Oberweis, Durbin go into -- and leave -- debate swinging
U.S. Senate candidates Dick Durbin, the incumbent, and state Sen. Jim Oberweis each took the war into the enemy's camp Wednesday in the first major debate of their campaign.
Oberweis, a Sugar Grove Republican, accused the Springfield Democrat of shortchanging female staffers while Durbin argued his opponent lacked real GOP values during the exchange on ABC 7 Chicago.
"The Tea Party has wrecked Capitol Hill and my opponent has embraced it," said Durbin. He cited a Daily Herald article in April where Oberweis "stood up and said it's time for the Tea Party to take over the Illinois Republican Party."
Oberweis countered he was "disgusted" with Durbin's account. "People complained they didn't have a voice in the Republican Party," he explained, adding he told them to be proactive. "Get involved, don't sit around and complain. And if you're good enough to take over the party, so be it."
Oberweis charged that Durbin paid female staffers less than men in his office and refused to release information about sexual harassment claims involving a top administrator.
"The senator says he supports women, but he pays women 11 percent less than men in his office," said Oberweis, who is chairman of Oberweis Dairy.
Durbin countered that a number of his top female employees earn more than men and said he instituted new standards for conduct in his office after the allegations surfaced.
At Oberweis Dairy, "how many women work there and what are you paying?" Durbin asked.
Oberweis said four out of five women were managers at Oberweis when he was directly involved with the company.
Warfare over women continued as Durbin criticized Oberweis for dodging taxes because of his wife's residency in Florida where she claims a homestead exemption.
"I'm one of the top Illinois taxpayers," Oberweis said. "I support women who make choices, who have jobs of their own." His wife, Julie, lives in Florida six months of the year.
Durbin said he and his wife "were proud to be residents of Illinois."
Oberweis said he'd lived in the same home in Sugar Grove for 37 years. "To say I'm not an Illinois resident is ludicrous."
The two also butted heads on an assault weapons ban.
"They're military weapons designed for one purpose -- to kill other human beings," said Durbin, who supports a ban.
"If you need an AK-47 to shoot ducks, you need to go back to fishing," he said.
Oberweis said, "I would do everything possible to reduce violence in this country." However, he said, government studies don't provide evidence a ban would reduce violence.
On a personal note, Oberweis said his sister-in-law was killed during a break-in at her house 25 years ago. "For that reason, I support the Second Amendment. If she had a gun, she might be alive today," he said.
Durbin told Oberweis he empathized with his loss but said a ban is crucial. "It may only save a few lives, but let's save those lives," he said.