Gubernatorial candidate Woody Myers speaks in Columbus

Democratic governor candidate Dr. Woody Myers answers questions during a town hall meeting at North Christian Church in Columbus, Ind., Monday, Feb. 17, 2020.  Mike Wolanin | The Republic

Dr. Woody Myers, Democratic candidate for Indiana governor, told Columbus residents that he believes strongly that the American public and Indiana residents want a change in leadership this fall.

Myers, who is challenging Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, spoke Monday to an audience of more 75 Bartholomew County residents at North Christian Church.

Billed as an Indiana Gubernatorial Town Hall meeting, Myers spent nearly an hour at North Christian Church answering questions posed by local residents.

Myers, 66, served as health commissioner under both governors Evan Bayh, a Democrat, and Robert Orr, a Republican, from 1985 to 1990.

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When asked about his strategy to defeat Republican incumbent Holcomb in what is widely considered a Republican state, Myers said he believes there has never been a more volatile climate than Hoosiers are in at this moment.

“With everything going on in Washington, I strongly believe that both the American public and Indiana residents want a change at the top of both federal and state government,” Myers said after the meeting. “If I didn’t believe this, I wouldn’t be running.”

Although many expected 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and 2016 Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg to win, both were defeated by their GOP rivals, Myers said.

“I think the reverse could be happening this time around,” Myers said. “Polls are fallible, we still have 260 days to make our case, and I’m going to use every one of them.”

Myers told local residents who attended that he sees corruption and incompetence among a number of Republicans in state government.

He first cited two Indiana virtual schools accused of defrauding the state of $68 million. He also brought up accusations that the Indiana Veterans Affairs Commission issued at least 11 relief payments to their own staff members.

The former health commissioner also mentioned news coverage of accusations that Holcomb may have been involved in a state effort to absolve Amazon of responsibility in the death of one of their Indiana workers, something Holcomb has denied.

“There is so much that hasn’t been fully investigated yet,” Myers said. “Our campaign has many things to talk about. Then, we’ll let the voters decide.”

Complex questions

Audience questions written on cards or sent by text were posed to the candidate by moderator Hanna Omar. A number of these questions were so complex that Myers remarked he could take hours answering just one of them.

When asked about voter suppression, Myers suggested that Indiana follow an example set by Oregon by having Hoosiers vote by mail. The suggestion was met with a round of applause from the audience.

“We should make it as easy as possible to vote in a variety of circumstances, as long as there is a paper trail that can be traced back,” Myers said. He also advocated greater flexibility regarding when and how Hoosiers cast their ballots.

Gerrymandering, which is the redrawing of electoral maps to favor one political party over another, was described by Myers as “a real disease,” saying it can only be addressed next year by the election of a new governor and state legislature.

Myers received applause after saying he supported a proposal from the American Legislative Exchange Council to roll back or overturn current levels of public funding for private charter schools.

While Myers said he’s not against these types of educational facilities, he does believe charter schools need to be held more accountable for the education they are providing.

There was also applause after Myers declared that Indiana teachers are long overdue for a raise.

“These teachers have been denied appropriate wage increases for over 15 years,” Myers said. “That’s just plain wrong, and I am going to make that a top priority.”

Indiana has a history of excessive student testing, as well as a record of punishing teachers and superintendents for matters beyond their control, Myers said.

He was also critical of the state for switching standardized tests twice in recent years, which leaves no way to compare year-to-year results. In that regard, Myers said he believes the state wasted $45 million.

“Just incredibly dumb decisions regarding our taxpayers’ dollars,” Myers said of the testing.

In regard to technology, state government officials make wrong assumptions that students have access at home to computers and high-speed internet, Myers said. He also told the audience that several public school computers have outdated operating systems that no longer have available technical support.

Myers suggested that students be issued a MacBook Pro laptop with textbooks already downloaded when the child receives it.

Discussing drugs, guns

When the topic turned to illegal drugs, Myers emphasized the problem extends far beyond opioids and methamphetamine. It also includes legally-made prescription drugs that are illegally obtained, Myers said. When the supply on one type of illegally-obtained narcotic is reduced, a substitute drug such as oxycodone is often brought into a community, the former health commissioner said.

Indiana needs to put more emphasis on diagnosis and treatment of addictions both in medical and public health clinics, Myers said. He also emphasized that young children should be taught earlier in their lives about what drugs are good and bad for them.

He also spoke against putting casual marijuana users behind bars, adding they should be sentenced to treatment rather than jail time.

Although he says he has used guns since childhood and still enjoys shooting targets, Myers said he advocates more extensive background checks to ensure Hoosiers with mental health issues are not allowed to purchase weapons.

The Democrat also said he’d like to see the ban on civilian use of semi-automatic weapons restored, as well as the so-called gun show loophole closed that allows the sale of guns at shows without federal background checks.

Myers said he would be reluctant to raise the age for purchasing a long gun for hunting purposes from 18 to 21.

Health and environment

On a different topic, Myers received a loud round of applause after pledging to use state resources to not only clean up polluted waterways, but hold those responsible for the pollution accountable.

When asked about health care, Myers cited the fact that Indiana is third worst in the county in terms of maternal mortality, and seventh worst in regard to infant mortality.

Myers said he sees these facts as evidence that Indiana does not prioritize health care for pregnant women. He advocates providing these women with proper nutrition, as well as education — especially on the dangers to an unborn child if the mother smokes.

While the former health commissioner advocated preventative care, vaccinations, and education, he is not in favor of socialized medicine.

“I wouldn’t trade our health care system with any other country,” said Myers, who has worked for several health care organizations such as Wellpoint, Corizon Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield. “We’re just not using it very well.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Dr. Woody Myers” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Age: 66

Hometown: Indianapolis

Occupation: Venture capitalist with a portfolio that includes a pizza chain, telecom company, banks and gas companies. Owns Myers Ventures, where he consults with health care facilities, providers and companies.

Other professions: Physician and former health commissioner for both Indiana and New York City.

Education: Master of business administration from Stanford University, and medical degree from Harvard University.

Most remembered achievement: As state health commissioner, Myers defended AIDS patient Ryan White in 1985 when he was not allowed to attend school at Western School Corp. in Howard County. White, who was a hemophiliac, was diagnosed with AIDS following a blood transfusion in December 1984. Myers declared the teen posed no threat to public health and should be allowed to go back to his public school.

Previous attempt at office: Ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Representative Andre Carson in the May 2008 primary.

Family: Wife, Stacy, five children.