Some sparks at congressional debate, but no ignition

Nick Stroman

The three candidates running for a seat in Illinois’ 18th Congressional District faced off for the first time Sept. 10 in an hour long debate sponsored by 1470 WMBD and the Peoria Chamber of Commerce at the Hotel Pere Marquette.

Republican Aaron Schock, Democrat Colleen Callahan and Green Party candidate Sheldon Schafer are all trying to replace the retiring Ray LaHood in November.

A variety of issues were discussed by the candidates, including the energy crisis, quality of life, federal mandates and the war on terror, but Callahan probably grabbed the most attention when she said she wanted to reinstitute the draft.

“I know my campaign staff will not like me saying this, but I believe it is the fairest way for us to rebuild our military,” Callahan said.

She added a system should be established in which every United States citizen is committed for a period of time to serve the country somehow.

The draft answer came up during a question on what tough or unpopular issues the candidates planned to tackle.

Schock said one of the biggest bipartisan efforts is the state of Medicare and how poorly funded it is.

He said there is debate about plans to scale back payments to providers and hospitals, which can lead to some doctors not taking Medicaid patients.

“I don’t want to see that happen to our seniors or the baby boomers who are coming up on this plan next,” Schock said.

He added regardless of party affiliation, it is obvious no one is happy with the current direction of the country.

“I have a track record of working both sides of the aisle and like to help the neediest people of the community,” Schock said.

Schafer said his Peace Corps background, along with being an educator and a practicing scientist for 38 years, prepared him to take on the tough issues, including the medical system and immigration.

Schafer added he has first-hand experience with life issues, such as having a son-in-law who is a naturalized citizen.

“But the single most asked question of me on the campaign trail is guns, and I have some feelings of conflict, but understand both sides,” Schafer said.

Callahan said she felt right at home at the debate because she spent many years as an agriculture reporter for both WMBD radio and television.

“Back then I was a voice for people that didn’t have one or wanted it amplified, and I’ve been preparing myself for this day to do the same,” Callahan said.

“I think we’ve lost sight of the public servant aspect of this job and I don’t plan on being a professional politician,” she added.

Callahan said the current state of the economy makes the average citizen feel insecure and threatened, and wondering how they will get money for gasoline or groceries.

“Many people are feeling strangled,” she added.

Schock said each of the 161 towns and 20 counties in the 18th Congressional District have different quality of life concerns, but safety and economic development are most common.

“We need to improve the economy because without the proper resources, our infrastructure will suffer,” Schock said.

Schafer said a program involving fathers and students in Peoria’s 150 school district is a good example of how education can lead to improving the  quality of life in a community.

“It leads to stronger families and better education, and then better children and improving upon the urban and rural disparities,” Schafer said.

“Taking education more seriously can lead to more federal monies for it,” he added.

The candidates also addressed the energy crisis, which is the No. 1 topic of concern for voters in most polls.

In the short-term, Schafer said while many people make fun of it, he supports conservation to help them out of the slump.

“Long-term, I think we should renew the expiring tax credits to work on reducing our carbon footprint,” he said.

Schock said he supports an aggressive energy plan relying on natural methods of renewable sustainable energy and limited reduction through new technologies.

Callahan said she is backing the “25 x 25” vision which means by 2025, America’s farms, forests and ranches will provide 25 percent of the total energy consumed in the U.S.

The debate also happened to fall on the same week as the seventh anniversary of the 9-11 attacks so questions naturally turned to the war on terror.

Schock said many people are wondering what still needs to be done, but he said there have been no attacks since that day on U.S. soil, so he considers it a success.

“Our airspace is secure and the borders are controlled, but I still think we need more defense funding,” Schock said.

Schafer said while researching the war, he discovered there were 3,000 known terrorists in the world, a number that shocked him because he thought it would be higher.

“You could spend two times the money and we would be no more secure,” Schafer said.

“We need to worry more about being vigilant and aware,” he added.

Callahan said with the new kind of war, the country needs to approach it with new tactics.

“Even though we’ve been tough, I can’t say we’ve been smart and not every move we make has to be military-based,” she added.

In their closing remarks, Schafer said, “We need a voice in there saying enough is enough, let’s change,” he said.

Schock said his efforts and track record both on the District 150 school board and in his current state representative spot prepared him well for LaHood’s seat.

“Many of those duties parallel what I would be doing and I listen to the needs of my community,” Schock said.

 “I also am promising today there will be no negative ads and I plan to stay positive,” he added.

Callahan said throwing her hat in the congressional ring is similar to interviewing for a new job, but she does not consider the race a stepping stone or a resting place for her career.

“You have one person who’s been in the Peace Corps and another who’s less than 10 years out of high school up here,” Callahan said.

“You can use your own good judgement,” she added.