By Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
With all the noise of the modern political campaign, is it possible to get candidates to sit down for a thoughtful conversation about critical state policy issues that aren’t sure-fire vote-getters?
Maybe, if that conversation is presided over by Indiana’s longest serving chief justice.
Next Tuesday, retired Indiana Supreme Court chief justice Randall Shepard will conduct a series of “public conversations” with the Republican, Democratic and Libertarian candidates who each want to be the next governor of Indiana.
Shepard’s aim, he said, is to engage those candidates in dialogues about things that have long-term impact on the state’s health and wealth, and to do in a way “separated from the normal election din.”
“It’s clear to us there’s an appetite for this — for straightforward, calm conversations about important public policy issues,” Shepard said.
The event, officially titled “Policy Choices for Indiana’s Future Gubernatorial Forum.” is hosted by Indiana University’s Public Policy Institute, where Shepard became the Institute’s first executive-in-residence after he retired in May.
The three gubernatorial candidates on the November ballot — Republican candidate Mike Pence, Democrat John Gregg and Libertarian Rupert Boneham — will all participate in the forum.
Tickets for the event are already gone, but the public can watch it live via webstream on the Institute’s website at policyinstitute.iu.edu. Indiana’s public broadcasting stations will also be taping the event and airing it later.
Shepard will talk to each candidate, in back-to-back-to-back conversations, about major policy issues identified during an 18-month research initiative conducted by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute.
That research initiative identified some of the tough decisions that Indiana policy makers face when it comes to such issues as public investment in education, balancing energy needs with the protection of the environment, and state and local tax policies that impact public services.
They’re not issues that are easily reduced to sound bites or campaign slogans, Shepard said. But they are the issues that voters do care about it, he believes.
Shepard said the decision by the Public Policy Institute to host the gubernatorial forum was made in part to prove a point: to demonstrate that there is still room for civility in politics.
“We’d like to prove people in this political age still are prepared to make time for this kind of discourse on policy issues,” Shepard said.
Shepard’s role as moderator is critical, said John Krauss, director of the Public Policy Institute. Krauss said Shepard was a highly respected jurist known for putting politics aside when he issued rulings from the bench.
Shepard was a Republican appointee to the court, but made his independence known in such politically charged decisions like the one he wrote in 1988, on a residency question, that cleared the way for Democrat Evan Bayh to run for governor. Bayh won, beating the GOP candidate.
“He’s the ideal person to moderate this forum,” said Krauss. “He rose above partisan politics on the court and convinced people that there is higher purpose in thinking about Indiana’s future.”
The questions that Shepard will be asking the candidates at the gubernatorial forum come from research done by the Public Policy Institute, published in a report called Policy Choices for Indiana. The report can be found on the Institute’s website, policyinstitute.iu.edu.
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.