-- Indiana’s Republican Senate primary has been characterized as one of the
nastiest GOP races this year.
candidates -- two U.S. House members and a businessman -- did not disappoint
at their first debate.
U.S. Rep. Todd
Rokita and Mike Braun, an independently wealthy businessman and former state
lawmaker, sparred last week over taxes, free trade and who was more of a
political outsider in the mold of President Donald Trump.
U.S. Rep. Luke
Messer bemoaned the attacks, suggesting they will only help Democratic Sen.
Joe Donnelly in the general election. Donnelly is one of the most endangered
Democrats in 2018, running in a state that Trump won by 19 percentage
Republicans are waging a bitter campaign -- both Rokita and Messer have
accused each other of being “unhinged” -- for the right to challenge
Donnelly. The primary is May 8.
Here’s a closer
look at some of the candidates’ claims during the debate:
REP. TODD ROKITA:
“Mr. Braun is responsible for the largest tax increase in Indiana history.”
THE FACTS: Braun, a
former state lawmaker, did vote for a package of tax and fee hikes,
including a 10-cent hike in the state’s per-gallon fuel tax in 2017. But so
did a lot of other Republicans in the Indiana Legislature. It was all part
of a Republican-backed effort, signed into law by GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb, to
pump an estimated $1.2 billion a year into improving the state’s crumbling
University economist Larry DeBoer says it’s misleading to characterize it as
the state’s largest tax increase.
“The most recent
(tax increase) is always the largest because of inflation,” said DeBoer, who
has studied taxation in the state for decades.
Once inflation is
taken into account, DeBoer said the largest tax hike in state history was
likely approved in 1983, when sales, income and corporate income taxes were
all increased to boost revenue during a recession.
What’s more, Rokita
once advocated for the same kind of fuel tax increase he is now attacking
Braun for supporting. In August 2015, Indiana’s neglected infrastructure
became a major political liability after an Interstate bridge in Rokita’s
district sank several inches, forcing a monthlong emergency closure.
been 19 or 20 states that have raised their gas tax, because the federal
government won’t, and as a result are going to have a better
infrastructure,” Rokita said at the time. “And by the way, I don’t know of a
politician that’s been unelected for that yet. So, I encourage all those in
elective office -- from the federal, to the state, to the local level -- to
look at these ideas.”
REP. LUKE MESSER:
“Obamacare is a terrible law for working families that needs to go away.”
However, later in the debate he touted Indiana’s Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0
program as “a successful program that’s been designed at the state level.”
THE FACTS: Messer
is trying to have it both ways. Indiana’s Healthy Indiana Plan, commonly
referred to as HIP 2.0, is funded almost entirely with Medicaid dollars made
available through former President Barack Obama’s signature law. The program
pays for medical care, including drug treatment, for more than 400,000
low-income Indiana residents.
Messer is hardly
the first Indiana Republican to obfuscate, or conveniently ignore that fact.
Vice President and former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, whose administration
designed and implemented HIP 2.0, has repeatedly denounced “Obamacare” while
touting his own program.
Messer has called
for repealing Obama’s law, which he would like to replace with federal block
grants to states. However, the proposals that have been put forth to do so
would have eviscerated funding for HIP 2.0 and likely resulted in many
Indiana residents losing their coverage.
Studies last year
by the consulting firm Avalere Health found that Indiana stood to lose up to
$7 billion between 2020 and 2027 under various repeal bills that were being
considered in Congress.
MIKE BRAUN: “I deal
with American manufacturers. We buy their products. I don’t know where they
get them made.”
THE FACTS: It would
be surprising that Braun does not know where the products sold by his auto
parts business, Meyer Distributing, are made. The former state lawmaker and
independently wealthy candidate, has built much of his campaign around the
claim that he is an expert businessman with technical know-how.
An online search
reveals that dozens of the companies listed on Meyer Distributing’s website
either sell or make products from foreign countries, among them China,
Canada, Germany and Mexico. Meyer Distributing’s home page also links to
some of their suppliers pages, with many clearly indicating that many aren’t
American companies -- counter to what Braun contends.
by the website Panjiva.com, which tracks imports and exports, show’s Braun’s
Jasper, Indiana, business has received shipments of goods from factories in
business characterizes itself as a nationwide distributor. Its home page
features icons of the Canadian and Mexican flags, which translate the page
into either French or Spanish with a click.