Jobs, education top agendas of state Senate candidates
By Christin Nance Lazerus email@example.com October 28, 2012 11:56PM
Dave Bartman/Post-Tribune Head and shoulders Ed Charbonneau for columnist mug on 03/16/04. Charbonneau_Ed-USS_04
Updated: November 30, 2012 6:02AM
Jobs and education are the top issues for the two candidates in the race for the District 5 State Senate seat.
District 5 covers southern and eastern Porter County, along with portions of LaPorte, Jasper, Starke, Pulaski, Marshall and St. Joseph counties.
Former Methodist Hospitals CEO Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, has served in the Indiana Senate for five years, while Portage teacher Deb Porter, his Democratic opponent, is seeking office for the first time.
But Porter, who teaches music at Crisman and Myers Elementary schools, is no stranger to the Indiana General Assembly, having traveled there often to speak with officials about the ways to improve education and economic issues. Porter decided to run for the state due to her dissatisfaction with Charbonneau’s votes in favor of charter school expansion and the private school voucher program.
“It seemed very clear to me that my senator was not paying attention to his constituents,” Porter said. “If our elected officials are not representing the needs and concerns of their constituents then we have lost our voice in representative government.”
Porter is critical of much of the education legislation that has been passed since 2011, with more than $600 million in cuts to public education. Early childhood education is a critical area where the state needs to make some changes, she said.
“One thing we definitely need is to lower the mandatory attendance age,” Porter said. “By time a child turns 7, most of other states’ children have been in school in school for two years. They’re missing windows of opportunity to make those neural pathways in children.”
By investing in preschool programs, the state would also increase the earning power of working parents by lowering the cost of day care.
“It all goes back to jobs,” Porter said. “We need high-paying jobs with benefits. With most of my parents, very few are unemployed, but they work two or three part-time jobs between $9 and $12 an hour with no benefits. When a kid gets sick, they have to stay home and lose their jobs.”
Charbonneau said many of the policies passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly have created a climate that will lure more high-paying jobs to the state as the economy improves.
“We’ve positioned the state of Indiana in every way you want to measure to a business-friendly state,” Charbonneau said. “That is what is going to pay dividends as the economy turns around and companies start investing again.”
The partisan debates of the last two years have served as a learning curve in Charbonneau’s first full term as a senator, but he prides himself on listening to differing viewpoints and backing legislation that benefits the state and individuals. Forcing government to live within its means — not spending more than is take in — has guided legislators in their policy making.
“Our focus on jobs and education won’t matter if we fall back into bad habits,” he said. “It’s a no-brainer concept that other states have trouble with.”
Charbonneau said early learning is the next education area where legislators need to focus.
“It’s pretty clear that early development can pay huge dividends in children’s futures,” he said. “We’ve gone through a lot of changes, and we need to make sure we have excellent, well-paid teachers in the classroom. One bill, if we were ever able to enforce it, would be to encourage well-functioning families. I was very blessed with my parents.”