The Illinois primary election is rapidly approaching, and on March 20, voters will narrow the field.
Democrats must choose a challenger for the seat currently held by Republican Rep. John Shimkus: the 15th Congressional District in Illinois.
Business owners Carl Spoerer from Mahomet and Kevin Gaither of Charleston would like the chance to take on Shimkus this November.
Spoerer grew up in Pennsylvania and graduated from the University of Illinois in 1985. He started Rural Country Marketing Corp over 20 years ago and volunteers as a rugby coach at U of I.
“I believe I have some very traditional Midwestern rural values, I woke up on 10 November 2016 and I just felt the country was going to be going in the direction that I didn’t think was going to be in the best interest of the country.”
Gaither grew up in Sullivan, and graduated from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in 1998, did advocacy in Indiana, and returned to Illinois in 2014 as a tutor.
“Healthcare and the system not protecting people is why I’m in this race, it is so serious that we as elected officials, we as candidates really know what’s at stake because failure is not an option for people especially the most vulnerable people.”
Both candidates share similar thoughts on some of the issues.
When it comes to the economy, both candidates feel small business investments and loans will help strengthen Illinois.
Spoerer says vacant buildings in communities across the 15th District could be filled with small businesses - but they need support.
“Let’s get a guaranteed small business loan program going so entrepreneurs that may be in a stressed out area may not be able to meet traditional loan requirements, we can get guaranteed backing and we get some businesses going in these towns, that in conjunction with some robust programs to support new business owners.”
Gaither says small businesses need help with the state laws and regulations that sometimes create obstacles for them to grow.
“We really need to invest more in the Small Business Administration. What I always hear is the regulation hanging over the heads of small businesses. We need to provide some more assistance for small businesses to kind of manage the regulations, and find out which ones really are burdensome and which ones are really there to protect people and help them get through it.”
They both believe renewable energy and natural resources will also improve life in Southern Illinois.
But Spoerer says the low price of natural gas is hurting the coal mining industry.
“Bringing renewables to the industry will provide 10,000, 15 20,000 jobs and at least give some of our miners and other people in the fossil fuel industries that their jobs aren’t coming back and avenue to get their jobs back.”
Gaither says farmers should use southern and central Illinois' abundance of farmland provides a new opportunity for a new cash crop like hemp, who’s products are imported from other states instead of corn and soybeans that have seen stagnate prices lately.
“Farmers can make $3,000 an acre, we can be making these products right here. There are 25,000 products made from hemp, we could become an export hub for that and become an new economic engine for the state of Illinois.”
When the candidates were asked about recreational marijuana, they differed on their answers some.
Gaither supports legalizing it - and thinks on top of the medical benefits the available amount of empty factories and business would help facilitate the needs for the industry.
“Marijuana is a very huge benefit for people with PTSD and pain and all sorts of issues. It’s a whole other wasteful spending that we separate families and we destroy communities and we keep people out of the job market, so we have to legalize marijuana and at least get the schedule down from 1.”
Spoerer thinks there’s not enough research on the benefits of recreational marijuana and wants to look to Colorado and see their positive and negative effects since legalizing in 2012.
“I would like to see it lowered from a schedule 1 to a schedule 2 so that we could do proper studies on it, let’s get some real factual scientific data as to what it does heal and cure and its pain relief and what are its true addictive qualities or not and is it actually a gateway drug.”
Spoerer holds a conceal and carry license and enjoys owning and shooting guns, but has different thoughts on guns that resemble military-style weapons.
“I want to be sensitive to the people in this district and the people who strongly support guns, I have shot a AR, it’s a rush - it’s great fun, but I have come to the conclusion that I do not believe that my enjoyment from shooting this weapon is worth the damage that is being done to our law enforcement officers, what’s being done to our schools. We saw what happened in Las Vegas, I just don’t see that peoples right’s to own a gun and the enjoyment that they get out of this weapon is worth the damage that its doing to society, so I would support banning the assault rifles or the weapons that are modeled after the assault rifles.”
Gaither does support second amendment rights but feels there should to be more scrutiny on the purchase and ownership of these types of guns.
“I’ve had people that I know shot in the head and I’ve been shot at myself. It's very serious and we have to be, you know, we have to know what were doing. We have to know about these weapons, there’s so many of these semi assault rifles out there and it’s the availability for children to get a hold of them, we should think about limiting the availability for the rifles because it's very serious. I think some people in our society should be able to have access to those kinds of weapons but there should be a very high class, high kind of bar to get ahold of the weapons and add a liability insurance possibility to that as well.”
Both candidates agree higher education is important and should be properly funded.
Gaither says it can use some reorganizing to better students' educational experience and find ways to connect schools with their communities.
“Higher education has to become a better priority. We need more funding - we also need to kind of retool our entire education programs and give people skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow, also there’s things that we can be doing to tie more of these universities into the community, like art communities are very useful to kind of re-galvanize farming communities.”
Spoerer believes that the constant funding cuts will ultimately put students at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the world.
“People have to realize that higher education, the institutions of higher education are our window into a future 20 years down the road, they dream the future, they research the future and they make the future, so by starving our institutions of higher learning of resources they need to perform these functions, we are killing our future and we are killing our leadership role in the world with innovation for the new technology.”
Election day is coming up on March 20th.