The race for state representative in the 116th House District pits the new embodiment of an entrenched political family against a newcomer who says she can improve the state's financial situation with her business experience.
Democrat Jerry Costello II of Smithton, who is the appointed representative and a son of retiring Congressman Jerry Costello, faces Republican challenger Julie Bigham Eggers of Columbia, a businesswoman.
Democrats appointed Costello to the seat last year after former Rep. Dan Reitz, a Democrat, retired in mid-term. The 116th District stretches from the Cahokia area to Du Quoin, taking in Dupo, Columbia, Red Bud, Sparta, Steeleville and Pinckneyville.
Costello said he's already established a record as an effective legislator, having spearheaded new laws addressing methamphetamine, synthetic drugs such as bath salts and synthetic marijuana, protests at military funerals and incentives for employers to hire post-9/11 veterans.
Eggers said those types of bills are "feel-good" legislation.
"We need more than feel-good stuff to fix the state right now," Eggers said. "Those are good things you should do, yes, but who's tackling the hard problems? Who's making sure we're making this a better business climate? Who's trying to take on the different regulations that we need to take on?"
Costello said the drug laws are important safety measures, and the veterans-hiring law helps a population that has experienced above-average unemployment. An Army paratrooper during Operation Desert Storm, Costello said the law limiting protests at military funerals was personal for him.
"I wear this bracelet, right here on my arm, for my best friend, who was killed in Afghanistan," Costello said. "I did the eulogy at his funeral. I think it's something we have to do to protect our veterans."
In recent years, an extremist group, the Westboro Baptist Church, has protested outside funerals for servicemen killed in action.
Eggers, a business consultant, said the answer to the state's financial problems is to improve the economy by making the state more business-friendly.
"I firmly believe we can get out of the situation if we grow our economy. We can grow our economy by adding more jobs to the workforce," she said. "More people paying into the tax system, taxes start to go down as a whole, and you can start paying off the debt. You cannot begin to pay off our debt right now by raising taxes."
Eggers said she favors eliminating waste, fraud and abuse in state spending, as well as cutting the pay of legislators, but otherwise would not support cuts in state spending.
"I think the state right now is barely getting by, and I think if they spend less money, that means we're going to be losing jobs, and that's not good. I would make certain that right now, you keep every job you've got," she said.
Costello said his veterans-hiring legislation and his legislation to restore a tax credit for coal mining were two of the few pro-business bills approved by the legislature in the past year.
"I have a record that backs up being pro-business and creating jobs," he said.
Costello added that he voted in favor of cutting legislators' pay 10 percent. He said he voted in favor of a Department of Human Services budget that included difficult cuts to some services, and he voted in favor of Medicaid reforms that "kick the scammers off Medicaid."
Eggers said Costello cast two votes that differentiate the two candidates:
* Eggers said she would have voted in favor of legislation that gave tax breaks to Sears and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The two Chicago-based companies had threatened to leave Illinois. Eggers said she would have voted in favor because the bill included tax breaks for farmers and was supported by the Farm Bureau.
"Go to the Farm Bureau. Go to their members. How do you want me to vote?" Eggers said.
Costello said he favors reducing the income tax for all corporations, not just Sears and the Mercantile Exchange.
"I don't think we should be giving sweetheart deals to big corporations just because they threaten us," he said, adding: "I was fundamentally against bailing out the CME and Sears, and that's why I voted against that bill."
* Eggers said she would have voted against a "bailout" for Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, who was involved in a dispute with the Chicago school system over whether she should have to pay the school district about $445,000 for seven years of leaseholder taxes and penalties. She has her district office in a building owned by the school district.
Costello voted in favor of legislation that says property taxes can't be imposed on property that a state or local government entity leases to another state or local government entity.
"I've asked everybody I've talked to since that vote has taken place, and I have not found a single person in this district who would have voted 'yes' on that bill," Eggers said. "Those decisions, when you vote that way, it's clear you're voting the way somebody told you to, that is not in the best interest of the people of your district."
Costello said the legislation "keeps one tax entity from paying another tax entity. No person was personally bailed out. It's the state of Illinois paying the Chicago public school district, so it's taxpayers paying taxpayers, which obviously is redundant."
The Costello-Eggers race had been targeted by both Democrats and Republicans, and was expected to be one of the costlier state legislative races. But GOP money for Eggers tailed off after a couple of missteps: She said in a candidate interview with the News-Democrat that she was "in it for the insurance," because state legislators get good health insurance, and she stood by campaign literature that states she's a lifelong resident of Southern Illinois, despite public records that show she resided in Missouri for at least 10 years.
Eggers later signed a "no-perks pledge," vowing not to accept insurance, a pension or salary if she's elected.
On social issues, the candidates are both conservative: They're in favor of concealed-carry of firearms, against gay marriage, and opposed to abortion. Both candidates, for example, said they favor legislation that would require abortion providers to ask women, prior to receiving an abortion, if they'd like to see an ultrasound of the fetus.
Eggers said proponents of concealed-carry should vote for her because Costello is aligned with House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.
"On one hand, you're a co-sponsor of concealed-carry, but on the other hand, you vote for Madigan, who doesn't let it pass. You can't have it both ways," Eggers said. "He's aligned with Madigan; look how he voted on Monique Davis. Actions speak louder than words."
Costello said he's been labeled a strong advocate of concealed-carry by the director of the Illinois State Rifle Association.
Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2511.