District 48 state rep hopefuls differ on vouchers, right-to-work, smoking
Posted: 04/25/2012 at 1:15 am
By: Tim Vandenack
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Three Bethany Middle School students watch as other students play at recess 4/24/2012. Bethany Christian Schools is a local private school that has benefited from the state schools voucher program. (Truth Photo by J. Tyler Klassen)
High school students at Bethany Christian School get lunch and settle into tables in the school's cafeteria 4/24/2012. Bethany Christian Schools is a local private school that has benefited from the state schools voucher program. (Truth Photo by J. Tyler Klassen)
High school students select dessert during lunch period at Bethany Christian School 4/24/2012. Bethany Christian Schools is a local private school that has benefited from the state schools voucher program. (Truth Photo by J. Tyler Klassen)
Bethany Christian High School senior Abi Zarate works in the school's media center 4/24/2012. Bethany Christian Schools is a local private school that has benefited from the state schools voucher program. (Truth Photo by J. Tyler Klassen)
Bethany Christian High School junior Sadie Gustafson-Zook eats lunch with other students at the school 4/24/2012. Bethany Christian Schools is a local private school that has benefited from the state schools voucher program. (Truth Photo by J. Tyler Klassen)
But the three GOP hopefuls for the District 48 seat in the Indiana House of Representatives are hardly carbon copies:
• The incumbent, Tim Neese, and one of his challengers, Randall Weinley, back the smoking law implemented during the last legislative session that prohibits lighting up in most work places. Jerry Brewton, the other challenger, opposes the measure and sees such laws as a step down the slipperly slope toward undue government intervention.
• Brewton, who runs an Elkhart-area insurance agency and lives in Bristol, favors school vouchers, providing state funds to parents to help cover the cost of sending their kids to private schools. Neese does not, while Weinley, a heavy machine operator from Bristol, said he’d need more information on the topic before formulating a stance.
• Weinley is critical of the right-to-work law passed by state lawmakers in the last legislative session and might even push for its repeal if elected. Neese, director of the Solid Waste Management District of Elkhart County, and Brewton both favor the measure, which prohibits unions from requiring that workers pay union dues.
The three face off in the May 8 GOP primary and with no Democratic contender in the race, the winner faces likely election to the post in the November general election.
District 48, when the new legislative session starts next year, will include northern Elkhart, covering Cleveland, Osolo and Washington townships and part of northern Concord township in northwestern Elkhart County. The district, under its current parameters, extends into northeastern St. Joseph County, but was shifted with redistricting brought on by the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau head count.
WHERE THEY STAND
The three hopefuls, in separate interviews, sounded off on the above topics and more and here’s a comparison of where they stand on some key issues:
• Unemployment: The three candidates are mindful of the need for more jobs in Elkhart County to help bolster the local economy, say it’s perhaps the most pressing issue here. But creating posts is no easy task, and though they bang the jobs drum, they were short on specific measures to address the problem.
Weinley said he’d visit thriving businesses and ask the gainfully employed for their input in a bid to generate ideas.
Neese said he’d vote for job-related legislation, but indicated there’s not much specifically lawmakers can do to drum up posts. Job creation has to be a joint effort between state agencies and locales to formulate incentive packages to spur new business and jobs.
Government can’t create jobs, said Brewton, but government can make sure it’s easier for the private sector to do so. Special tax credits to promote development of vacant buildings might be one means to spur job growth.
• Smoking: Brewton, in an interview, initially expressed mixed feelings on the idea of a law cracking down on smoking in public. “I’m just so torn on that one,” he said.
Later, in an e-mail, he came down against such legislation.
“Although I view smoking as an offensive habit....and I appreciate a smoke-free environment...in the final analysis I would vote AGAINST a smoking ban,” he said in the email. “Reason: Opens the door for more government intervention in our personal lives.”
Neese voted for the legislation out of concern about the health consequences of second-hand smoke and thought maybe it didn’t go far enough. The new law prohibits smoking in most work places, but exempts bars and casinos, among other locales.
“I didn’t agree with all of the exemptions. I’m of the opinion that the majority rules, but the majority isn’t always right,” Neese said. That said, he doesn’t plan to pursue toughening of the law, though the groundwork is laid with last session’s new law.
Weinley echoed Neese — he favors the new law and thought it could have gone further. “You’ve got to respect the right of people who do not smoke,” Weinley said.
• Vouchers: Neese voted against legislation in 2011 creating the state’s school voucher program, which allows use of public funds to help certain families defray the cost of sending their children to private and parochial schools.
Though he backs school choice, Neese also backs separation of church and state. With provision of state money via the voucher program, the state can now place some demands on private schools, something he sees as government interference. The government is allowed to inspect schools that accept voucher funds and set guidelines on curriculum and teacher quality.
Rather than vouchers, Neese would back granting private businesses tax credits for donating to private schools.
Brewton backs vouchers, saying they provide lower-income families with a measure of school choice. Sure the option of private schools is there for everyone, “but most families don’t have a choice because they can’t afford it,” he said.
Vouchers also foment a measure of competition between public and private schools and in his view, Brewton said, “competition is good for just about everything.”
Weinley said he’d need more information on the topic before weighing in.
• Right-to-work: Weinley sounded a pro-blue collar message and expressed opposition to right-to-work legislation, seen by critics as a means of weakening labor unions. “We’re workers. We take lunches to work. We are the working people of Elkhart County,” he said.
Still, his message was somewhat tempered. He said he would pursue repeal of the right-to-work legislation, on the one hand, but also said he’d have to first dig up more information on the matter if elected.
Weinley is backed by an organization called the Lunch Pail Republicans Political Action Committee, which views right-to-work legislation as overstepping the bounds of what government should do.
Neese backs the right-to-work legislation, viewed by supporters as a means of luring in new business. Citing Indiana Economic Development Corp. data, he said since the new law’s implementation it’s factored in 39 companies’ decision to consider expansion in Indiana, including seven firms that have since located in the state or plan to.
Brewton, too, favors right-to-work legislation. “I would be opposed to the idea of trying to break unions, but I don’t think anyone should be forced to join one,” he said.
• Health care: Neese-sponsored legislation passed during the last session to create a health care compact in the state. That would let the state withdraw from requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — President Obama’s health care reform measure — and implement its own health care reform measures.
What’s right in another state may not be right here, Neese said. What’s more, he fears the Affordable Care Act could prompt some employers to lay off workers to keep their firms below employment thresholds at which they’d otherwise be required to provide health care.
The next step is lobbying the U.S. Congress for the necessary enabling legislation, a necessary complement to the state compact legislation. Neese, however, was short on particulars on how to go about securing support from the feds, though he said he’d be lobbying them.
Brewton offered positive words for the compact legislation, labeling it “an alternative to Obamacare,” critics’ name for the Affordable Care Act. But he’s also mindful of the obstacle of securing enabling legislation from federal lawmakers.
“I think it’s a good idea. I just don’t see it happening anytime soon,” he said. He doesn’t like the idea of government being involved in health care, but prefers being able to craft health care reform measures at the state level rather than having something imposed by the feds.
Weinley seemed skeptical of the Affordable Care Act, but said he’d have to delve more deeply into the notion of a health care compact before weighing in.
The three GOP District 48 hopefuls
Name: Jerry Brewton
Job: Owner, Brewton Insurance Agency in the Elkhart area
Elective office held: Concord Community Schools board, 1991-1998
Personal: Married, two children
Name: Tim Neese
Job: Director, Solid Waste Management District of Elkhart County
Elective office held: District 48 rep, 2003 to present, now seeking sixth term; Elkhart City Council member, 1988-2002
Personal: Married, three children
Name: Randall Weinley
Job: Independent heavy construction equipment operator
Elective office held: None
Personal: Divorced, three children