With only a minute to answer individual questions at a candidates forum in Wheaton, incumbent state Rep. Jeanne Ives and challenger Adam Johnson focused much of their disagreements on pensions and the influence of special-interest groups.
Potential voters packed a room Thursday at the Wheaton Park District Community Center to hear from DuPage County Board and Illinois House candidates, including Ives and Johnson, who are facing each other in the March 18 Republican primary for the state's 42nd House District. The event was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Wheaton and the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce.
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Ives and Johnson both said they oppose an increase to the minimum wage and a graduated income tax. They also agreed on the need for workers' compensation and unemployment reform and leaving the decision to label genetically engineered food in the hands of the federal government.
Overall, both said fiscal issues are more important to address than social issues.
Their views varied, however, on how to address the state's pension crisis, and some conflict arose when they were asked about special interests and campaign funding.
Ives, of Wheaton, said she co-sponsored a bill that guaranteed workers with pensions the money they were promised, but moving forward, put everyone in a 401(k) plan.
"We have to have one consistent plan," Ives said.
"It needs to move people to a modernized system that is competitive, that is maybe a hybrid program or goes all the way to a 401(k), because right now you're putting 33 percent of the salary amount into the pensions for a teacher, for a policeman ... and it's unsustainable for the taxpayers," she said.
Johnson, of Warrenville, said it's hard to answer how he would address pensions until a court ruling comes through on a December bill that made cuts to public pensions.
"Until we have that guidance, we can't really know what the parameters are to go forward and make any changes to the bill that's been passed," he said.
When asked how the candidates would represent the best interests of the district, independent of the special interests of the people who fund their campaigns, Johnson said it's good to have as much public disclosure as possible.
"I think, really, it's something that you only build up trust over time," he said. "I'm telling you now, as a candidate, these are the things I stand for, these are the goals that I'll look to accomplish. But there's really no way for you to verify until I get down to Springfield and start to build a voting record and then you can look and see, does it match up with what I'm telling you?"
Ives said she is fortunate to be supported by a variety of individuals, small business owners and free market think tanks. She then took a jab at Johnson by saying 40 percent of his support is from Illinois Education Pact and 40 percent of his money is coming from outside the state, with a large portion based on loans.
"I've never taken a loan to run my campaigns," she said. "I'm a grass-roots candidate supported by the grass-roots, individual taxpayers and that keeps me independent. That absolutely keeps me free to vote the way that I need to vote."
Johnson defended himself by saying the money he received from out of state is from his parents, who live in Georgia.
"They structured it as a loan so it does give me the opportunity in the future, if I have extra money left in my campaign fund at the end of the campaign, to pay them back," he said. "I'm not sure what the major scandal is there."
If elected, Johnson said he would "not be engaging in divisive fights that make it harder for the Republican party to advance in the state of Illinois." He said he would be focused on helping the middle class advance, along with improving education and lowering taxes.
Ives said she has stood strong on good policy for the district. She said she hopes to keep working on tax reform, pension reform and increased transparency.
Ives is a freshman state representative who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served on the Wheaton City Council. Johnson is a Harvard University and Wheaton Warrenville South graduate who works in the DuPage County clerk's office.
The winner of the primary will advance to the November general election for the district, which covers all or parts of Wheaton, Winfield, Carol Stream, Warrenville, Lisle, West Chicago, Naperville and Woodridge. No Democrat has filed for the seat.