CARBONDALE — The candidates vying to replace Mike Bost as the area’s representative in the Illinois Legislature sparred with each other Thursday over their respective party affiliations, but they generally agreed with each other on many other points.
During a debate at the Carbondale Civic Center sponsored in part by the League of Women Voters of Jackson County, Republican Terri Bryant and Democrat Bill Kilquist worked through a range of issues facing the state and in particular the 115th Legislative District.
Kilquist is a former Jackson County sheriff and warden of the Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro. Bryant has worked for the Illinois Department of Corrections since 1994.
One of the two likely will replace Bost, a Republican who has served since 1995 but now is challenging U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart this fall for his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The 115th District covers most of Carbondale, most of Jackson County, all of Mt. Vernon and Jefferson County and parts of Perry County.
Also running for the job is the Green Party’s Gary Shepherd, whose name will not appear on the November ballot. He is running as a write-in candidate. Shepherd was given three minutes to address the audience at the debate’s conclusion and used much of his time questioning the rule of the two-party system.
During about an hour of questioning, Bryant and Kilquist agreed with each other on a host of issues, among them allowing the temporary income tax increase to expire and the shortsightedness of closing the super-maximum-security prison at Tamms.
They both also expressed strong support for Second Amendment rights, specifically in places where alcohol is served, and the economic importance of SIU to the region. They also drew similar lines on the controversial practice of horizontal fracturing, or fracking, saying the economic benefits are promising but that care should be taken in the process to protect the environment.
Most real debate during the event centered on political connections, with Bryant attacking Kilquist over support his campaign has received from Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan.
“I know [Kilquist]’s said he wouldn’t be owned by anyone … but you can’t have Mike Madigan pour (money) into your race and not have to do something about that later on,” Bryant said. “Mike Madigan is the pied piper of this state. At some point you have to pay the piper.”
Kilquist responded, saying he has publicly opposed Madigan on pension overhauls and extending the temporary income tax increase. He said Bryant’s attack ignored her own political connections.
“Terri, let’s be realistic. You and I are both receiving support from our respective party organizations,” Kilquist said.
When it came to that income tax increase, both candidates opposed its extension, saying that when the temporary bump was passed in 2011, lawmakers promised it would expire. Both said leaders needed to stay true to their word.
“[Voters] want the state to live within its means, just as they do,” Kilquist said, adding that lawmakers should look into cutting waste and mismanagement before extending any tax increase. “Lawmakers must prioritize funding.”
Bryant said the tax is scaring businesses away from Illinois, and the economy can’t afford that.
“Illinois needs more jobs, not more taxes,” she said. “The temporary tax that only partially expires in January was designed to be just that, a temporary tax. It has run businesses out of the state faster than any other state in the country.”
On the topic of business, Bryant implored voters to consider her record as a previous restaurant owner — an experience she said gives her an understanding of the challenges faced by small business owners.
“In many cases, I’ve been in their shoes,” Bryant said. “I know what it was like to try to make a payroll, to have to pay my workman’s comp, to have to pay Social Security. I have lived and walked in the same steps they’re walking in.”
Kilquist, whose career has been spent in the public sector, said his door always would be open to business owners and leaders.
He said his experience managing million-dollar budgets as a sheriff and prison warden gives him an understanding of critical budget issues faced by many.
“I will be open to them, to listen to their ideas and their concerns,” he said of business leaders.
With both candidates having worked within the correctional system, they both were highly critical of the state’s decision to close the super-maximum-security prison at Tamms in 2013. Both said the decision led to dangerous criminals being housed in other state facilities not equipped to handle them.
“It endangers the communities around those prisons,” Bryant said. “It endangers the inmates who are locked up and endangers the staff that are working there. It was not well thought out to close that. I believe it was a political decision.”
Kilquist spoke from a similar perspective.
“That institution was meant for the worst of the worst,” he said. “It’s not until you’ve worked in the system and seen what’s in the system …. There are people in our prison system who have earned their way into Tamms. It was meant for a special group of people. It’s a behavior-oriented system.”
On the contentious issue of allowing fracking in Southern Illinois, both said a delicate balance exists between creating jobs and addressing environmental concerns. Kilquist said fracking should be part of a larger overall energy policy.
“Southern Illinois needs good, long-term, sustainable jobs,” Kilquist said. “While fracking may promise to bring jobs to our region, I do have a lot of concern about the damage that it may cause.”
Bryant said the promise of jobs can’t be ignored, but not at the expense of other potential costs.
“That can’t be approached as a minor thing,” she said of the jobs. “However, it can’t be our only reason to bring fracking into the area. The last thing I want to do is have my name on something that is going to endanger 30 years down the road water my grandchildren are going to be drinking.”
On the issue of working with upstate legislators, the candidates took somewhat different approaches. Again, Bryant criticized what she characterized as House Speaker Madigan’s political ownership of Kilquist.
“One-party rule damages the state,” Bryant said of the Democratic-controlled legislature and governor’s office. “Right now, because Mike Madigan has a super-majority, he doesn’t even have to sit down and talk to anyone.”
Kilquist refuted that.
“Illinois needs leaders who are willing to work on both sides of the aisle to find solutions,” he said. “I have stood up to those people. I’ve stood up to people like Mike Madigan. I do not believe in the pension bill that he wanted passed. I believe it’s unconstitutional.”
In one of the evening’s more interesting questions, the candidates were asked about an advisory referendum appearing on the November ballot asking voters if prescription birth control should be covered by health insurance plans with prescription drug coverage.
Kilquist said he was not in a position to make decisions on that personal of a level.
“Who am I to deny anyone health care methods and what they believe they need for themselves?” he asked.
Bryant framed the issue as the addition of yet another unnecessary regulation.
“This would cause a private business to be regulated to be offering something that maybe other members of that group or other members of that insurance purchaser didn’t necessarily need,” she said. “To require a health care provider to provide that particular prescription drug is again a regulation.”
Thursday’s debate was co-sponsored by the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce and the American Association of University Women, Carbondale Branch.