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Indiana Gubernatorial candidates tackle Governor’s powers, COVID-19 during first debate

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2020 Indiana Gubernatorial debate
Woody Myers Candidate for Indiana Gov.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb during first gubernatorial debate 2020
Donald Rainwater libertarian gov. candidate during debate 2020
Moderator Andrew Downs

INDIANA (WPTA21) - The first virtual Indiana gubernatorial debate highlighted different takes on how each candidate would tackle the ongoing public health crisis.

Incumbent Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, debated with Democratic nominee Dr. Woody Myers and Libertarian nominee Donald Rainwater Tuesday evening. This is the first of two scheduled debates.

The nonprofit Indiana Debate Commission said voters from across the political spectrum submitted questions for the candidates.

Purdue Fort Wayne University associate professor Andrew Downs, who also serves as the director of PFW’s Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, moderated the first debate.

Each candidate answered questions on education, COVID-19, taxes, gun violence, jobs, economic development and more during the hour-long debate.

The candidates were all present at the WFYI-TV studio in Indianapolis but they and the moderator were in separate spaces for the hour-long debate that began at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Here are some highlights:

COVID-19 Pandemic

Woody Myers, a former Indiana State Health Commissioner, criticized Gov. Holcomb's administration for not implementing a mask mandate with teeth.

"If I'm your governor, safety comes first," Myers said.

Myers equated a mask mandate to putting kids in a car seat and telling smokers they can't light up anywhere they choose.

He said if he takes office, a mask mandate with consequences will be issued on Day 1.

Holcomb said our civil liberty needs to be guarded but said a public health crisis is a whole different ball game.

"So we do have a state-mandated mask requirement throughout the state. It's a strong statement that says, 'this works,'" Holcomb said.

Rainwater said the US Constitution is there to protect our individual civil liberties and should allow us to make those decisions for ourselves.

"Only you can determine what risks you're willing to take, and what are the appropriate measures you need to take," Rainwater said.

"The reality is there is no one size fits all solution for anything."

Governor's Powers

It has been 7 months since a public health emergency has been declared. Candidates were asked if a general assembly should be called to address it.

Myers said he called for a special session to take place when the pandemic began. He said the governor has powers he can use to protect the public when faced with crisis.

"Yes, you can challenge those powers in the courts, but the first thing to do is to protect public safety," Myers said.

"Let's do what we can do right now to protect our citizens from this virus until we have a safe and effective vaccine."

Holcomb defended the actions he has taken while in office, including a mask mandate and limiting large gatherings of people to slow the spread of the virus.

"The governor does have the authority. Again, it was granted to the governor of the state of Indiana by the general assembly," Holcomb said.

He said he looks forward to meeting with members of Indiana's general assembly come January.

Rainwater indicated to voters if he were elected, he would ask the Indiana General Assembly to strip away any unnecessary power to the office.

"The extension of powers to the governor has been a mistake," Rainwater said.

"I don't believe the governor is a legislature. The government is supposed to execute the laws passed by the general assembly."

Nadia Brown, an associate professor at Purdue University, will moderate the second debate.

Both debates will be staged at the studios of WFYI TV in Indianapolis.

ABC21 anchors Brien McElhatten and Krista Miller will introduce each event to local viewers.

Coronavirus resources

  • Click here for the latest CDC novel coronavirus resources and links.
  • Track the COVID-19 globally using this map tracker here.
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  • Check out or COVID-19 vaccine resource page here.
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Kayla Crandall

Kayla Crandall is an Emmy award-winning journalist. She serves as the Social Media and Digital Content Manager at WPTA. Follow her on Twitter @KaylerJayne.

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