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Democrats hear from potential ballot leaders

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Eddie Melton eats during the 6th District Democratic Party family picnic on Saturday. Melton is exploring a run for Indiana governor. David Gettinger,right, was among those attending from Fayette County.
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By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

BROOKVILLE — Two Democrats who are known to be interested in running for governor in 2020 made their pitches at the 6th District family picnic and urged the party faithful to work at taking back Indiana state government.

Dr. Woodrow “Woody” Myers, who has declared his candidacy, and state Sen. Eddie Melton, who is exploring whether to make a run for the state’s highest office, spoke to several dozen people in Franklin County Park on Saturday. State Rep. Karlee Macer, who was also exploring whether to run, did not attend the picnic and announced her decision not to run on Tuesday. 

Indiana’s 6th Congressional District includes 19 Indiana counties south and east of Indianapolis.

Both men stayed within talking points outlined by the Indiana Democratic Party State Chairman, John Zody. He said it’s important for Democrats to have a consistent message about what they stand for instead of letting Republicans tell the public what Democrats believe in. Those five points include creating a liveable wage for everyone in the state; having a well-funded pre-K and K-12 public education system; better access to affordable health care; fairer elections by getting rid of gerrymandering; and making sure everyone feels safe, secure and protected equally in all parts of the state.

Myers, 65, a physician from Indianapolis, is a former Indiana State Health Commissioner and was chief medical officer and chief healthcare strategist for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona in 2017-18.

Melton, 38, of Gary, said he is a former child care worker. Elected to the General Assembly in 2016, he is the manager of corporate citizen and community relations for Northern Indiana Public Service Company, an electric utility.

Myers based much of his talk about creating change. He used the example of helping to change public attitudes from fear and condemnation of people with AIDS in the early 1980s to a realization that people with that disease need compassionate care and that the disease cannot be spread by casual contact. 

He said the changes in attitudes and public law and policy came about because of bipartisan effort.

“We moved the state in a positive direction,” Myers said. “When I discovered how policy changes, it got into my system. If you really want to make changes, you’ve got to control the levers of power.”

Melton spoke about the frustration of being an elected Democrat in a state where Republicans have a supermajority in both houses of the legislature and control the executive branch. Because he is a Democrat, “Guess what: when I draft legislation for my community, I can’t get a hearing.” 

That adds to the feeling of many of his constituents that they are left out of government, that no one listens to them, he said.

Both men talked of the need to create a bipartisan commission to draw legislative district lines that would eliminate the practice of gerrymandering so that one party controls the government.

Melton criticized Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb for investing a state budget surplus instead of spending it for human services and better teacher pay.

“Our governor talks about putting people first. I don’t see it,” Melton said, using the state’s high rate of infant mortality as an example of a social problem where more state money should be spent. 

Both men criticized Republican state governments for taking money out of public education. Melton said that during the administration of Gov. Mitch Daniels, $300 million was taken from public education and has never been put back into it.

Melton said that during the 2019 session, the Republican budget included pay increases for educators but it was not distributed equally. Of the increase, 2% went to traditional public education, 5% to charter schools and 10% to private schools.

He also spoke of the need to increase the $7.25 minimum wage and to help equalize pay rates between men and women. Hoosier women are paid 73 cents for every dollar that men are paid, he said.

Myers spoke of the need for better public education funding, saying teachers are not being paid what they deserve: “93% of kids in Indiana are in public schools but 93% of the money is not going to public schools.”

Myers said Indiana needs to be in the forefront of creating new types of jobs, especially internet related. As important, he said, is keeping current jobs.

He said access to good health care must be addressed, at least partly by reducing its cost. “What good does it do to have all these great treatments if you can’t get them?”

He blamed drug companies for unreasonable increases in drug costs, saying the price of insulin has almost tripled since 2012. The product hasn’t changed, he said, but, “The companies are taking advantage of us.”

Along with talks from the two hopefuls, regional Democratic leaders spoke of developing a strategy for the 2020 election. District 6 vice chair Mike Jones of Vevay said the party should try to draw U.S. Rep. Greg Pence into meeting with voters in unscripted public settings. The party should invite Pence to public forums “where people other than the county (Republican) chairmen come,” he said.

“I feel like we don’t have any representation” with Pence, Jones, a former school superintendent, said. “I came up when we had Lee Hamilton (as congressman). He had community meetings all year round. These were public meetings where people could see their congressman.”