Chesterton Tribune



Fish and Harper vie for Democrat State Representative nomination

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Pamela Misher Fish and Jesse Harper



On Tuesday, May 3, Democrats Jesse Harper and Pamela Mishler Fish will vie for their party’s nomination to the 4th District seat in the Indiana House of Representatives, currently held by Republican Ed Soliday, who is running unopposed for the GOP nomination.

The Chesterton Tribune invited Harper and Mishler to respond to a questionnaire.

The Tribune reserved the right to edit the responses for length.

(1) Age, place of residence, occupation.

Fish: 55; Union Township; president of Midwest Environmental Systems, Inc.

Harper: 46; Valparaiso; owner of JBH Productions, Inc., a film and video production company, and a second-year student at the Valparaiso University School of Law.

(2) What are your qualifications for office? (75 words)

Fish: Degree in public and environmental affairs, Indiana University. For 25 years president and CEO of Midwest Environmental Systems, Inc. Porter County Clerk. Served on the following, among others: Union Township School Board, Porter County Election Board, Porter County Redevelopment Commission, Porter County Construction Wage Commission, Porter County Domestic Violence Commission, Porter County Museum Board, U.S. Highway 6 Corridor Development Steering Committee, Valparaiso Downtown Parking Committee, and Northwest Indiana Youth Jobs Council.

Harper: I believe we need to move past the mind set that political offices are only open to those that have the “right” resume and education. The most important qualifications are the desire to serve the community and the belief that accomplishments are still possible through the legislative and political processes. I possess both.

(3) Differentiate yourself from your opponent and indicate why you believe yourself to be a better candidate. (100 words)

Fish: Being a long-time resident and business owner in Northwest Indiana, I understand many of the problems we face. Serving on the numerous boards and commissions over the years has granted me the opportunity to work with many individuals on solutions to improve our communities. During my tenure on the Indiana Clerk’s legislative team, I gained experience in drafting legislation, testifying at Indiana House and Senate Committee hearings. Success in this position requires a diversified background in many key areas as well as knowing what is important to your constituents.

Harper: I have the experience and energy necessary to fight for everyday Hoosiers and stand up against Governor Pence and the Republican super-majority. On the Indiana Dunes Tourism Board, I was the lone “no” vote against the Pavilion Partners project. As a volunteer, I helped legal immigrants navigate the citizenship process and obtain the American Dream. And as a small-business owner, I’ve built a film-production business that has employed Hoosiers and earned respect in our community. I believe fiercely that we need to move Indiana government into the 21st century, and I’ll fight for those values in the House.

(4) What are the key issues in this race? (125 words)

Fish: First, good-paying jobs. Although Indiana touts 4.6-percent unemployment, the jobs being created don’t pay enough to sustain a living, with little disposable income. Increasing dark fiber for high-tech manufacturing and utilizing economic development funds for building SPEC buildings will create good-paying jobs.

Second, public education. The General Assembly has shifted the burden of adequately funding public education from the state to local school boards via referendum elections. So far, three out of four 4th District school districts have passed referendum elections just to pay bills.

Meanwhile, our roads and bridges are crumbling and drug abuse is increasing.

Finally, when a local board makes a decision the state does not agree with, the General Assembly passes a bill overturning that decision.

Harper: The nullification of local ordinances and reversal of decisions of legitimate local boards by the legislature. Restoring Indiana’s reputation by prohibiting discrimination against LGBT Hoosiers and respecting the rights of women. Rebuilding Indiana’s crumbling infrastructure without increasing taxes on the middle-class men and women of Indiana. Recruiting and retaining great teachers. We need to restore respect to public education and Indiana’s educators by stopping the continued attacks on public education and the attempts to legislate fixes to problems that don’t exist.

(5) What is the best strategy for long-term funding of state transportation infrastructure needs? (125 words)

Fish: Indiana collects 7-percent sales tax on gasoline. Currently, only about 14 percent of that tax collected goes towards road and bridge repair. In 2015, Indiana collected approximately $489 million on gas sales taxes and $36 million on special fuels taxes giving a combined total of $525 million. If that tax money and $500 million of the $2.1 billion of taxpayer money held in reserve were used, we would not need to increase per gallon taxes, wheel taxes, and issue bonds for road and bridge repairs. Currently, the majority of that tax money is shifted to the Indiana General Fund to be spent on special projects and other things. Let’s first utilize this funding before automatically raising taxes.

Harper: A majority of the moneys collected from Indiana’s gas tax should be allocated to fund new roads and highway improvements. Indiana has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the country; we can set a minimum for this rate to ensure it doesn’t drop even lower and use the projected corporate savings to fund road and infrastructure improvements.

(6) What can be done to reduce the financial burden of higher education costs on Indiana students and families? (125 words)

Fish: Unfortunately, starting salaries of college graduates haven’t kept up with the 400-percent increase in college tuition costs over the past 20 years. The current U.S. college debt is about $1.2 trillion. There are ways to combat the skyrocketing costs of college. First, encourage high school students to take dual credit classes, at $25 to $75 per credit hour versus $300 per hour on campus. Second, encourage them to start at a local two-year college. Third, some schools offer tuition waivers for teachers and veterans. Fourth, with dual credit and summer school, students can earn a degree in three years instead of four. Fifth, in-state college is cheaper than out-of-state and most state schools are cheaper than private ones.

Harper: The cost of higher education is not only an Indiana problem, but also a national problem. No one should be burdened with decades of debt in order to attain an education. Indiana needs to adequately fund higher education so that costs are not passed on to students in the form of higher tuition. Additionally, state leaders should lobby the federal government to better fund federal grants for low-income students who wish to pursue a college education. Indiana also has to find better and more creative ways to fund our community colleges, which help so many working men and women pursue a higher education.

(7) Do you support or oppose Pavilion Partners’ plans to build a banquet center at the beach in the Indiana Dunes State Park and why? (125 words)

Fish: I do not support giving publicly owned state park property to any private for-profit organization. The amount of Lake Michigan shoreline in Indiana is so minimal when you compare it to Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan, dividing it up and doling it out to private entities is wrong. This land was designated as a park for the Indiana taxpayers and should remain as such. As far as repairing the Dunes Pavilion, Indiana has designated $26 million to building a hotel at Potato Creek State Park which receives approximately 1.5 million visitors per year. Indiana Dunes State Park receives approximately 3.1 million visitors per year. Wouldn’t repairing the Dunes Pavilion make more sense to our state government?

Harper: I oppose the plan to build a banquet center and was the lone “no” vote on the Tourism Board against it. I believe that there is a place for public/private partnerships, especially where the state has refused to fund our state parks; however, I think there was a lack of transparency and public input in regards to the renovation of the Dunes Pavilion. Furthermore, I believe that the proposed construction of an entirely new building (banquet center) will forever damage the natural beauty and wildlife of the park. I would support the renovation of the Pavilion by a private group, but cannot support the annexation of additional public land to be used for private profit.

(8) Do you support the enactment of HB 1386, which overturned the actions of the state and local regulators to give DNR sole authority over alcohol in Indiana state parks? (125 words)

Fish: Indiana has a very dismal voter turnout record compared to other states. When the General Assembly does not like the results of an election of a candidate, as in the case of Glenda Ritz being the Director of the Indiana Board of Education, or a local board denying an alcohol permit, they pass legislation overturning the results. That is a very slippery slope to go down. It essentially removes the voting rights of voters and local boards. It tells each, “If you don’t vote the way we want you to vote, we will just overturn the result at the next Indiana General Assembly session.” Indiana voters and local boards will lose faith in our democratic voting process. Who could blame them?

Harper: I vehemently oppose HB 1386 which is essentially a usurpation of local control over a local issue. Over the last several years we have seen the Indiana legislature pass several laws that strip cities and municipalities of local ordinances and decisions. From a ban on local bans of plastic bags to attempts to override cities’ human rights ordinances, the legislature has decided it knows what is best for local governments and the people they represent. Moreover, I feel that HB 1386 was passed for a specific entity, the Pavilion Partners, and I fully believe this is a violation of the Indiana Constitution.

(9) Without resorting to cliche or formula, explain how you would strike a balance between the conflicting urgings of professional lobbyists, campaign donors, state bureaucrats, constituents, citizens at large, and your own conscience. (100 words)

Fish: The most important element of being a good elected official is to find out what concerns your constituents have. Of course not all people agree on issues. However, representing the majority must be the main objective. Supporting legislation that benefits a select group of individuals and does harm to the masses is not an example of good government. Doing extensive research and speaking with constituents before voting on issues is paramount to successfully representing the people of your district. As Indiana House 4th District Representative, I would do exactly that.

Harper: As a state legislator I will only be guided by the needs of my constituents and my conscience; however, for this to work, there needs to be more lines of communication between our legislators and those we serve. I will make it easy for constituents to contact and meet with me, and will also work to enhance transparency and “fair warning,” to better alert the people of the 4th District before legislation is voted upon and passed.



Posted 4/4/2016




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