A two-term Congressman faces a challenger from Macon County in Illinois’ 13th Congressional District in Tuesday’s election.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, is seeking a third term representing 14 counties across southern Illinois, including parts of Madison County. Davis said he believes bipartisanship and focusing on local constituents make the difference in his legislation, citing the farm bill and long-term highway infrastructure bills that he said will bring back funds to reinvest in Illinois for five years.
“I’ve learned that if you go in with ideas that can really impact your constituents… you can really make a difference,” Davis said.
His opponent is Mark Wicklund, who has worked with veterans’ organizations in Macon County for 20 years, served on the Macon County Board and believes it is time for a change in the 13th District.
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“The American public is fed up,” Wicklund said. “They’re tired of nothing getting done in Washington or Springfield.”
Wicklund said he knew that he had an uphill fight in challenging a sitting congressman, calling his effort a grassroots campaign eschewing large donations.
On the issues at hand:
• The idling of U.S. Steel in Granite City: Davis said Congress has been working to change the way that steel dumping enforcement actions are handled in court, to move them along faster. He said the last three cases that went before the U.S. Department of Commerce were adjudicated much more quickly. “Hopefully we can stop this steel dumping,” Davis said. “We want to see those who have been laid off back to work.”
Wicklund said he believes part of the problem is giant omnibus trade bills that don’t put enough focus on specific issues like the steel trade. “Congress itself admits they don’t know what is in these trade bills, and I think that’s wrong,” Wicklund said. “We need to get away from these big ommibus bills and get them down to the issues like agriculture and steel manufacturing… We need to get (the steel mills) moving and make sure they’re not shipping jobs overseas.”
The American public is fed up. They’re tired of nothing getting done in Washington or Springfield.
• On the controversy surrounding the Standing Rock Reservation pipeline protest: Davis said he believes the U.S. needs more energy exploration within its own borders, not less. “America has a distinct advantage over our trading partners overseas,” Davis said. “For the life of me, I cannot understand why some want to take that advantage away.”
Wicklund said he believes local Native American groups could have worked out a cooperation with the pipeline without interference. “Then outside individuals and protesters came in and decided to star stirring things up,” Wicklund said. “The violence of the last couple of days is uncalled-for on both sides.”
Wicklund said he is “not a fan of pipelines,” however, and believes there could have been more jobs created in trucking than by building 1,300 miles of pipe.
• On unemployment: Davis said the U.S. has had “anemic job growth under this president,” and advocates reforms to the tax code to encourage job creation. “We have so many people in this country who may not be unemployed but are underemployed and may not be where they want to me,” he said. He also said that Congress needs to stop cost increases in healthcare, and “we’ve got to keep Nancy Pelosi out of the Speaker’s chair.”
Wicklund said he believes large infrastructure projects need to come first, to fund projects that will then spur service industry jobs as more people will have disposable income. “We need a serious (jobs) bill that will put these things in motion,” he said.
• On the rising cost of a college education: Davis said there should be more flexibility with family college savings plans, such as being able to use the funds for non-tuition expenses like computers. “It’s not the government’s money, it’s the family’s money, and you can’t go to college without a computer now,” he said. “I know, because my daughter is at Illinois State and she took mine!”
He said he is advocating assistance for families paying down student debt in the form of tax credits to employers who offer employees assistance in paying student loans. Families saddled with heavy student debt often cannot save for retirement or buy a home, Davis said. The bill is currently cosponsored by both Republicans and Democrats, Davis said.
“The problem we have is that colleges are not transparent enough with families as to what the overall cost will be, and we are looking at ways to increase transparency,” Davis said.
Wicklund said there has been a drain on public education in K-12 and higher education, and that student loan interest rates should be held solely at the cost of managing the loans, not for government profit.
“We need to clean up the waste at public and community colleges; salaries are out of control in administration and athletics,” Wicklund said.
• On the contentious and historic presidential race: Davis said it has “taken on a life of its own,” calling Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton “the two most unpopular candidates in history.“ Davis said he withdrew his initial endorsement of Trump after news reports surfaced about Trump’s lewd comments regarding women.
At the same time, Davis said he questions why Democratic candidates aren’t “running away” from Clinton during the email investigation. “She has disqualified herself from being president of the United States,” he said.
Davis said he does not believe that the controversies surrounding Trump’s presidential campaign will affect down-ballot races like his. “I think both (parties) are affected equally,” he said.
Wicklund said the presidential race’s tone “seems to change by the hour” and disapproves of information about investigations being leaked during the campaigns.
“I will be a watchdog for our president, whether it’s Trump or Clinton,” Wicklund said. “Both need to be held accountable for their actions. We lack serious political leadership in Washington D.C., so we need political leaders to stand up for what’s right and get our country back to moving.”
On one thing both agree: the recent revelations by the Los Angeles Times that National Guard servicemen were being forced to return their enlistment bonuses are “shameful” and “dumb,” though they differ on where to place the blame.
Wicklund’s son is a disabled veteran who served in Afghanistan, and said he has friends who are affected by this.
“This is just a case of Congress failing to do their jobs,” he said. “Congress has to fix this issue; the (Department of Defense) can’t fix it. For more than two years, Congress has known about it and done nothing. These servicemen signed legal contracts to keep them in the military where we needed them. They did their jobs and went back to war more than once. To go after service members and put them into bankruptcy to repay for something they legally signed is shameful.”
We have to make tough decisions in Washington. Our next generation does not deserve to be handed the same debt as what was handed us in our generation.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis
Davis said he believes it could have been corrected if the National Defense Authorization Act had not been held up by Congress. “This has got to go down in history as one of the most boneheaded bureaucratic decisions in our lifetime,” Davis said. “This never would have happened if they would have passed that act… We will correct this ourselves, and this administration should be ashamed.”
Davis said he believes he has fulfilled his promises to focus on farm, infrastructure, water and highway bills, but there is more work to be done. “We’ve got to fix the broken (Veterans Administration) health care system, and the shortfall in funding for cancer and disease research,” Davis said. “We have to make tough decisions in Washington. Our next generation does not deserve to be handed the same debt as what was handed us in our generation.”
Wicklund said he took on this campaign as “a proud Democrat.”
“I know how government is supposed to work and I know what’s holding us back: big money and party politics,” he said. “I’m tired of what’s going on… it’s not about who’s giving out the biggest checks, it’s about the people in our district. We need to get Washington back to work.”