Chip Coldiron, Democratic candidate for U.S. representative, speaks Thursday evening during Jay County Chamber of Commerce’s Meet the Candidates night at Jay County Event Center in Portland. Watching Coldiron are incumbent Republican J.D. Prescott and Democrat Julie Snider, both candidates for Indiana District 33 state representative. (The Commercial Review/Ray Cooney)
Chip Coldiron, Democratic candidate for U.S. representative, speaks Thursday evening during Jay County Chamber of Commerce’s Meet the Candidates night at Jay County Event Center in Portland. Watching Coldiron are incumbent Republican J.D. Prescott and Democrat Julie Snider, both candidates for Indiana District 33 state representative. (The Commercial Review/Ray Cooney)
Educational programs, infrastructure and health care were among the issues addressed by candidates in a forum Thursday night.

Fourteen candidates who appear on the ballot in Jay County took the opportunity to address a crowd of about 20 at the Meet the Candidates Night hosted by Jay County Chamber of Commerce at Jay County Event Center in Portland.

Each candidate addressed those in attendance, with audience members then able to ask questions one-on-one. The event featured the candidates in three contested races — Indiana House District 33, Jay School Board and Jay County Council (quotes from each council candidate appear on page 5) — as well as an appearance by District 3 Congressional candidate Chip Coldiron, a Democrat. Incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, a Republican, was not in attendance.

Neither of the Jay County Commissioner south district candidates — independent Bruce Counterman and Republican Brian McGalliard — attended the event.

Uncontested candidates who spoke Thursday were Gail Dues (Jay Superior Court Judge), Brad Daniels (Jay County surveyor), Rex Journay (Jay County Commissioner - north district) and Jon Eads (Jay County clerk).

J.D. Prescott, a Republican who is finishing his first term as District 33 state representative, noted two of the key issues in the coming session are the budget, which is expected to be tight because of the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and redistricting.

“I’m going to continue with the same theme that I have been … I’m a Christian, conservative and a Republican,” he said. “I’m going to stick to my principles — pro-life, pro-gun …”

He added that one of the main things he’s pushed for is infrastructure improvement in the form of expanded broadband internet service. He said progress is being made but will take time, comparing the effort to the rural electrification of a century ago.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Prescott said. “So that’s something we’re going to continue to focus on and work towards in the next budget cycle.”

His Democratic challenger, Muncie Central High School government teacher Julie Snider, agreed that expanding rural broadband service is essential but said time is of the essence.

“If you think about what’s been happening with COVID, it definitely proves more than ever, that’s become a necessity,” she said, noting its importance for both working from home and education. “I understand that it takes time, but I’m not sure how much time we have.”

Snider said she became interested in running for office after serving in the teachers’ union and lobbying at the statehouse. She noted education’s importance well beyond the classroom, including its impact on economic development and attracting residents to communities.

“I really got to see that the problems with education are not just restricted to education,” she said. “Education really is connected to everything else in your community.”

For school board, Ryan Wellman, a plant supervisor at Minnich Poultry and former Jay School Corporation computer technology support staffer, emphasized his goal of expanding education in the trades.

“I think the 529 (college savings) plan is great and I think college readiness programs are great, however, I think we could do a little bit more for the trade schools portion,” he said. “I think John Jay has some great programs there, but I’d like to focus on getting more students into that program.”

Wellman also indicated his desire to hire Jay County residents when jobs become available in the corporation.

Vickie Reitz, who is retired after a 40-plus-year career in special education and guidance, discussed her career in the education field. She said she’s proud of the work she did in helping to implement both the dual-credit program and career and technical education advances.

“I want to be part of Jay Schools because I’ve been in education for about 45 years,” she said. “I love it. I love working with the kids. I think we have a great school. I think we have an excellent administration and teachers. And I just want to continue with where I’ve helped them get.”

Coldiron, a teacher at Norwell High School who, like Banks, served in the military, emphasized the importance of healthcare, sharing that his son was born with a hole in his heart. That experience pushed him to want to improve healthcare in the United States, including by making sure pre-existing conditions remain covered and offering a Medicare buy-in option.

“I’m not going to stand up here and tell you the Affordable Care Act is perfect because I know there’s a lot of things that can be fixed on it,” he said. “That’s one of the things I want to do when I go to Congress. … My goal is for all of us to have insurance that’s affordable and we don’t have to worry about going bankrupt when we go to the doctor or we have to get put into the hospital.”

He was also critical of Banks on the issue of accessibility, saying that if he is elected, he will hold town hall events in the district at least once a month.

Election Day is Nov. 3, with early voting already underway from 8:30 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4:30 p.m. weekdays in the voting room at Jay County Courthouse.