Even though the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce election forum won’t take
place for another month, one candidate is debating the forum itself.
Porter County Commissioner President Robert Harper, D-Center, faxed to the
local newspapers a copy of a letter he sent to Valparaiso Chamber of
Commerce member Todd Etzler on Friday. Etzler is organizing the election
forum with co-chair Tina Bengs.
Harper, who is running as a Democrat, is one of the eight candidates the
chamber has invited to the Oct. 21 forum at the Memorial Opera House at 104
Indiana Ave. in Valparaiso.
In his letter to Etzler, Harper questions the forum’s intent of having the
questions be prepared in advance by the chamber, saying that the forums in
the past have been arranged and operated by League of Women Voters and the
local news media who would formulate and pose the questions.
Harper goes on to say that Etzler practices law with Valparaiso Mayor John
Costas, both working for Burke, Costanza & Cuppy LLP law firm, and that the
mayor is highly active with the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce being on the
board of directors.
Harper cites that Costas is backing Nancy Adam’s campaign who is Harper’s
Republican opponent in the November election. He said that Costas has
announced publicly that he will raise all the money he can for Adams, which
has already reached into the thousands.
Harper feels the chamber has opposed his stance against the county’s
involvement with regional partnerships like the Northwest Indiana Regional
Development Authority and the Northwest Indiana Regional Bus Authority and
others they would share with Lake County.
Calling for what he calls a fair and balanced debate, Harper said he would
like the chamber to ensure that the questions that are going to be asked are
kept hidden from the candidates and that the topics covered are fair.
“I respectfully request you to allow the press to run the questioning in
this forum.” Harper wrote to Etzler.
Phone calls to both Etzler and Bengs were placed by the Chesterton
Tribune this morning as to what their response will be.
Bengs said they currently do not know exactly what the format is going to be
or how the media would be involved. She said the chamber will be selecting
“independent” moderators to do the actual questions.
The chamber was not planning to exclude any group, Bengs said. She said the
League of Women’s Voters were offered the invitation to participate in the
questions but had declined this year.
The chamber is also trying to contact the Republican and Democrat clubs at
Valparaiso University to see if they would be interested in being involved.
Etzler said that the chamber is bi-partisan and does not select members
based on their political affiliation.
Bengs said three or four of the questions would be selected by the chamber.
One or two questions would come from the audience and that no question will
be selected to “blindside” a candidate.
This is the first time in at least four years the chamber would hold such a
forum. Bengs said the chamber stepped up to do a forum when it saw that no
other entity was interested in hosting one.
“We wanted to set up a place where the public can hear what each candidate
has to say,” said Bengs.
There will be a series of two forums at the opera house on Oct. 19 and 21.
The first will feature eight candidates running for state senator or
representative: Karen Tallian, Shawn Olson, Charlie Brown, John Schick, Tom
Webber, Ed Soliday, Chuck Mosley and Kenneth Kaminski.
The second night will feature county council and commissioner candidates:
Robert Harper, Nancy Adams, Bob Poparad, Jim Biggs, Jeremy Rivas, Karen
Conover, Marylyn Johns, and James Polark.
Both forums will be held at 7 p.m. Each candidate will give a two minute
introduction and will have one minute to answer each question posed.