CARBONDALE — While they agreed on some issues in a debate Wednesday night, the three candidates vying for the 12th U.S. House District seat in the upcoming November election made very different cases to be the successor of retiring U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville.
Democratic nominee Bill Enyart, 62, touted his experience as leader of the Illinois National Guard and his record of working with both Republicans and Democrats to get things done.
Republican nominee Jason Plummer, 30, a multimillionaire O'Fallon businessman, blamed Democrats and "St. Clair County power brokers' failed policies" for job stagnation in the region.
Paula Bradshaw, the Green Party nominee from Carbondale, said as a Washington outsider, she is best qualified for the job.
Republicans and Democrats are to blame for letting Wall Street run wild and, in turn, cause the recession that has left the American economy in a shambles, she said.
"Then they sucker people into believing they aren't part of it," Bradshaw said. "Only a candidate who doesn't accept big corporate donations can be trusted."
At the end of the debate, each candidate was allowed one minute apiece to make their case for voters sending them to Washington, D.C., on Nov. 6.
Bradshaw, 59, said voters should send her to the U.S. House because both the Republican and Democratic parties go along with "Wall Street thievery," while only the Green Party and its candidates "can be counted on standing up for Main Street against the corporate robber barons."
Plummer, during his one-minute pitch, said voters should elect him because he's "going to Washington, D.C., to represent the type of public policy that will bring jobs and businesses back to Southern Illinois."
Southern Illinois voters have been long-neglected for too long, because the region has been controlled by "the insiders from St. Clair County," he said. "I'm going to represent this entire district. I'm going to bring jobs back to this entire district."
Enyart, when it came his turn, said the political rhetoric should be put aside.
"This is a job interview," he said. "What do you look for when you're hiring somebody? You look for experience. You look for leadership. You look for accomplishments."
Enyart then ticked off his achievements, including 30 years running a small business -- his law practice -- and his decades in the Illinois National Guard, including the five he spent in the rank of major general commanding it.
"Someone who was responsible for the last five years for the security and safety of 13 million citizens and ran a department with a $650 million a year federal budget," Enyart said. "Mr. Plummer has eight years since college."
During a brief news conference following the debate, Plummer, whose father started the R.P. Lumber company, responded to Enyart's point by noting "that there's different types of experiences. We've sent a whole lot of people to Washington, D.C., that claim that they have all these phenomenal experiences. I'm a pretty simple guy. I think at the end of the day it comes down to, 'Do you have the experience it takes to create jobs in Southern Illinois?' Because that's the problem we're facing ... I've created jobs in this region for a long time. My family's created jobs in this region for a long time."
One area where the three candidates essentially agreed was that the No Child Left Behind act needs to be overhauled.
Enyart, a Belleville attorney, said the current federal education policy focuses on teaching children to make tests, not to be analytical decision makers.
Bradshaw, agreed with Enyart calling today's schools "factories where we teach kids to take tests."
Plummer, pointed out that his parents were both teachers and that he's very close to the education system. He said that he thinks No Child Left Behind was a good idea that lost its way. But he pledged to help revamp the system to focus on preparing kids to be ready to land jobs than to take tests.
When questioned about the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms, Enyart and Plummer agreed that weapons ownership should not be further restricted. Bradshaw blamed the United States for gun ownership around the globe, saying the U.S. exported more than a third of the weapons distributed around the world.
Plummer said if he was elected he would work to expand gun rights, pushing to add Illinois to the list of states where residents could carry concealed weapons. Enyart said he has been a gun owner since he was 12 and that, with his service in the military, he twice took an oath to defend the constitution which includes the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Enyart said he thinks the argument over whether assault weapons should be banned was muddied. Automatic weapons have been banned in this country since the 1930s and that the law shouldn't be changed to reinstate bans on "assault rifles" if they aren't capable of firing multiple rounds with one trigger pull, Enyart said.
The three candidates spent the first 15 minutes of their televised debate sparring over the merits of the Affordable Care Act, discussing ways to boost jobs in the district and giving letter grades to President Barack Obama.
Enyart touted a job-creation plan aimed at helping small businesses in the 12th District.
"What we need to do is simplify tax credits so that they are available to mom-and-pop businesses," Enyart said.
Plummer called for true tax reform.
"We're struggling from poor public policy," Plummer said.
Bradshaw called for increased investment in public works projects.
"And we need to put people to work to improve our infrastructure to make it more sustainable," said Bradshaw, a hospital emergency room nurse.
Asked to grade Obama's first term in office, Enyart said he would give the President "a solid B" on the grounds that when he came into office in 2009, the American economy was shedding 750,000 jobs a month. Now it is gaining more than 120,000 monthly, Enyart said.
In contrast, Plummer and Bradshaw both said they would give the President a "D" grade.
Obama "definitely has not lived up to his campaign promises," Bradshaw said.
Obama merits a "D" because the nation's economy continues to worsen, Plummer said.
"We need to send people to Washington who know how to address the economic problems we're facing," he said.
The BND, The Southern Illinoisan, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, WSIU Public Television and the Jackson County League of Women Voters sponsored the debate.
A second debate, in Williamson County, is from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 20 in the Marion Cultural and Civic Center. The event is likely to be broadcast.
A third debate is from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 10 at Lindenwood University in Belleville. Lindenwood is joining the sponsorship team for the Belleville event.
Enyart, Plummer and Bradshaw are competing to replace Costello, who is retiring from Congress after serving 24 years. Democrats have represented the district for 68 years.
The 12th District comprises 12 southwestern Illinois counties and runs southward from Alton in Madison County to Cairo in the state's southern tip.
Reporter Scott Wuerz contributed to this article. Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2533.