% of children in Indiana live below the poverty line (perhaps a concession that his party has failed to address the issue during the past eight years). Sadly, his proposals to do anything about poverty fall far short of the problem, and more often than not he miss the mark completely. Pence’s focus seems to be on “the family” (at least his notion of family). Citing research conducted by a right-wing think tank, Pence concludes that the best way to help poor children in Indiana is to promote two parent families (as well as adoption), principally through the tax code. He identifies certain state and federal tax provisions (namely, the “marriage tax”) and proposes revising the tax code to make it more “pro-family”. This isn’t a bad idea, but I don’t know of any parents who considered their future tax liabilities when conceiving a child. Any relief that can be offered to our state’s struggling families would be welcomed by this blogger, but Pence’s plan is a drop in the ocean. His site makes no mention of what can be done to help single parents, even though they represent the overwhelming majority of poor families in Indiana. Pence also proposes streamlining state services like the Department of Child Services and juvenile and family courts to allow for better communication and case management. Again, this would be a step in the right direction, but it’s not likely to have a meaningful impact for many of the state’s poorest. Even more disturbing is Pence’s discriminatory definition of what and who constitutes a family. He opposes same sex marriage, civil unions, and allowing gay couples to adopt. He’s also consistently opposed family planning programs that have gone a long way towards reducing the number of children born into poverty.
The issue of poverty as a stand alone issue is noticeably absent from John Gregg’s campaign site– a big disappointment to this blogger. When compared with Pence’s site, Gregg’s is sorely lacking in specific proposals. That said, the few details he does offer could go a long way to reducing poverty in Indiana. While the campaign websites and rhetoric of both candidates name job creation as the central issue facing our state (a fair assessment given the state’s 8.2% unemployment rate), Gregg’s plan is the most likely to create meaningful and sustained job growth in Indiana. Investing in infrastructure through direct public investment as well as through public/private partnerships will have an immediate impact on unemployment, particularly for low-skilled workers. Gregg also proposes all-day kindergarten, a tax credit to pay for child care, reinstating preventive mental health services for at-risk youth, and equal pay for women. The site also points out (accurately I might add- fact-check right here) that the Department of Child Services has returned $300 million worth of unspent funds back to the state. Gregg says he will use that unspent money to help improve the lives of our state’s most vulnerable youth, rather than use it on another tax cut. Gregg is pro-choice and has promised to protect funding to family planning services; when it comes to an inclusive vision of who is a family (and therefore who can adopt or take advantage of tax breaks meant for families), Gregg’s view is just as out-dated as that of Mike Pence.
Mike Pence gets the better grade for optics; he at least mentions poverty as an issue facing the state and puts forth specific policy solutions. Unfortunately his proposals will do very little for Indiana’s most vulnerable, and some of his ideas (increasing the use of school vouchers and cuts to other social services, to name a few) would do more harm than good. While a specific policy agenda to combat poverty is sorely lacking from John Gregg’s site, the few details offered are a step in the right direction. The proposals mentioned above represent incremental, but meaningful steps to offer immediate relief to many in the short term. Gregg needs to build on these proposals by offering a big, long-term plan for reducing poverty. As is often the case, the Democrat in the race represents the lesser of two evils. Therefore, Indiana voters who view poverty as a serious issue in our state should support John Gregg for governor.