The sometimes stark differences in views among candidates seeking the Republican and Democratic nominations for the new 13th Congressional District seat were on display at a public forum June 7 in Springfield.
When it came to issues ranging from the minimum wage to gun policy, the economy, health care and abortion, Republicans Regan Deering and Terry Martin generally parted ways with Democrats Nikki Budzinski and David Palmer during the candidate forum, sponsored by the Faith Coalition for the Common Good, and held at Lincoln Library.
Two other Republican candidates for the seat – Matt Hausman, 42, a farmer and former aerospace engineer from Pesotum, and Jesse Reising, 32, a Decatur lawyer – were invited to the event but didn't attend.
Winners from the parties in the June 28 primary will face off in the Nov. 8 general election.
Whoever is elected to the 13th District seat in the U.S. House will represent a district that snakes across central Illinois and includes all or most of the communities of East St. Louis, Springfield, Decatur and Champaign-Urbana.
Political observers say Democrats who control the Illinois General Assembly and drew the state's new map for U.S. House districts redrew the 13th District to favor a Democratic candidate.
When asked whether the minimum wage should be raised, Deering, 46, who identifies herself as a community activist and serves on the board of Northeast Community Fund in Decatur, said she doesn't support a national minimum wage because it is stifling for employers.
She said she wants to see more money appropriated for job-training efforts and less government regulation to help small businesses thrive and expand employment.
Deering said she also wants to see Congress reform the welfare system, rather than pass Democratic President Joe Biden's Build Back Better social-services infrastructure plan, to get people "off the sofa and back to work."
"Government has provided so many handouts that families find themselves sliding back," Deering said.
Budzinski, 45, a Springfield resident and former labor activist who was a high-level adviser in the administration of Gov. JB Pritzker, a Democrat, said she helped pass a minimum-wage increase that will hit $15 an hour by 2025.
She said she supports Congress passing a $15-an-hour national minimum wage and noted that the current national minimum wage is $7.25.
Palmer, 35, an insurance broker from Champaign, said a $15 national minimum wage is the "bare minimum" that's needed. "The minimum wage nationally is appalling," he said.
Martin, 67, a Springfield journalist who is executive director of the Illinois Channel, said he doesn't want to see the state or national minimum wage increased.
"You're trying to be generous with other people's money," he said. "When you get a job, it is an education, and that education can put you on the road to prosperity."
When asked whether the 2020 presidential election results were decided fairly, Budzinski and Palmer said Biden was properly elected, defeating Republican incumbent Donald Trump, while Deering didn't answer the question and Martin wouldn't answer.
"What happened that day was a tragedy on so many fronts," Deering said about the election. "I don't think we're getting the full story. We have Biden as president. He is destroying this country."
Palmer said many Republicans waver when they discuss the election results to avoid the ire of Trump and his supporters.
"If we don't uphold our democracy ... we will lose our way of life," Palmer said. "We're placating one man in a party. That is ridiculous."
Budzinski said the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Trump demonstrated the "fragility of our democracy," and she was disturbed by GOP efforts to minimize the insurrection.
"There needs to be accountability for what happened that day," she said.
When it comes to reducing gun violence, Palmer, who said this is his top issue as a candidate, favored more restrictions on sales at gun shows and closing the "boyfriend loophole." Federal law prohibits domestic abusers from having guns, but there is a loophole if the partners have not been married or had a child together.
Budzinski said she backs more "common-sense gun-safety measures" such as universal background checks and "red flag" laws. "We can't accept inaction" as the number of people murdered in mass shootings grows, she said.
Martin, however, supported efforts to "harden" schools, enforcing existing gun laws and improvements in mental-health services.
Deering said she wanted to see existing gun laws enforced more rigorously but was intrigued by reforms being discussed in Congress. She said she would reserve judgment until any proposed legislation is made public.
Deering said her No. 1 priority in Congress would be to improve the economy. "We have a government that's not working for us," she said.
Affordable energy is Martin's top issue. He said the nation can expand the use of clean energy, but not at the expense of fossil fuels.
He said the middle class "is just being crushed ... by President Biden's attack on fossil fuels."
Budzinski said she wants to focus on getting inflation under control and protecting Americans' pocketbooks.
She said she supported temporary suspensions of a scheduled increase in the state gasoline tax and the 1% state sales tax on groceries. Those measures were approved by the legislature and signed into law by Pritzker this year.
For the long term, she said she wants to reduce "our overreliance on a global supply chain" and avoid "shipping jobs overseas."
On health care, both Palmer and Budzinski said they supported the federal Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama's signature legislative achievement.
Palmer, who said the former president, a Democrat, is his favorite politician, said he would work to enact a "single-payer, Medicare-for-all" system.
"It's a system that provides a lot of assurance for people," he said. "That's the only way to go forward."
Budzinski said she doesn't support moving to a single-payer system but wants to see the price of prescription drugs reduced by giving the federally funded Medicare system the ability to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on drug prices.
Martin said he would favor price caps for some drugs, such as insulin, and "more transparency" in the rates charged by hospitals.
Deering said the ACA isn't the "best solution" because of high premiums that businesses are forced to pay.
Instead, she said she wants to expand services by federally qualified health centers such as Central Counties Health Centers. She also said she wants expanded access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
On the contentious issue of abortion, Budzinski said she is "100% pro-choice" and has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood. Decisions about abortion only should be made by a pregnant person and her doctor, Budzinski said.
Palmer said he also is pro-choice and called the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision "settled law."
Martin said the option of abortion should be limited to victims of rape or incest. "I think we ought to be elevating the value of life in our society," he said.
Deering would like abortion outlawed except to preserve the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest.
"I understand it's not a black-and-white issue," she said.
Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-679-7810.