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Associated Press
The three candidates for Indiana governor, from left, Republican Mike Pence, Libertarian Rupert Boneham and Democrat John Gregg participate in a debate Wednesday in Zionsville.

Pence defends record, Gregg's criticism at debate

ZIONSVILLE – GOP governor candidate Mike Pence focused on his roadmap for Indiana during Indiana's first gubernatorial debate Thursday night while Democrat John Gregg took his opponent to task.

Gregg occasionally ignored questions to focus on Pence's record – from voting against the auto bailout, raising the debt ceiling five times, never passing a bill and regularly missing committee meetings.

"I know Mitch Daniels. Mitch Daniels is a friend of mine but he shows up to work every day," Gregg said of Pence invoking the governor in his remarks.

The six-term congressman eventually responded – pointing out that during five of six years when Gregg was House Speaker Indiana ran deficits.

"Just talking about bipartisanship isn't going to be good enough," Pence said, focusing on fiscal integrity. "You have to have a plan."

Gregg told reporters later he found it funny that a congressman would lecture a state legislator on balanced budgets given the runaway spending of the federal government.

And Gregg reminded everyone that during his tenure as speaker the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened and the economy shut down.

Libertarian Rupert Boneham also participated in the debate in Zionsville though the moderator skipped him several times.

"I'm used to being forgotten," he said while pushing for a "tripartisan" government.

Several themes were immediately clear in the debate.

Pence referred to his roadmap of ideas so many times – at least 10 – it began to illicit laughter. And he even opened the post-debate wrap-up with a joke on it.

But he said he focused on it because it provides a detailed set of ideas on which he would govern if elected.

"I'm uniquely qualified to take Indiana from good to great," Pence said. "That's what elections are all about – ideas."

Though known for his stance on social issues – opposing gay marriage, abortion funding and others – during the race for governor he has stuck to a script all about jobs and schools.

Pence's biggest, most specific proposal is to drop Indiana's 3.4 percent income tax rate to 3.06 percent. He called it an "across the board" cut that would save an average family of four about $228 a year.

The cost to the state's revenue stream would be about $500 million annually.

On education he has a plan to increase vocational and technical education for students. And he has talked about goals of improving math and reading scores of students and expanding school choice but with few details.

Gregg, meanwhile, called on independent voters and so-called "Lugar Republicans" tired of the Tea Party to focus on records, not rhetoric.

"If you love this state the way I do I'd like to ask you to look beyond the party labels," he said.

Gregg had been out of politics for several years before stepping back into the ring for the Democrats.

He is a practicing attorney from southern Indiana who also has served as an interim college president.

Gregg wants to eliminate the state sales tax on gasoline, as Indiana is one of only a handful of states to tax this purchase. He contends it would cost the state more than $500 million annually but that a state efficiency audit and a move to begin taxing certain online purchases would make up most of that.

Boneham is the political novice of the group though with higher-than-usual name recognition because of his participation multiple times in the reality show "Survivor."

He also runs a nonprofit in central Indiana for at-risk youth.

Boneham focused on criminal justice reform during part of the debate and also criticized Indiana's new right-to-work law restricting union contracts with private employers.

"I am not a career politician," he said. "If we want a change we're going to have to elect a change."

Two more gubernatorial debates are scheduled for Oct. 17 in South Bend and Oct. 25 in Fort Wayne.