Candidates focus on how to help the disabled at Highland forum
By Christin Nance Lazerus email@example.com October 30, 2012 6:14PM
Updated: December 1, 2012 4:51PM
HIGHLAND — Candidates for county, state and federal office spoke about their policy ideas — particularly on how to help intellectually and developmentally disabled citizens — at a Tuesday forum sponsored by The Arc of Indiana.
Kris Prohl, executive director of the Arc of Northwest Indiana, described a bit of what the organization does — job training and placement, running group homes, and training police on how to respond to the disabled — before opening the floor to the candidates.
“We teach people how to exercise their rights, and we focus on making people happy,” Prohl said. “One of the best things we do is to help them to be adults.”
Former County Councilman Thomas O’Donnell, who is running for the Indiana House District 15 seat, said it was tough cutting funding to the organization.
“It’s embarrassing that we cut funds for people who could use it so desperately,” O’Donnell, a Democrat, said.
County Councilman Rick Niemeyer, who is running for the District 11 House seat, said he’s learned about how critical training and transportation services are for the poor and disabled in his time as the West Creek Township assessor and trustee and as a board member for South Lake Community Services Corp. “You’re a good organization and people support you,” said Niemeyer, a Republican.
The Democratic candidate for State Senate District 5 — Deb Porter — said Portage Township Schools bypassed regulations that prevent special education students from getting the services they need quickly.
“I feel very strongly that students should graduate with a type of diploma that shows they have completed certain vocational education programs, so they are ready for the workforce,” Porter said.
Munster attorney Bill Fine, who is running as a Republican in House District 12, admitted he wasn’t very familiar with The Arc’s services, but he said it’s hard for legislators to fund every worthy project.
“I don’t want to stand here and say, ‘We will take care of you,’ ” Fine said.
District 12 state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon criticized Fine for calling funding for The Arc a “pet project.”
“There was $240 million that we promised you in the budget, but lo and behold the budget committee decides not to allocate that money,” Reardon said. “They’re balancing the budget, as Tom (O’Donnell) said, on the backs of Hoosiers.”
Republican Pam Drangmeister focused on her work ethic and efficiencies that she would implement if elected as Lake County recorder. “There will be oversight,” she said. “I will be there and make sure things are done.”
District 15 Republican candidate Hal Slager said the cuts the state implemented over the past few years were needed to balance the budget, but may have been more painful than necessary.
“We will have the luxury to loosen that a bit this year,” Slager said. “We’re starting to see lots of development going on.”
U.S. House District 1 Republican candidate Joel Phelps praised The Arc for helping to improve the lives of Hoosiers, and he committed to helping the organization restore lost funds.