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posted: 10/25/2010 10:29 PM

Lt. governor candidates hold first debate

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Associated Press

There were no rhetorical knockouts and no obvious gaffs.

In the first face-to-face debate between the major-party candidates for lieutenant governor, Republican Jason Plummer held his own against Democrat Sheila Simon as they sparred over everything from creationism to taxes.

Prior to the mainly civil, firework-free debate Monday on WTTW-TV's "Chicago Tonight," Simon had criticized Plummer for not showing up at another debate last week at Chicago's WMAQ-TV.

The 28-year-old Plummer appeared unsteady in some TV appearance early in the campaign. But in Monday's 30-minute debate he rarely hesitated, including when host Phil Ponce asked him about why he hadn't released his tax returns.

"It's just, I think, a privacy issue," said Plummer, a vice president in a family business, RP Lumber. "That's not an issue that's ever come up with the voters."

When the host pressed Plummer further about whether he paid taxes, he responded, "Yes. A lot of taxes."

Simon, 49, opened a folder on the desk in front of her with what she said was her tax information for everyone to see, saying voters were right to expect full disclosure from politicians.

"You can see that there's no conflict of interest between me and the state of Illinois," she said.

The two differed starkly over a host of issues, including rights to carry hidden weapons. Plummer said it should be allowed as long as a gun owner meets key requirements. Simon said flatly that it shouldn't be permitted.

Creation was another point of dissension. Plummer said he believed in a Biblical version of creation, although he said local districts should decide whether it was appropriate to teach that in schools.

But he paused and declined to answer directly about whether he thought the earth was created in six days and is a mere 10,000 years old

"My faith is my faith," he said. "But that that's not an issue voters are talking about."

Simon was more direct.

"I don't believe in a firm date on the start of the Earth," she said. "I think we have to teach our children science in schools."

On the state's yawning budget deficit, Plummer echoed Republic gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady in arguing the answer is in cuts, not higher taxes. Simon, like her Democratic running mate Gov. Pat Quinn, has long advocated higher taxes as one approach of many in bringing the Illinois budget under control.

Only once was there a hint of agitation as the two sat next to each other across a table from the moderator. They turned to look straight at each other when Plummer accused Simon of spreading misinformation in her failed bid for mayor of Carbondale. He said one example of misinformation in the current race was that he'd previously dodged debates.

"The only attacks I've made have been on -- they can't be on your record, because you don't have one -- but on your running mate's record," Simon said.

Throughout the campaign, Plummer has been dogged by questions about his youth and whether his experience has prepared him to be a heartbeat away from the top office in the state. Along with his work in his family's business, RP Lumber, Plummer is also an intelligence officer with the U.S. Navy Reserves.

Simon is a former prosecutor and has taught law at Southern Illinois University for 10 years. She's also a one-term Carbondale City Council member. She's chiefly known statewide as the daughter of U.S. Sen. Paul Simon.

Both candidates have insisted they're ready to lead if the need arises.