MARION — Amid raucous applause, cheers, boos and catcalls from a highly partisan crowd of more than 300, the second debate Thursday night among candidates for the 12th U.S. House District seat took an often heated and personal tone between Democratic nominee Bill Enyart and GOP nominee Jason Plummer.
Several times during the 90-minute debate at the Civic and Cultural Center, Enyart and Plummer accused each other of lying, particularly when it came to whether Plummer supports the budget unveiled last year by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., now the Republican nominee for vice president.
Enyart accused Plummer of endorsing the deep cuts in federal spending, including the privatization of Medicare, called for in the Ryan plan.
Plummer denied supporting the Ryan plan.
"Let me repeat this in front of everybody," Plummer said. "I have never endorsed Paul Ryan's budget. And I do not support Paul Ryan's budget. And if you say that again you're being dishonest to the people of Southern Illinois."
Plummer said that if Enyart was going to be dishonest to the people of Southern Illinois "when you're asking for their vote, what are you going to do when you're they're congressman?"
Enyart, who retired as commander of the Illinois National Guard with the rank of major general, said that he "swore an oath as an officer, and my honor is very important to me, and I don't have to lie -- unlike Mr. Paul Ryan or Mr. Plummer, for that matter. So let's keep it on the up-and-up, Mr. Plummer."
Enyart, 62, of Belleville, and Plummer, 30, of Fairview Heights, are vying with Green Party nominee Paula Bradshaw, 59, of Carbondale, to replace U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, in the Nov. 6 election. Costello is retiring in January after 24 years in office.
Throughout the debate, Bradshaw, a hospital emergency room nurse, promoted her vision of a "Green New Deal" that would create new jobs based on massive investments in solar and wind energy. Bradshaw also called for much tougher laws overseeing Wall Street.
"We need people in Congress who will make sure fair rules are made and followed, who'll protect public property, who'll make sure the top 1 percent are taxed fairly, that money is distributed fairly..." Bradshaw said during her closing remarks.
America's economy "should not be an institution in which a privileged few are allowed to game the system," Bradshaw said. "In fact, it shouldn't be a game at all."
Earlier in the debate, Enyart accused Plummer -- whose campaign has repeatedly cited the 12th District's high unemployment rate as a sign of Democratic policy failures -- of seeking to frighten voters with bad economic news.
"For some reason Mr. Plummer wants people to be afraid" Enyart said. "For some reason Mr. Plummer wants people to be depressed."
Enyart attacked Plummer for, in his view, of failing to specify which tax deductions he would eliminate to cut the nation's deficit.
Enyart then accused his rival of wishing to "run against Barack Obama. He doesn't want to run against Bill Enyart. I'm not sure why. He wants to run against Nancy Pelosi. If he wants to run against Nancy Pelosi, he needs to rent a villa in San Francisco...."
Some of the night's biggest applause lines occurred during the debate's first minutes. That's when the candidates responded to a question as to whether tax increases on wealthier Americans would cut the nation's $16 trillion national debt.
Enyart blamed the debt on what he described as the "millionaire tax cuts" that occurred under former President George W. Bush.
"Because they're not paying their fair share of taxes," Enyart said.
Enyart then pivoted to the issue of Plummer's refusal to disclose his income tax returns -- a step Enyart had taken back in July when he disclosed 11 years of his personal tax returns.
"I don't care how much Mr. Plummer made," Enyart said. "I care how much he paid. If Mr. Plummer wants to go to Congress and if he wants to write tax policy, don't you think it's fair that he disclose what his tax returns are?"
Plummer, however, segued away from the issue of whether to end tax cuts, and instead attacked a federal code he said is too long and too full of loopholes.
Raising tax individual tax rates would hurt many small businesses, Plummer said.
"We're not facing a deficit because we're not paying enough in taxes," Plummer told a loudly cheering audience. "We're facing a deficit because friends of yours like Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi don't know how to stop spending money."
Bradshaw spoke in favor of ending tax cuts for the rich "because the middle class right now is paying more than their fair share because the rich aren't paying theirs."
When the debate turned to the issue of immigration, candidates had different opinions on the Dream Act, which would provide citizenship to children of illegal immigrants currently living in the United States.
"If they are already here and have kids here, they should become citizens," Bradshaw said.
Enyart said he supports the Dream Act. He highlighted the portion of the act that permits immigrants who enter the military service to obtain citizenship. He also said farmers and orchard owners wouldn't be able to produce the food they do without its migrant workers, who obtain agricultural visas to work in the United States.
"If they pay taxes and pay into Social Security, I see no reason they shouldn't be allowed to legally work," Enyart said.
Plummer said he doesn't support the Dream Act. He said he's in favor of providing "a pathway to citizenship for people who are here for the right reason."
He said America needs to be protective of it's borders and ensure American citizens have the opportunity for jobs before providing citizenship for illegal immigrants.
The candidates had differing opinions on the topic of military spending.
Bradshaw said she's against spending more on the country's military. "Our military spending has doubled in the last 10 years," she said, noting the country spent $1.8 trillion on "killing people in other countries."
"It's not an effective use of our resources," Bradshaw said, adding military spending is contributing to the national deficit.
Enyart said he has a lot of experience when it comes to military spending. He said he supports "spending money on defense as necessary." However with his military knowledge, Enyart said he'll be able to "trim the waste in military spending."
Plummer said America "needs a strong military. We live in a very dangerous world," he said. "The best military in the world ensures we don't have to go out and over reach in foreign policy."
The BND co-sponsored the debate, along with WSIU-TV, the Southern Illinoisan newspaper, and the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. This was the second debate in the campaign and a tape of the debate will be shown at 8 p.m. Friday on WSIU-TV 8.1 and WUSI-TV 16.1. Also, a tape of the debate will be available Friday on bnd.com.
The third and final debate in the series is set for 7 p.m., Oct. 10 at Lindenwood University-Belleville.
Watch Debate No. 2 from Marion
Reporter Jamie Forsythe contributed this article. Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2533.