Editor’s note: Republican Sen. Greg Walker is one of two candidates for District 41 in the Indiana State Senate. A Where They Stand interview with his opponent, Democrat Bryan Muñoz, can be found here.
For the past 16 years, District 41 for the Indiana Senate has been occupied by one person.
Republican Sen. Greg Walker was first elected to the seat in 2006, representing the majority of Johnson County and all of Bartholomew County.
Democrat Bryan Munoz, a first-time candidate from Columbus, will attempt to unseat the incumbent during this year’s general election.
The Daily Journal met with Walker to discuss the issues facing District 41 and Indiana, as well as his priorities if elected. Here is what he said, edited for length and grammar:
Why did you want to run again?
It was a hard decision. I will say I got refreshed this past year. Maybe some personal reasons reignited my interest in moving to a couple of different new areas. I think it’s partly the recognition of the real healthcare needs, in particular mental healthcare need, that citizens of Indiana, where we’re not supplying these needs. I had real hopes that with the summer session, we’d also really delve more into supplementing those who … are first-time mothers or expecting mothers. I feel like we really did an inadequate job of expanding the role of healthcare. America needs to address our social-emotional issues, for just a variety of reasons, and I think that’s what kicked me back into feeling I had still more to contribute so I’ve got some bills this year to try to address some of that.
What are some of the issues facing the district and the state that you’d focus on if reelected?
I‘d like to see the visiting nurse program really ramped up. We’ve had good success with that. It makes me think of the early days of Head Start when it was a pilot program. Back in the ’60s, that pilot program was immensely successful in transforming the lives of children in low-income homes. And the pilot had a home-visitation element to it, where there were weekly visits to the home and instructions to the parents … When they upped that program to a broader application beyond the pilot, because of expense, they dropped what I think was the most critical element — that’s the home visitation piece. That’s something the visiting nurses do in terms of infant care, answering questions, being at the home, seeing the home environment, working with young mothers …
Indiana needs to be cautious. There are a lot of economic challenges at the global level that Indiana cannot do much to change the trajectory, but we do need to respond to those responsibly. I think the budgets are going to be very tight in the coming years. Right now revenues are high, but so is inflation. The things that we are collecting more money for today with tax dollars will be spent in future months, and the cost of those services and the cost of those goods that the government buys are going up just like they are for individual family budgets. I think it’s irresponsible to talk about gross surpluses when we haven’t even factored in the cost-of-living increases that we’re gonna have to give just for those who are servicing Indiana’s most needful residents.
What are some of the accomplishments you’ve had in your career that reflect your ability to hold this office?
I’m not a flashy guy, I would say some of the most challenging issues were when I decided to step in the middle of some of the licensure for daycare. We had licenses for faith-based organizations that had exceptions that were not granted to the for-profit daycare license holder, and it was a very delicate issue to tighten up those. There had been some unfortunate incidents across the state where the safety of children was compromised because there was a lack of oversight of that licensure, and it was an area that was very challenging because of the emotion of, ‘Don’t regulate the churches …’ We had to walk a fine line with keeping the children’s interests in mind. I was very proud of being able to reach a compromise position with the House members and the Senate members and bring them together on some language that was better suited to fit the sensitivity of that situation.
I think some of my greater accomplishments are the counseling, the conversations that were had that are not in front of the cameras or even in front of a committee but rather some of those real deep dives into the policy issues and working with my colleagues to say, ‘Let’s rethink this …’ I’m not a contrarian, but I tend to offer other viewpoints for consideration and sometimes they’re adopted, but it’s more to keep us on a balanced trajectory of how we reach the conclusions we reach.
What makes you the best candidate for this office?
One of the qualities is that no one can offend me. And by that I mean you have to learn how to not take it personally how a piece of legislation is going or how it’s not going … You really need to develop a very thick skin and sometimes that’s most important, not with the general audience, not with folks off the street who are really opposed to your ideas but it’s more so with those that you’ve worked with over the years and the things that can be said or done that are intended to offend as a way to gain leverage or power. You have to learn how to let those things go over your head and not react in a spiteful or revengeful way.
What are your thoughts on Indiana’s abortion law that was passed, and do you think it will come up again?
I think it’s not settled yet. Obviously, there are courts that have stopped the official implementation of the law. There’s certainly a lot of room for tweaking and adjusting, and this issue has been a hotbed issue for more than 50 years in U.S. citizenry’s viewpoint and it will continue to remain one of the most emotional and personal issues for everyone on both sides. So there’s no way this is this is the final answer.
What do you think the state should prioritize in the biennial budget session?
I think it should be on the human services. We need to address healthcare costs. There are still a lot of unanswered questions … current debate with our hospital systems, our reimbursement rates for various services before and during various procedures, and which entities get what reimbursement rate. I think we need to … get a handle on why Indiana is one of the highest in the nation for hospital costs and find out through the budgeting process how we want to allocate those dollars for public health.
But I think mental health expansion — if that’s through the suicide hotline, counseling, making sure that all of our police, fire, EMTs are properly trained on … I feel like we’ve had an opportunity with some of the federal funding to address some of our infrastructure needs; I feel like everything’s been paved. Now let’s focus on human needs.
What other messages would you want to get out to the voters?
I think there’s a huge diversity of expectations for what government should be doing or what it should not be doing. I would encourage everyone to educate themselves on the Indiana Constitution. Believe it or not, it really is a game plan for the role of state government. If you don’t know the role of those branches and the administrative powers in the rest of the constitution, you need to be informed so that your vote matters. Don’t vote on your gut, vote on what you know and understand. Get your information from a credible source.
THE WALKER FILE
Name: Greg Walker
Family: Wife, Allison; four children
Employment: Retired consultant
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Indiana University; master of business administration, Indiana Wesleyan University
Political experience: First elected to state Senate in 2006