Candidates for the Illinois 25th District Senate and 50th District House seats talked about taxes, business, pension reform and more at a forum Monday night in Geneva.
The crowd was sparse at the forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Central Kane County, with candidates acknowledging the competition for attention: a Chicago Bears football game, the last presidential debate, and the game that decided whether the Cardinals or Giants would go to the World Series.
They answered about a dozen questions audience members had submitted in writing.
Corinne Pierog of St. Charles, seeking the 25th Senate seat, made a slight dig at opponent Jim Oberweis when asked if she supported a graduated income tax. Oberweis had earlier mentioned his business had opened another store earlier in the day, bringing the Oberweis Dairy employee total to more than 1,000. Pierog intimated it is harder for people making "the $22,000 to $30,000 (annual salary) for the 1,000 jobs he has created" to pay a flat 5 percent than to go to an income-based graduated tax.
Republican Oberweis poked at Democrat Pierog later, after Pierog spoke about state politicians "raiding" public-school teachers' pension funds for money to pay for other things. He started to ask her if she meant raiding on the watch of Gov. Pat Quinn, House Majority Leader Michael Madigan or former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, before he was cut off by the moderator because the question at hand was not about the pension issue.
Rep. Kay Hatcher, a Yorkville Republican, and Oberweis both supported the idea of requiring voters to show picture identification when voting, and Bernard and Pierog opposed it. Oberweis said he would be happy to introduce such legislation, including the proviso that government-issued identification be made available for free to the elderly and low-income people.
Andrew Bernard of Batavia, seeking the 50th House seat, and Pierog both supported letting same-sex couples get married legally. "I would never make any law that tells someone what their love is ... I am for gay marriage. It does not threaten my way of life," Bernard said. Oberweis disagreed, and Hatcher said that while she is a social moderate, her constituents have told her they don't support gay marriage, so she follows their wishes.
Pierog reiterated her passion for improving education in Illinois, supporting parity in funding. To do that, schools should be supported by a mix of corporate, personal and property taxes. Until that happens, "this parity is never going to be addressed."
Hatcher said school-funding parity between richer and poorer areas won't happen until the city of Chicago picks up more of the share of educating its students. "Until that changes, nothing can get better in Illinois" in that regard, she said.
All four supported finding another, less-partisan way to redraw legislative districts after a federal Census, to reduce gerrymandering that favors incumbents.
Bernard also favors a graduated income tax, saying a flat rate has a disproportionately higher effect on a lower-income person's budget.
"I am a huge proponent. To make sure people can pay what they can afford, that would be a big stance of mine if I went down to Springfield," he said.
The final question, and the closing, turned up some answers supporters of both parties might not expect.
Asked if marijuana should be legalized and taxed, Sugar Grove resident Oberweis said, "I am willing to look at both sides, which probably will surprise a few of you here in the room."
He's talked about it with his daughter, a criminology professor, who has pointed out to him that a large number of prisoners in Illinois are there because of drug-related arrests. Money might be better used helping people beat addictions, according to Oberweis.
"I would look at it with an open interest in what the long-term implications would be," he said. Pierog and Hatcher both oppose it; Bernard favors legalizing medical use.
Bernard, in his closing statement, said he supports giving Illinoisans' the right to carry concealed weapons. The stance would put him at odds with Chicago Democrats but in alliance with many Democrats from the rest of the state. He also said he would support requiring recipients of state aid to undergo drug testing, "to restore faith in our system" by making sure people are not selling the aid they receive for cash to buy drugs,
The forum was recorded by BATV; it will be broadcast on a public-access cable television channel in Batavia, and will be available for online viewing at www.batv.us.