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Lt. Gov. nominees debate future of Hoosier agriculture

Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Christina Hale, right, speaks Tuesday during a State Fair debate with Republican nominee Suzanne Crouch, left, about the future of Indiana agriculture. Moderator Gerry Dick stands between the candidates.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Republican and Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor are both pledging, if elected, to use their role as Indiana’s secretary of agriculture to support and protect Hoosier farmers, their livelihoods and rural communities.

A State Fair debate on agricultural issues Tuesday, between GOP State Auditor Suzanne Crouch and state Rep. Christina Hale, D-Indianapolis, showed the candidates have similar visions for maintaining and growing the state’s $11.2 billion agricultural sector.

Crouch and Hale stressed the need for state investment in local roads and bridges to ensure agricultural products can easily make it to market, while also promoting expanded broadband internet access to better connect rural producers and entrepreneurs to potential customers.

However, Crouch sent mixed signals by simultaneously dismissing the need for government involvement in agriculture with promises to ask the Republican-controlled General Assembly to fund infrastructure, ethanol plants, agricultural education, soil conservation programs, “Indiana Grown” marketing and tourism promotions.

She also diverged from the national Republican “America First” platform championed by Donald Trump and Gov. Mike Pence to enthusiastically endorse farm exports.

“We should be doing whatever we have to do to ensure that we have free trade and open markets for our commodities,” Crouch said.

Hale, who has been running for lieutenant governor for 11 weeks compared to Crouch’s one, was more specific in her prescriptions for rural development.

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She repeatedly touted the $200 million low-interest loan fund that her running mate, former House Speaker John Gregg, wants to make available to rural communities for infrastructure or economic development investments, and promised not to ignore opportunities for federal grants to the state or its residents.

“We’re not afraid to take money from the federal government,” Hale said. “Those are our tax dollars that we’ve already paid. We’d like to bring them back to Indiana so we can put them to work where it really counts.”

The Michigan City native also urged action to reduce rural methamphetamine production, encourage energy diversification, promote collaboration with industry leaders to limit the impact of state regulations and rethink how Hoosiers understand privacy on the farm and everywhere in the state.

“John Gregg and I bring a tremendous enthusiasm for agriculture’s role in our economy and you can count on that,” Hale said.

Curiously, Crouch never once in the hour-long debate mentioned her running mate, current Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, instead claiming her experience as a Vanderburgh County officeholder, state representative and state auditor will help her help farmers.

Debate organizers said the Libertarian candidate, Porter County’s Karl Tatgenhorst, did not respond to their invitation to participate.

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