This past Tuesday, the Illini Democrats held a candidate forum featuring the 5 declared candidates running to unseat Rodney Davis (R - Taylorville) in the 13th Congressional District: Dr. David Gill, Benjamin Webb, Jonathan Ebel, Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, and Erik Jones.
Things kicked off with each candidate giving an introductory speech.
Benjamin Webb, a high school English teacher, touted his strength as a communicator and positioned himself as a progressive, moderating candidate who would seek dialogue. Webb was relaxed and warm, but some answers lacked specifics, and a little trouble with his microphone revealed his newcomer status.
Dr. David Gill, a polished campaigner, spoke knowledgeably and easily about the issues. A physician, Gill distinguished himself via his decades-long commitment to caring for people. He also reminded the audience of his longstanding commitment to progressive causes such as marriage equality, reproductive choice, climate change, and single payer healthcare.
Gill also took pains to defend his campaign history, attributing Rodney Davis’ narrow win in 2012 to a liberal independent splitting Democratic vote.
(Editorial note: Gill’s past electoral history, including his own run in 2016 as an independent, has left him with both supporters and detractors. He likely knew he’d need to address the issue).
Erik Jones, an attorney from Edwardsville, called out Davis’ votes on health care and online privacy, as well as Department of Education action on student loan protection. “The challenges we are facing are all solvable,” Jones assured the audience. A former Illinois Assistant Attorney General, among other positions, Jones touted his professional record of working for "the people's' interests, not special interests." Jones was personable and comfortable in front of an audience, yet slightly more reserved than Gill, Ebel, and Webb.
Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, a former middle school teacher, and University of Springfield Alumni Association founder has the kind of diverse professional history familiar to many moms. She seemed to connect with students and parents in the room, and as a University of Illinois grad mentioned her fond memories of distinctly Illinois experiences including the “distinct smell of Kam’s” bar in Campustown. Londrigan relied on notes several times while speaking, and made specific policy points throughout the forum. She focused many of her answers on situations that impact families.
Jonathan Ebel, a Navy veteran and religious studies professor at the University of Illinois, was an engaging, well-versed, and skilled orator. Unlike the other candidates, he introduced himself as a Christian whose wife is Jewish. “Ours is a proudly interfaith home”, he said. A father to three daughters, Ebel framed his candidacy as a patriotic and moral calling to defend the Constitution and the country. He said that Donald Trump is an “enemy of our Constitution, its spirit and its letter.” He also jabbed Rep. Rodney Davis saying that he “has shown neither the will nor the capacity to resist” Trump’s policies.
Following opening statements, forum moderator Max Weiss of the Illini Democrats guided the candidates through 4 topics.
Topic 1: Address the Trump administration’s ending of DACA.
Jones called for the nation’s attorneys general to challenge the DACA decision in court, and he called on voters to contact their Congressional representatives and demand protective action.
Londrigan called for passage of the Durbin Graham Dream Act and fluently discussed the policies contained in the proposed bill. She also scolded Rep. Rodney Davis for voting in support of the No Sanctuary for Criminal Acts (HR 3003), which she called a racial profiling bill.
Ebel said he would create a much broader path to immigration and welcome people based on their skills, ability to contribute to the economy and family connections. “Walls are for cowards,” he said to spontaneous applause.
Webb called the DACA decision cruel, expressed support for the Durbin Graham Dream Act, and said that diversity is a strength.
Gill called the rescinding of DACA a “vile travesty,” and said that Trump had “snookered” families. He also decried NAFTA as a corporate tool resulted in economic conditions which in turn led to increased illegal immigration.
Topic 2: Healthcare
Gill called for a single payer healthcare system, and in particular mentioned his support for HR 676, a Medicare for All Act. Gill also warned that for-profit insurance companies should not have a role in the health care debate.
Webb said that he would like to move towards single payer in the future, but fix the Affordable Care Act in the interim. He supports a fuller inclusion of mental health coverage and wants to see healthcare uncoupled from employment. Webb slammed Rep. Rodney Davis’ for his claims that the Affordable Care Act is collapsing and correctly noted that those claims have been proven false.
Ebel said that healthcare is the moral and economic issue of our time. “What is the acceptable number of babies who can’t see a doctor?” he asked, “What is an acceptable number of hospitals that fail?” He called the ACA a good step in the right direction, but not good enough. He also chastised Rep. Rodney Davis for supporting the GOP health care plans without understanding their true impacts.
Londrigan’s policy statements were specific. If elected, she would fix the ACA first. Londrigan wants to allow people 55 and older to buy into Medicare in order to move higher cost patients out of the market and bring down premiums for all. She also wants to cut prescription drug costs by letting Medicare bargain costs (presumably for all purchasers). Finally, she called for the immediate and full funding of the cost sharing reductions of ACA.
Jones called for universal coverage as soon as possible. He wants to keep private insurance plans while also allowing people to buy into Medicare in an attempt to create competition between the two. Jones also said that members of Congress must stop taking money from insurance lobbyists.
Topic 3: College tuition and loan costs
Jones, who says he is still paying off student loans himself, linked student loan debt to the overall economy. “Fewer young people are starting businesses because of student debt, and more people are delaying home ownership,” he said. Jones scolded Rep. Rodney Davis for allowing the Trump administration to roll back protections on student debt. He called for laws allowing the refinancing of student debt, as well as federal investments in public education.
Londrigan wants to raise the age of child tax credit (currently 17) to help families put more money aside for college. She favors the use of 529 education savings plans for apprenticeship programs and wants to encourage employers to match college funds similar to retirement funds. Londrigan also called for an income-based repayment approach to college loans.
Ebel voiced support for higher education, saying that it is the surest way to raise income, employability, and quality of life. He pointed out that working and middle-class families have not gotten raise since the Reagan Administration while tuition has grown over that same time. He pointed to higher household income as one solution.
Webb also focused on income and called on the state and federal government to see education in the trades and colleges/universities as an investment.
Gill favors tuition free access to public universities, colleges, and trade schools. He said that the cost of the Iraq War would fund free college for everyone who wanted to go to college for 50-100 years (see this good natured cocktail napkin exchange on Twitter).
Topic 4: Economics and Jobs in IL13
Gill criticized NAFTA for sending jobs overseas and called for a $15/hour minimum wage. A physician by trade, Gill said that protecting health care is important to rural economies because many small hospitals are the economic drivers of their towns.
Webb wants to reward IL13 corporations for staying local without “letting them take too much off the top.” He also wants to prepare young people for jobs that “have yet to be invented” and encourage employers to provide more professional development.
Ebel wants to see aggressive investment in infrastructure in IL13 and across the nation. He believes that roads and broadband access are essential investments that would lead to union jobs. He also supports programs that would incentivize doctors, teachers, and skilled professionals to work in rural and urban areas of need.
Londrigan’s approach centered on families. “People want a local economy so if their kid does go off to school, they’d consider moving back home,” she said. Londrigan says that jobs, for IL13 in particular, could come from the clean energy sector. She would also work to make small business loans easier to receive.
Jones called for investment in infrastructure as well as in colleges/universities. He also proposed a federal effort to expand rural broadband similar to the rural electrification projects of the mid-1900’s. Jones also referenced his experiences as an attorney to support stricter enforcement of antitrust laws. Breaking up corporations, he said, would create more competition and more jobs.
The candidate filing deadline for IL-13’s Congressional race is still pending. Primaries will be held March 20th, 2018 followed by the general election on November 6th, 2018.