COLUMBIA — Illinois House candidate Julie Bigham Eggers said she's "in it for the insurance" because being a state lawmaker "has pretty good health care."
Eggers, a Republican from Columbia, also stood by assertions in her campaign mailers of being a lifelong resident of Southern Illinois, even though property and voting records show she lived in Missouri for 10 years, up until 2008.
Eggers made the remarks during a BND interview about her candidacy. At one point, she was asked whether she would sign up for a pension -- a perk that a few candidates and lawmakers have declined.
Eggers said she would not accept the pension because the state is broke, but then added, "Actually, I'm in it for the insurance, health insurance. I'm an independent business owner and I've got a daughter that's got, one that's got kidney issues and one that's got breathing issues, and I've got an insurance rider for her kidneys, even though we're not supposed to be, what is it called, pre-existing."
She continued, "So, No. 1, the reason why I did it was for the health care, because it has pretty good health care. That's my honest answer."
Eggers' campaign, when asked later in the week whether she wished to clarify her remarks, said she will not accept the insurance if elected.
She said in the prepared statement: "As an Illinois small business owner, I know the challenges faced by companies struggling to meet payroll, provide good benefits to their employees and families all while dealing with a government that over spends, over taxes and over regulates. If we are going to get Illinois moving in the right direction, Illinois needs selfless leaders who lead by example, that's why I would not accept taxpayer-paid health care benefits during my term as a representative. It's time to put the people first."
In the earlier interview, Eggers said she would not accept a pension, because of the state's financial problems: "If we're broke, we're broke."
She then explained that she would take the health insurance "because every family nowadays makes a decision between, if their husband works and their wife works, who has a better insurance plan. That's a no-brainer. That's what I would do, too."
But then she backpedaled some: "Actually, we've got a good health care plan now, so ... I might not even do that, too. So, until I get there and take a look at it, I can't tell you."
Eggers also seemed to shift her position on whether she would take the state-funded pension available to lawmakers: "Now, if we start to pay off all of our debt, and we start to get jobs here, and we start to grow the economy like the way I want to, and if we're doing well, then a rising tide raises all ships, and then, you know, we're back in a land of everybody prospering, and that would be wonderful for this area, right? Yes."
When asked whether that meant she'd take the pension if the state's finances improved, she replied: "If we weren't broke, it'd be a different story, but we're broke, so no. You see what I'm saying? You're asking questions based on a what-if world."
Eggers is running against appointed state Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton. Democrats appointed Costello to the seat last year after former Rep. Dan Reitz, D-Steeleville, retired.
Costello, when asked for comment on Eggers' remarks, said: "Obviously, everybody does a job for a different reason. I'm in this job to help the people of Southern Illinois and the state of Illinois. I wish her and her family the best."
Costello has signed up for both the legislative pension and the health insurance.
A lawmaker can earn a pension by serving just four years. The maximum annual pension is 85 percent of salary, which requires 20 years of service. The salary for House members is about $68,000 a year, although they can earn more for serving in leadership roles on committees, and they receive a per diem of $132 per day when they're in session in Springfield.
State lawmakers used to get free health insurance for themselves if they retired after just four years in office, though they still had to pay premiums for dependent coverage. But under a new law that took effect in June, retired lawmakers will have to start paying premiums for health insurance. The premiums will be determined by a state agency, using a formula based on the retirees' pensions.
Eggers is a private business consultant. Her husband, Richard Eggers III, is a stay-at-home parent. In a divorce case he filed in July but has since withdrawn, Richard Eggers stated that Julie Eggers earns $30,000 per month.
In at least two campaign mailers and one flier, Eggers boasts of being a lifelong resident of Southern Illinois. The 116th District stretches from the East St. Louis area to Du Quoin, taking in Dupo, Columbia, Red Bud, Sparta, Steeleville and Pinckneyville.
But property records suggest Eggers had resided in Missouri from 1998 to 2008.
In a property deed from March 1998, Eggers, at the time known as Julie Mckinstry, her name from a previous marriage, is listed as a Missouri resident.
Property records also show she sold a home in Missouri in February 2008, a few days after buying her current home in Columbia.
Voting records show that she voted in St. Charles County, Mo., in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
When asked during the interview about her assertion of being a lifelong Southern Illinois resident, Eggers said: "That's true. I consider myself a lifelong resident."
When asked about having resided in Missouri, she said: "Well, do you count it when somebody goes away to college, that they don't live at home, too?"
She added, "I lived in Missouri for, I don't know, a couple years in business. But I also had a house there and had a house here, I just couldn't sell it. Lifelong, I don't know, it's just a way of saying something. ...
"I'm a lifelong. I'm going to live my life here; my life has been longer here in Illinois than anywhere else. How do you like that? OK, there you go, so it's a true statement."
By law, a state representative is required to be a resident of the district he or she represents for at least two years before being elected or appointed. Eggers meets that requirement.
Costello said Eggers having resided in Missouri is less of an issue than being forthright with voters.
"This is more about being honest with people and honest with the voters," he said. "It brings into question integrity in general."
The Costello-Eggers race has drawn significant interest from the Democratic and Republican parties of Illinois, which have donated tens of thousands of dollars to the candidates' campaigns.
Some political insiders have said they expected spending in the race to approach $1 million. As of last week, Eggers' campaign fund had about $85,000, while Costello's had about $207,000.
Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2511.