Come Nov. 9, this long election season of twists and hairpin turns will have passed — providing there are no glitches, ties, challenges or hanging chads.
Few observers would view the 2016 campaigns — from the presidential three-ring circus to the state’s musical chairs — as run-of-the-mill. The fireworks in Indiana’s usually placid political sky really began the week after the Fourth of July.
That’s when Republican candidate for governor, incumbent Mike Pence, and the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Baron Hill, announced they would not be running for those seats in November after all.
Pence accepted Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s invitation to join him as the Republican vice presidential candidate. That set in motion a flurry of activity as other candidates, already slated for federal and state races, vied for Pence’s vacated position atop the state Republican ticket.
Hill’s surprise announcement to withdraw from the U.S. Senate race against an old adversary, U.S. Rep. Todd Young, opened the door for Evan Bayh. Indiana’s former Democratic two-term senator and two-term governor quickly announced he would seek the seat he once held.
Suddenly, a Senate seat considered “safe” for Republicans was now in the “toss up” category.
This month, Electric Consumer looks at the Senate race. Members of Electric Consumer staff and the government relations team at Indiana Electric Cooperatives sat down with Young and Bayh separately on different days early last month at the IEC office in Indianapolis. We asked the candidates the same questions about the divisive political climate in Washington, D.C., climate change regulations, and other state and national issues affecting Hoosiers, Indiana’s electric cooperatives and our communities.
Some of their unscripted responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Candidates address energy and rural concerns
Electric Consumer: Why are you running for the Senate?
Todd Young: In the United States Senate, you’re one of a hundred people with a six-year term. So, I have the opportunity to effect change on a bigger scale: To help all Hoosiers, as opposed to just those in my congressional district, in a more meaningful way; and, given a longer period of time to work on really significant projects.
There are several things I’ve been working on in the House of Representatives that are just coming to fruition after the completion of my third term. So, I want to get more things done on behalf of Hoosiers
Evan Bayh: I’m concerned about the direction of our country and of our state, particularly economically. We need to do better in terms of creating more jobs and better paying jobs. Middle class families have been squeezed for the last 10-15 years, and, if we don’t do something about that, our children won’t inherit the kind of prosperity we hope they will have.
Second to that, I’m concerned about the state of our politics. It’s much too divisive, much too angry. Democrats and Republicans should be working together to get things done rather than just constantly fighting with each other in Washington. I’ve always enjoyed good working relationships with people, regardless of party.
I don’t care whether an idea is a Democratic idea or a Republican idea. All I care about is whether it’s a good idea and will help people of our state including our rural areas.
Electric Consumer: If you are elected, what issues facing rural Indiana are you most looking forward to tackling?
Bayh: Broadband access is obviously an important one. Infrastructure improvements are important, helping small business which tends to be more highly concentrated and important in smaller communities, rural communities, that’s important. By definition our ag-sector’s important to rural parts of our state.
But also things that would not just affect rural Indiana but the state more broadly, college affordability for example. I think that’s very important because increasingly you get paid for what you know. And yet a college education, even to a place like my alma mater, Indiana University, or my dad’s, Purdue, is increasingly difficult for middle class families to achieve. So, that’s something I’d like to focus on.
Young: I’m very concerned about some of our infrastructure issues, so I think that’s an area where I can add value. There are also a number of different social pathologies that affect both our rural communities and our inner cities, and I’d like to make sure that our government-support programs more effectively address those.
Right now, we’re experiencing serious opiate crisis, for example. There remains a number of things that we can do to help improve the lives of our at-risk and our vulnerable citizens in rural areas.
Electric Consumer: Electric cooperatives brought electric power to unserved areas of the country back in the 1930s and ’40s. And nowadays, we’re not only providing electricity, but we’re providing other services in the communities we serve. What do you see as the role of electric cooperatives in the 21st century?
Young: Electricity remains tantamount to 21st century existence, right? So, you’ll continue to play that very essential role. You’re clearly finding some other areas that we now associate with the 21st century existence that you’re investing in, broadband being among them. There may well be an increasing role, in terms of the health services that our cooperatives are starting to offer in some areas.
Bayh: It’s primarily economic — providing consumers and our businesses with reliable, affordable electricity. But the role of being a good community and corporate citizen goes way beyond just dollars and cents. And that’s one of the reasons I’m very proud of our cooperatives, for being involved with local charitable activities, local civic organizations.
Electric Consumer: Indiana’s electric cooperatives have expressed strong concerns about the Clean Power Plan ever since it was unveiled, specifically, its projected impacts on electricity affordability and reliability. What is your opinion of the Clean Power Plan?
Bayh: I don’t support the Clean Power Plan because I think it would have a disproportionately negative impact on our state … [We need to allow] plants that are already in operation to fulfill their useful life. Closing them prematurely would impose tremendous costs upon rate payers in rural Indiana, and would harm businesses because rates would go up. We need to do something about global warming, but I don’t favor the Clean Power Plan.
Young: The Clean Power Plan is absolutely misguided policy. It reflects the same policies that the Obama administration and many liberals in Congress tried to pass through as legislation called “cap and trade.” Its objective is the same: To put coal miners out of work; to make our electric power more expensive. It’s environmental policy masquerading as energy policy.
Instead, I think we need to go a different direction. My preference would be to make sure that we have an all-of-the-above energy policy that allows for continued use of low-cost, affordable electric generation, like coal power. That’s so important here in Indiana, especially to our seniors, those on fixed incomes, and those who work in the manufacturing industry.
Electric Consumer: According to a recent study, 54 counties in Indiana have seen a decline in population. Almost all of those counties are considered rural and are primarily served by electric cooperatives. In addition to increased economic opportunities, what are some other policies or legislative initiatives that you support to help these areas of the state remain attractive for Hoosiers?
Young: Well, there’s all sorts of infrastructure, if you broaden the meaning of the term, that we can bring. So, beyond the hard infrastructure of telecommunications and roads and bridges and other improvements, there are certain social infrastructures we should be investing in: services that we offer to rural residents, like telemedicine and making sure that every Hoosier in a rural area has access to primary care physicians.
Telemedicine is a way for doctors to serve patients without being with them in person. It increases the access to care through greater convenience to our rural residents, especially our senior citizens who live in rural areas.
I want to remove whatever barriers might exist to ensuring that rural residents enjoy, if not all, many of the same amenities as people who live in more densely populated areas.
Bayh: Access to broadband is vitally important. Without that today, it’s very difficult to be plugged into not only the economy but the other aspects of society. Infrastructure improvements, roads and bridges, clearly that’s important.
Smaller, more rural, parts of the state sometimes are overlooked in that regard. I mentioned also education, whether it’s K through 12 or access to college: very, very important.
Electric Consumer: Broadband accessibility is one issue that falls under rural infrastructure. A recent report from the Federal Communications Commission points out that 52 percent of Indiana is under-served based on the FCC’s new minimum standards. What role, if any, do you see the federal government playing in helping Indiana bridge the digital divide?
Bayh: There are proposals at the federal level to provide grants for rural areas, smaller communities, through the states or directly. I would support those.
One of the good things I recall about the Senate is there are more states with rural areas than there are states that are just completely dominated by urban areas. And so there can be a good working consensus on a bipartisan basis for things like broadband access and infrastructure improvement in rural areas. Although there may be more people in our country in the urban areas, you just get out a map and you can see that there are a lot of smaller communities in rural areas in the vast majority of the states. And senators usually are smart enough to know that.
Young: I see a collaboration between different levels of government and non-governmental entities, as well. We’re already seeing some unique relationships based on a pilot program that I know our rural electrics are familiar with at the federal [level]. The federal government provides certain monies to rural communities, and I know a number of our cooperatives are looking at this. And, then they can, in turn, use these monies to go out and either provide rural broadband themselves and try and come up with a viable business model, or partner with others to do so.
Building on these initial steps, we’ll learn a lot of lessons over the course of this pilot program. And we’ll scale up those approaches that are working, perhaps by using a combination of federal monies and other money. And, we will dispense with those approaches that we find aren’t economically viable and where you don’t get as much bang for the buck.
But, regardless of what we find, it’s clear that there will be a real need for 21st century communications technology — broadband in our rural communities — if we really want to keep this nation bound together. Otherwise, you won’t have as many people starting businesses in our rural communities. We’ll lose all the opportunities that are created from economic development. Some people would choose to move into more urban settings.
Electric Consumer: As you know, no ones seems to be happy with Washington. Voter frustration seems to define the 2016 elections. What do you feel is feeding this sentiment?
Young: Indiana’s a pretty conservative state. What Hoosiers really want out of Washington, D.C., and why they’re frustrated is they want us to be able to work together. But, they want us to be able to forge consensus around conservative ideas. Those ideas aren’t shared by everybody. It’s not easy when you have two parties at the national level where the philosophy of government is very different. There are principle disagreements, right? Democrats aren’t bad people; they’re good people. Republicans are good people. But at the national level, you tend to have a more conservative party in the Republicans, a more liberal party in the Democrats.
What I’ve been so proud of is that I’ve had a lot of success, just over the last five and a half or so years since I’ve been in office, forging consensus around conservative ideas between Republicans and Democrats, and being able to move these solutions to real problems, from health care to economic development to higher education, post-secondary skills, you name it, infrastructure. And, move them through the process. Get some things actually signed into law. And so, that’s really why I want to go to the Senate is to take this skill set into the United States Senate.
Now, over about the last six years since I’ve been in office, partisanship has only gotten worse. For those who’ve decided that they’ve been unable to do things in this sort of atmosphere in years past to now enter the fray and do this would be very difficult. I’ve shown I can operate in a divisive atmosphere but still get things done on behalf of Hoosiers.
Bayh: Oh, this could be a fairly long answer. All you have to do is turn on your television or pick up the newspaper to see why people are mad at Washington. We’ve got real challenges as a society, whether it’s our economy, whether it’s college affordability, quality accessible health care, infrastructure, you know all the rest.
Most people are concerned about the direction of the country. They love our country, but they know we have our work cut out for us. And then they look to Washington and see our elected leaders who we pay to do something about all this, and all they do is fight with one another. Whether it’s ideological divisions, partisan divisions, and nothing gets done.
Well, you know, in your cooperatives, in our smaller towns and rural areas, that’s not how life works. People sit down around a table, and they try and resolve their differences and find common ground. And it’s just not happening in Congress today. That’s why people are mad because it’s harmful to the country. It’s also just so divorced from the experience in their daily lives.
I sometimes ask audiences, “Any of you here married?” A lot of hands go up. And then I’ll say, “So, how would your marriage work if you said, ‘Sweetheart, I just want you to know I expect to get my way 100 percent of the time.’?” Well, it’s not going to work out real well.
My point simply is: They’re fighting over political power rather than remembering why they’re there — which is to actually help the people who voted for them.
Electric Consumer: There is a common belief that Congress has ceded more of its legislative authority to the executive branch. Do you agree with that premise? If so, what should Congress do to reclaim it’s oversight responsibilities?
Bayh: Yes, Congress has ceded authority to the executive branch of government. I don’t think they intended to. But, the divisiveness and the gridlock means nothing gets done. And so, presidents of both parties have looked at that and said, “Well if I can’t get legislation passed, I have two other areas where I can act more on my own.”
One is with more rules and regulations. And I think we’ve probably got to the point where we have more than enough of that. We probably have got to have a time-out on that because it’s having a depressing effect on the economy. And the other area is foreign policy where presidents tend to act more unilaterally.
Congress only has itself to blame. If they were being more productive,
then, perhaps, presidents would pursue a legislative path.
I will make this pledge to your readers, your members. That is: I will work with anyone regardless of party, regardless of philosophy, to try to resolve the challenges that we face in our daily lives. If I look across the aisle and I see someone who I disagree with on 99 out of 100 issues, I’m going to approach that person and say, “Well, there’s one thing we can work on, so let’s do that.”
That’s the kind of attitude we need rather than just a strident partisanship and ideological gridlock where too many of the members out there are saying, “It’s my way or the highway. I want 100 percent.”
That wasn’t Ronald Reagan’s attitude. He said if he could get 70 percent of what he wanted in a negotiation, he’d take that in a heartbeat. It wasn’t LBJ’s attitude. He said, “Any man that’s not willing to settle for half a loaf of bread in a negotiation, well that man never went to bed hungry.”
Think about that. The public is hungry for progress, and we have political leaders who are saying, “You know what? Compromise is the equivalent of betrayal.”
Our constitution is one big compromise. We wouldn’t have a United States of America if they hadn’t been able to get together and reconcile some pretty profound differences. We would have had 13 individual countries, and, in fact, under the Articles of Confederation, they tried a different approach for a while. It didn’t work real well. That’s what’s going on. You’ve got to put progress and practicality ahead of ideology and partisanship.
Young: Yes. They should pass the legislation that I put forward, which is now part of the Republican national platform, and every Republican presidential candidate has campaigned on. It’s called the REINS Act [Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny]. It would require every major regulation that comes out of our alphabet soup agencies to come before Congress for an up or down vote before it can actually take effect. Now, of course, this would also apply to massive bills that have been passed in recent years, usually in a really partisan way. An example would be Obamacare. That legislation is still being written through the regulatory process.
Rather than delegating such significant powers to the executive branch, we need to put the people back in charge. And the REINS Act would require your member of Congress, your United States senator, to have to own each of these major regulations so that each of us can hold our elected representatives accountable.
I’m very proud to have worked with our rural electric community on this initiative. I know you’re supportive of it, and it will improve the lives of your members. I think we have a really good chance of seeing it into law.
Electric Consumer:You’ve talked about being able to successfully navigate a divisive or partisan divide in Washington. With that in mind, if you had to identify just one, what legislative accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
Young: It would probably be our Social Impact Partnerships to Pay for Results Act. [It] would transform how we do welfare in this country — rather than having 80 or so programs to serve the poor, the vulnerable, the at-risk populations throughout Indiana and beyond, most of which aren’t serving our Hoosiers very well.
I think we need to establish more public-private partnerships with things that are working in our local communities. There are not-for-profits. There are churches. And there are even for-profit businesses that are making meaningful differences in the lives of foster children who want to find forever homes. That are figuring out how to reduce the rates of recidivism in our prisons. That are figuring out how to get people who are long-term unemployed integrated back into the workforce so that they can lead the dignified lives, improve their circumstances, and contribute to their community the way that most Hoosiers want to.
My legislation creates a mechanism for private individuals to scale up these things that we know that work in other areas, including our rural communities. And then, assuming lives are improved, we pay back the investors out of future government savings. To use an example that is really grounded here in Indiana where I live, we have a real problem with too many premature births in this state. And if we can reduce the number of pre-term births, that saves a lot of Medicaid money. And even special education dollars, because one’s mental, intellectual development is sometimes stunted because of poor maternal care.
There’s a solution out there called the Nurse Family Partnership that we know improves the maternal health of the child. It reduces preterm births and improves educational outcomes over years. And so, right now, there are countless opportunities to take that into communities across America, save money, improve lives, make sure that everyone can lead the meaningful life that we want them to. This is the effort that passed unanimously out of the House of Representatives recently.
The Obama administration has said they will sign this into law and, I’m hopeful it can pass out of the Senate.
Bayh: Well, it’s hard to pick just one. So, I won’t. I really appreciated being able to sign the largest tax cut in the history of the state when we cut the auto excise tax in half. I think it was good when I was governor we left the state with the largest budget surplus in state history.
I’d pick the 21st Century Scholars program which our governor, Mike Pence, a Republican governor, was kind enough to name for me two months ago. There we are: Democratic governor, Republican state senate, Republican House of Representatives enacted a law that has enabled 70,000 of our young people to go on and get some higher education. And many of them and their parents came up to me at that ceremony and said this changed their lives.
They wouldn’t have been able to get a college education without that. That’s the kind of thing we should be doing. It’s good for them, but it’s going to be good for all of us because they’re better tax payers, better citizens, better employees. That’s the sort of thing that I think we should do more of in Washington.
Final thing I’d say is the last thing I got done in the Senate that the president signed three days after I left. Again, I worked with a Republican senator: Sen. Collins from Maine. We brought together all the different efforts at the federal level to combat Alzheimer’s disease.
So it’s hard all the way across the board. And more money’s been added to that program. This last spring, both Sen. Collins and I were honored by the National Alzheimer’s Association for that legislation. And the head of the organization leaned over to me and said, “I just hope you know how many millions of lives this effort has touched.”
That’s what we ought to be doing. Alzheimer’s doesn’t single out Democrats or Republicans. It doesn’t single out liberals or conservatives. It affects all — all of us, potentially. As a civil rights leader once said, “We may have arrived on these shores in different ships, but we’re on the same boat now.” It’s about time we started behaving that way.
Electric Consumer: Finally, what three words would your wife use to describe you?
Bayh: I think she would say that I’m a “good father & husband.” And I couldn’t think of anything nicer someone could say about me.
Young: Probably on any given day, she’d probably say I’m “a regular guy.”.
No matter who you support, Indiana’s electric cooperatives ask that you please vote Nov. 8.