Candidate Q&A: Deery vs. Sanders in Indiana Senate District 23
Sanders, a Purdue professor and West Lafayette City Council member, and Deery, an aide to Purdue President Mitch Daniels, are vying for the open Indiana Senate District 23 seat.
Republican Spencer Deery faces Democrat David Sanders for the Indiana Senate seat in District 23, a sprawling district that includes parts of Tippecanoe, Vermillion, Parke, Fountain, Warren and Montgomery counties.
Sanders, a Purdue professor and West Lafayette City Council member, and Deery, an aide to Purdue President Mitch Daniels, are vying for the open seat, after state Sen. Phil Boots, a Crawfordsville Republican, was drawn out of the district and announced he planned to retire at the end of this term.
Here, Deery and Sanders, both West Lafayette residents, answer questions about their approach to the four-year position.
For more: Find bios of each candidate, along with information about where and when to vote, at the end of this article. Expect Q&As with candidates in other Greater Lafayette contests in coming days.
Why are you running?
Spencer Deery: We have grown too accustomed to politicians who are better known for their grandstanding than their skills at governing. I’m running because I believe in a different model in which we are governed by normal and well-adjusted, but also highly qualified people who want to do the right thing. I am a dad, a youth basketball coach and a first-time candidate. I’ve also had a career that prepared me to be an effective legislator. Running at times is a personal and professional sacrifice, but after receiving encouragement from Sen. Ron Alting and others that the district needed someone like me, I felt duty-bound to run.
David Sanders: I will continue my work to make government responsive and ethical and to ensure that public funds are spent wisely. Many of the issues that face our society have a scientific or technological basis. It is important to have scientists such as myself in legislative bodies who can evaluate on a firsthand basis both the opportunities and challenges that a changing physical and technological environment poses. For example, there is a coming near-term revolution in agriculture that has the capacity to benefit consumers as well as producers, and it is necessary for Indiana to be poised to be a leader in that field. I have the skills to promote the government framework required to make that happen.
What are two priorities you want to get done during your term, if elected? And how would you get those done?
Spencer Deery: First, we need a more resilient economy with higher-paying jobs and a well-trained workforce willing to fill them. We do that by strengthening education and workforce development at every level and by aligning the incentives, from government benefits to affordable childcare, to get people into the workforce.
Second, we need to invest in physical and mental health care. Indiana’s hospitals have nearly monopolized our state, consumed independent physicians and driven up the costs of care to the point where we are among the most expensive in the country. Regulatory changes such as more autonomy for pharmacists and psychiatric nurse practitioners are a first step.
David Sanders: I would like to have the state study the feasibility of high-speed rail that connects Lafayette with Chicago, Indianapolis and Cincinnati. I would also champion the right of the people in the district to have affordable access to broadband internet and health care, choices in cellular phone service, better roads and high-quality public education.
Indiana’s new abortion law restricts abortions with limited exceptions for cases involving rape, incest and some medical complications. Do you support the way Senate Bill 1 was written? And what changes would you propose or support in the next legislative session?
Spencer Deery: Despite my opponent’s attempts to intentionally misinterpret and dishonestly abbreviate my views for his own political gain, my position has been consistent. I favor strong exceptions. I believe the law failed to adequately help women and children in difficult situations and to address the root causes of abortion, including expanding access to contraceptives. I am yet to meet a Hoosier who does not believe there is a point in which it is wrong to stop a baby’s heart for reasons of convenience. Where we vary is when to draw that line, and for me, given what we know about prenatal child development and fetal pain, I want to err on the side of protecting human life early in the pregnancy. If the law creates unworkable problems, it will be the General Assembly's duty to correct those.
David Sanders: I have a well-established record for defending personal privacy against government intrusion. I am also a well-known advocate for full access to health care and women's rights. I would have opposed SB1 and would welcome opportunities to work with my colleagues across the political divide who believe it should not be the law. Politicians who say that now that SB1 is enacted we should also have health care and child care options for women that they should have had all along are being disingenuous. Also, it has become common for politicians, including my opponent, to take extreme positions on these issues in the primary only to repeatedly shift them to appear more mainstream in the general election.
No matter who is elected, you’ll likely have to navigate a Republican supermajority in both chambers of the General Assembly when representing your district. How will you do that, and what makes your prospects for success better than those of your opponent?
Spencer Deery: I have spent many hours over the last year developing an excellent relationship with the Senate’s top leadership and other members of the majority. I have invested in those friendships because I believe they will enable me to do more for the people I represent. Leadership and committee chairs can determine whether an idea even gets a hearing. Our community would lose influence if we elected someone outside the majority party and without those relationships, especially if that person had a reputation for being difficult to work with and an off-putting personality.
David Sanders: As West Lafayette City Councilor I have worked for the good of the community with my close friend, Republican Mayor John Dennis. When I go door-to-door throughout the district (I have canvassed in every town of 500-plus voters and nearly every one of 300-plus voters) I knock on the doors of every active registered voter, not just the ones I think are likely to vote for me. I also make a point of meeting with Republican political leaders at events such as fairs, parades, council meetings and festivals. I listen to others, and I believe that others respect my sincerity even when they don't agree with me. Much of what I wish to achieve for my constituents should not be partisan issues.
Several bills in the General Assembly in 2022 called on the state to do more to oversee curriculum, particularly with so-called divisive topics dealing with race in America, and parental oversight of classroom instruction. Did those bills go too far? Did they not go far enough?
Spencer Deery: Lawmakers should not micromanage local classrooms, nor should they add to an educator’s workload without proven educational benefits. Many proposals failed to meet those standards last year.
However, curricular transparency and parental involvement can lead to more support in the home for a child’s education. Society is enriched when classrooms expose students to scholarly ideas from a variety of perspectives, without pushing one of our two political parties. In the rare circumstances in which our schools fall short of those ideals, school boards and administrators should intervene, and local voters should hold boards accountable if they do so improperly. Without micromanaging, I want to support teachers, parents and administrators in realizing that vision.
David Sanders: Educators must have the support they deserve so that they can be recruited and retained. They must be provided with the trust that as professionals they are qualified to create the curriculum. I will work to help our rural public schools have access to the resources they need to provide education that is comparable with that at excellent schools such as those in West Lafayette – a matter of fundamental equity as well as essential to economic development. There must always be an emphasis on inclusion as well as diversity. Public funds for education should fund public education – an issue with which I differ with my opponent.
Would you vote to legalize marijuana in Indiana? And if so, to what extent? If not, why not?
Spencer Deery: I favor more rehabilitation and harm reduction for drugs of all types. I also support a system that would allow real doctors to give legitimate prescriptions to truly ailing patients just as we do with other medically controlled substances. I do not support de facto legalization through a fake medical system. Marijuana is a product that increases in potency and risk every year, and I am yet to see a plan for full legalization that would not bring unintended consequences. I favor studying closely the experience of our neighbors to learn from their mistakes and successes.
David Sanders: I believe that it is detrimental to society to be imprisoning people for marijuana use.
The General Assembly last session legalized permitless carry of concealed handguns in Indiana. Was that the correct move? And what do you believe is the next step involving gun legislation in Indiana?
Spencer Deery: I’ve met many from the rural counties for whom passing that bill was a priority, and many in Tippecanoe who were strongly against it. The best arguments for it were that criminals do not ask for permits, and that women in domestic violence situations should not have to wait on the process to protect themselves. The best arguments against it came from law enforcement, and I leaned towards their objections out of respect for them. However, as in other states, I have not seen evidence that the law has had an adverse impact since taking effect here. I believe in evidence-based lawmaking, and I would like to have more evidence about the impact of the new law before adjusting it.
David Sanders: I would have sided with law enforcement throughout the state of Indiana, including local leaders, and would have opposed that measure. I believe that it not only endangered law enforcement officers but also increases the probability of their employment of lethal force. I have worked together with local law enforcement to accomplish joint goals, and I would enlist them as well as the community in pursuing measures that reduce gun violence. I am especially concerned about gun-related lethality that affects young people including accidental shootings and suicide.
What would your approach be to the state’s surplus? Should it be saved? Should it be spent, and on what?
Spencer Deery: Inflation has boosted tax revenues, but it also increased the expense of providing government services, finishing ongoing capital projects and the size of cost-of-living adjustments needed for those living on state funded fixed incomes such as the Indiana Public Retirement System. Once those needs are met, we can start to look at increasing funding in strategic areas like education, mental health infrastructure, or workforce development, but we must show restraint and not take on large long-term financial obligations until we can reasonably forecast long-term revenues.
David Sanders: Affordable access to broadband internet and health care, choices in cellular phone service, better roads and high-quality public education are all necessary for economic development, and an investment in them would have been prudent.
What are one or two things that separate you from your opponent and make you the best fit for your district?
Spencer Deery: Anyone who has followed my opponent’s record in university and partisan politics over the last 16 years knows he has a habit of self-promotion by bringing far left, national partisan issues to local matters. Often this is done at the expense of local interests and to the frustration of even his fellow Democratic colleagues.
Whether from the left or the right, we need less of that in our politics. Those who have endorsed me like Mayor John Dennis and Sen. Ron Alting have done so because they know me to be pragmatic, qualified and committed to doing what’s right for our community.
David Sanders: If you are a registered voter in District 23, there’s a good chance that you have met me. I am acting on my conviction that people have the right to know their representatives. I answer questions from the media and voters every day. I have immediately accepted the invitations of League of Women Voters and WLFI and that of WBAA to participate in candidate forums. My opponent has declined.
The choice in this election comes to this. I possess the Hoosier qualities of experience, a willingness to work hard, accessibility, responsiveness, public service, forthrightness, career accomplishment and contributing to my community, in addition to dedication to my family. I will not outspend my opponent. I will simply care more about you.
BALLOTS, VOTER REGISTRATION, ETC.: Who will be on your ballot? Need to check your voter registered? That and more, available at Indiana’s voter portal, Indianavoters.in.gov.
EARLY VOTING: For a list of early voting sites in Tippecanoe County ahead of the Nov. 8 election, here’s the schedule.
Occupation: Purdue administrator, aide to Mitch Daniels at Purdue
Education: BA Communications, Master’s in Public Administration (Public Policy focus)
Past elected positions, if any: None
Immediate family: Julia (wife), three school-aged children
Your campaign site online: SpencerDeery.com
Occupation: Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Purdue University
Education: Bachelor of Science degree from Yale College in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry; Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley.
Past elected positions, if any: West Lafayette City Councilor, at-large, 2016-present
Immediate family: Wife and three sons.
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