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Governor Candidates Clash Over Education, COVID-19, Guns In First Debate

Due to COVID-19 precautions, the three gubernatorial candidates and the moderator were in separate rooms at WFYI studios in Indianapolis. Here, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb watches Democrat Dr. Woody Myers speak.

Gov. Eric Holcomb defended his job performance Tuesday in the first of two gubernatorial debates this year. His challengers, Democrat Dr. Woody Myers and Libertarian Donald Rainwater, assailed Holcomb’s record – but from sharply different angles.

Myers made news right off the bat – he announced he would appoint the current Republican State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, as Indiana’s first secretary of education.

“Dr. McCormick has done a terrific job," Myers said. "She knows that we can do better in education in Indiana and she’ll be one of the first people that I’ll sit down with to make this state better.”

READ MORE: McCormick On The 2020 Election: 'Public Education Is Definitely On The Ballot'

The next governor will appoint the schools chief for the first time after lawmakers removed it as a publicly-elected position.

The debate was a rapid-fire series of questions on a variety of topics – from COVID-19 and education to guns, taxes and the environment.

Holcomb stood by his record.

“We created momentum and job creation and all-time high wages through the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, capital investment," Holcomb said. "We made sure infant mortality rates were finally going down and adoptions were going up.”

Rainwater pledged to dramatically reduce the size and scope of government.

READ MORE: Can I Vote By Mail? Here's What You Need To Know For Indiana's Elections

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana 2020 Two-Way. Text "elections" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on COVID-19 and the 2020 election.

The candidates also offered sharply different views on how they would use government to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Holcomb defended his record, including the restrictions he implemented in past months that required many businesses to temporarily shut down.

“Our individual liberty needs to be guarded. When that liberty or those actions start to infringe on someone else, that’s where we have to take a look at the public safety," Holcomb said. "It’s just like a seat belt; it’s just like wearing shoes in a restaurant.”

Rainwater sharply criticized that perspective. He said he’d ask the legislature to take away emergency powers from the governor.

“COVID-19 didn’t close any small businesses," Rainwater said. "Executive orders did.”

Myers came at Holcomb from the other side – he said the governor hasn’t done nearly enough to keep Hoosiers safe from the virus.

“You know, if what we were doing was working, then we wouldn’t have record numbers," Myers said. "Almost every day in the last couple weeks, we’ve had more new cases of coronavirus than the day or few days before.”

Myers wants a mandate to wear a mask in public enforced through “consequences.”

Contact reporter Brandon at or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith is excited to be working for public radio in Indiana. He has previously worked in public radio as a reporter and anchor in mid-Missouri for KBIA Radio out of Columbia. Prior to that, he worked for WSPY Radio in Plano, Illinois as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. His first job in radio was in another state capitol, in Jefferson City, Missouri, as a reporter for three radio stations around Missouri. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.
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