With U.S. Rep. Mike Bost not present to defend his record, his Democratic challenger in the November election used a debate on Tuesday criticize the Republican incumbent in the Illinois 12th Congressional District.
The debate at Lindenwood University-Belleville featured Democratic nominee Brendan Kelly, who is the St. Clair County State’s Attorney, and Green Party nominee Randy Auxier, a Southern Illinois University-Carbondale professor.
Kelly, who trails Bost by 1 percentage point according to multiple polls, thanked the organizers of the debate and said, “This is a great tradition that has carried on for many years. I’m proud to be a part of it.”
He then took one last shot at Bost for not attending the debate in Belleville.
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“If he was here tonight, he would have to explain those decisions that have hurt Southern Illinois over and over again,” Kelly said.
Bost spent Tuesday evening in Marion welcoming home veterans participating in a Southern Illinois Honor Flight.
“As a country, we must remember the sacrifices of our veterans who have bravely served our nation,” Bost said on Twitter. “I always cherish welcoming veterans home as part of the Honor Flight program. It’s an opportunity to say thank you.”
Bost’s campaign also initially cited its concern about the format.
During his opening statement, Auxier said he’s not a politician. But he’s running for office and that makes you a politician. “I agree with Democrats with a number of things, I agree with Republicans for a few things,” he said.
In response to a question about Scott Air Force Base, Kelly said: “Who doesn’t have a plan? Congress. They have no plan when it comes to national security. We have no unified national security policy.”
Kelly continued: “Mr. Bost doesn’t have the plan. We had the easiest deal to bring the NGA here at Scott Air Force Base. He was not able to do that.”
St. Clair County officials and other governmental leaders wanted the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or NGA, to build its new office next to Scott Air Force Base but the federal agency decided to build the new office in north St. Louis. In July, Bost sent the NGA a letter asking the agency to reconsider the north St. Louis location because of problems with the site.
Auxier said he would put defense money into other priorities such as social services and education.
“We believe that peace is good for business,” Auxier said. “Cutting of (the) defense budget is high on my priority list.”
Kelly commented on tax policy: “I believe in tax relief for people in the middle class. What was passed by Congress was good for people at the top.”
In response to a question about education, Kelly said, “This one size fits all cookie-cutter approach where teaching to the test, not teaching students to learn, that approach has failed.”
Auxier said the country should have a single-payer education system through the federal government. “As long as property taxes drive funding, school districts won’t get equal treatment.”
In commenting on health care insurance policy, Kelly said he would stand up for pre-existing condition coverage. “I’m open to any suggestion, any number of plans, both sides of the aisle. We’re not able to do that because of influence of money in politics.”
Kelly also said Bost voted to take away pre-existing coverage many times.
Auxier said he favors single-payer universal health care system. “Plenty of countries have them,” Auxier said. “If we don’t do something about getting health care to everybody, we will be cease to be competitive as a workforce.”
When asked about his support for women’s issues, Kelly said the majority of the St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s office staff are women, including prosecutors. He said women have higher pay in his office and the overwhelming majority of his campaign staff are women.
“I don’t think Mr. Bost has a single campaign staffer that’s a woman,” Kelly said.
The candidates were asked about “dark money” in campaigns. Auxier said he favors publicly funded elections in order “to get money out of politics.”
“First thing I would vote on, I would sponsor an amendment to end Citizens United,” Kelly said, referring to a Supreme Court ruling that says political spending and contributions is a form of free speech. “It has corrupted our democracy.”
Money in politics is a threat to national security and economy, Kelly said.
Kelly criticized Bost for not holding town halls and equated meeting with constituents was like meeting with your boss.
Kelly said he would like to do 20 a year “because they’re fun ... It’s a shame our congressmen is not willing to do that ... If you’re not willing to meet with the boss you should be fired.”
The debate between Kelly and Auxier was cordial as both said they would be each other’s second choice.
In his closing remarks, Auxier thanked Kelly for the tone of the debate.
“It’s nice to be civil,” Auxier said.
The Lindenwood debate was held in the Belleville campus’ auditorium with an audience of more than 50 and the Bost campaign said it was worried about disruptions. Bost has shied away from holding in person town halls in recent years citing disruptions from protest groups.
A second debate for candidates in the 12th Congressional District is slated for 7 p.m. Oct. 23 in the studios of WSIU in Carbondale and is scheduled to be televised.
The Belleville News-Democrat, the Southern Illinoisian and WSIU sponsored and organized the debates. The Lindenwood-Belleville debate was also sponsored by the university and the St. Clair County League of Women Voters.
Earlier on Tuesday, Kelly campaigned with U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia and a leader in the civil rights movement. During the Get-Out-the-Vote Rally in East St. Louis at the packed New Life Community Church, they were joined at the rally by state Sen. Kwame Raoul, who is running for Illinois Attorney General.
Lewis’ speech that had the feeling of a Sunday sermon.
Lewis worked with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement.
“There are forces in America today trying to take us back,” Lewis said. “We’re not going back, we’re going forward.”
“We’ve got to save our country. Save our democracy,” Lewis added.
Also on Tuesday, Bost received the endorsement of the United Mine Workers of America during an event in Sesser.
“We very much appreciate the support Congressman Bost has given both active and retired coal miners and their families, especially in such difficult times as the coal industry is experiencing today,” said UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts. “His strong voice in support of our members is an inspiration to us all.”