Bean faces Walsh's crowd at 8th District debate

Like a misbehaving class scolded by an overwhelmed substitute teacher, much of the audience at the lone public debate between the three 8th Congressional District candidates was subjected to frequent pleas for quiet and respect.

But that didn't stop the more than 300 people Wednesday night at Grayslake Central High School from showing their loyalty. From the boisterous applause at the onset to chants at the end, the crowd was overwhelmingly behind Republican Joe Walsh.

Put on by the League of Women Voters of Lake County with help from honors and Advanced Placement government students, a few of the submitted questions dealt with education budget cuts.

Three-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean, a Barrington Democrat, tried to paint Walsh in an extreme light by criticizing his call to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education, saying it would negatively affect school funding and student loan programs.

“That's an irresponsible approach to fiscal responsibility,” Bean said. “Education is one of the most important investments we can make.”

Walsh, of McHenry, responded that he doesn't know of one statistical analysis showing the federal department benefits students. He said education should be a state and local issue, and that he supports competition from private, religious and home schools so public schools feel pressure to improve.

Green Party candidate Bill Scheurer of Lindenhurst said he believes the current funding system is deeply flawed and violates equal protection rights. He said the money should follow students, who in turn should have many options such as schools focused on math.

With apologies to the League and Grayslake students, Walsh began his remarks by saying he was disappointed with the event because “for at least three months I've asked her (Bean) to debate me and take direct questions from constituents.”

He challenged her throughout the night to agree to additional forums and ended things on a similar note, reading verbatim a Bean quote from 2004 in which she challenged 36-year veteran U.S. Rep. Phil Crane to step up and debate her.

Scheurer said there ought to be more civil conversation between the candidates.

“Sometimes I feel like we're living on an episode of ‘The View,'” he said, prompting laughter from the crowd.

The audience seemed most interested in fiscal matters, such as recent health care legislation, keeping jobs in the U.S., and the stimulus plan.

While Walsh called the stimulus package an “absolute failure,” Bean said she was proud to have voted for it because the plan included $288 billion in tax cuts, slowed job loss and contributed to four straight quarters of gross domestic product growth.

But when Bean cited other examples of votes for tax cuts and called herself a fiscal conservative and social moderate, many in the crowd snickered, prompting another warning from the moderator and audience groans.

“I remain a committed centrist ready to work across the aisle to promote responsible solutions that move America forward,” Bean said.

Walsh, who e-mailed supporters Wednesday afternoon saying the debate would be rigged in her favor “so let's make it clear to her that she no longer represents us and needs to answer our questions,” called this one of the most important elections in the last 50 years.

“There is a revolution going on and it's a glorious, wonderful site to behold,” Walsh said.

Pledge of Allegiance breaks out in the debate audience

8th District debate highlights

8th Congressional District candidate Melissa Bean debates Joe Walsh and Bill Scheurer during candidate forum at Grayslake Central High School sponsored by the League of Womens Voters. Bob Chwedyk
The crowd gathers before the candidates forum between 8th Congressional District candidates Joe Walsh, Melissa Bean and Bill Scheurer at Grayslake Central High School. Bob Chwedyk
8th Congressional District candidate Bill Scheurer debates Joe Walsh and Melissa Bean during candidate forum at Grayslake Central High School sponsored by the League of Womens Voters. Bob Chwedyk