2 seeking to face Shimkus

The two men wanting to secure the Democratic nomination for the 15th Congressional District met with local Democrats Tuesday, March 6, to explain their positions on a variety of issues.

Kevin Gaither, Charleston, and Carl Spoerer, Mahomet, took turns answering submitted questions from the audience. Occasionally, they used an answer to take a shot at incumbent Republican John Shimkus and overall Republican policies, but they mostly stayed on topic by explaining their views, how they want to approach issues and exhibited a civil respect for each other.

Gaither attended Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and has a bachelor of science in chemistry. He has worked as an activist in Indiana seeking to make positive change and is self-employed as a tutor.

Spoerer has a finance degree from the University of Illinois and started his own successful business, Rural Country Marketing Corporation, more than 21 years ago.

Question: what legislation is needed to improve health care for veterans?

Gaither said the country must do better by its veterans, adding many veterans in the 15th District are homeless and food insecure. He criticized a recent move increasing the co-pay on veterans to receive services through a Veterans Affairs medical facility. Another complaint was the construction of a vision center serving just those veterans with a 100 percent disability as a waste of money. He also dislikes a system requiring veterans to travel a long way for services and favors having more local access points.

“Those veterans deserve more than we are giving them,” said Gaither.

Spoerer said it shocked him to learn the great lengths the VA is expected to go in order to deny benefits. He noted the problems with VA healthcare in many ways mirror the bigger issue of affordable healthcare for the general population.

Question: what can be done to make healthcare affordable?

Spoerer wants a single-payer system, similar to Medicare, for all. “We could do that for half of the cost we are paying now.” He immediately dimissed conservative claims this is socialized medicine that does not work and is not popular in other industrialized countries with such systems.

Through his position as a rugby coach for the University of Illinois, Spoerer knows many in the international rugby community and he says all of his contacts are firm believers in the government-based health care systems in their respective countries. He added French and German citizens pay half of what U.S. citizen pay for health care and the results are just as good.

“Let’s fulfill our moral obligation and stop playing god based on a person’s income,” he said.

Gaither described healthcare as crucial for everyone. He also supports creating a universal healthcare system but cautioned that won’t address critical issues in the rural 15th District like access to specialists, without traveling long distances.

He advocated creating a healthcare system that drives down the cost of prescription drugs.

“We need to make it when you pay for healthcare you are getting healthcare and not paying the insurance companies,” said Gaither.

He takes healthcare reform personally after working in Indiana to improve access only to see the advancements torn up when current Vice President Mike Pence was governor.

“I’ve lost friends who died when Governor Pence came in office,” he said.

Question: what kind of gun control legislation is needed to make communities safer?

Gaither said this is an issue that has many parts beyond firearms and claimed the National Rifle Association doesn’t stand for the Second Amendment but represents gun manufacturers.

According to Gaither, it is not possible to get rid of guns but he advocated creating a sliding scale of who can purchase certain types of weapons based on training. He also said government needs to put more money into education so there are more teachers with smaller classes providing the opportunity to observe when students are developing issues.

Spoerer prefaced his remarks by clarifying he has a FOID card and an Illinois conceal carry permit. “I grew up with guns on the farm. I’m not going to take anybody’s guns.”

With that said, Spoerer insisted people do not need assault-style weapons. He advocates filling weaknesses in background checks; prohibiting private sales at gun shows; state licenses for all sellers; a legal requirement that owners report all lost or stolen guns within 48 hours; requiring owners of assault weapons to also carry a $1 million liability insurance policy per weapon; permanently banning people diagnoses with mental illness or convicted of domestic violence from owning guns; and restore funding cut by the Republicans for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms so that branch of law enforcement can do a better job of enforcing gun laws.

Question: what federal reforms are needed regarding marijuana?

Spoerer said there does appear to be evidence marijuana has medical benefits in certain applications and the federal government should not prevent a doctor from prescribing medicinal cannabis in those limited circumstances.

He was more reticent about legalizing cannabis for recreational use, but does favor removing it from the Schedule 1 narcotics list so it can be studied to determine if it is addictive and if it is truly a gateway drug.

Gaither was more emphatic about decriminalizing cannabis for both medicinal and recreational use. He said nothing about cannabis use points to addiction or that it leads to using more dangerous substances, and he claimed states that allow recreational use have experienced a drop in opioid overdoses.

Both men support the legal growth of hemp as another cash crop for Illinois farmers, noting it was legal to grow hemp during World War II.

Question: how do we address issues with illegal immigrants, the fate of children brought to the U.S. by their parents and a path to citizenship?

Gaither said the Republican fear of people illegally crossing the southern border is misplaced because most of the illegal aliens are people who came here with a visa but did not leave when the visa expired.

“We are not going to deport everybody. We don’t have the money to do that,” said Gaither.

He supports a path to citizenship for the DACA youth noting they came here without a say, grew up as Americans, have jobs, pay taxes and contribute to their communities.

Spoerer said, “Facts matter, history matters.” He said during the 1990s U.S. corporations wanted a way to keep wages depressed and encouraged illegal immigration toward that end. As a result, people came to the U.S. seeking a better life and in doing so brought their children and also had children while living here.

“The question is what do you do with those parents,” said Spoerer. “You should have legal status to have a job, but you also have to look at the history of why these people are here.”

He added both sides of the issue must stop yelling at each other and participate in a meaningful discussion about finding a workable resolution.

Question: the recent GOP tax cuts removed some important deductions for working people, what can be done about this?

Spoerer blasted the Republican tax law as a disgrace. “I would wash away that plan and start fresh.”

He advocated closing tax loopholes, letting teachers write off related expenses and return the deduction for state and local taxes. He also wants a progressive tax so those who make more and benefit more from society also pay more. He does not want to go back to a pre-1980 tax system that imposed a 70 percent rate on those making more than $400,000, but he is angered by a tax system that lets 60 percent of companies making more than $10 million a year get by without paying any taxes.

Gaither said tax cuts should be tied to tangible and provable outcomes like improving worker benefits or bringing jobs back to a community.

“The Republicans have won on taxes for a long time, and we have to hold them accountable for the harm they have done to people and communities,” said Gaither.

Question: what is the federal responsibility to education?

Gaither wants to see more support for early childhood development programs because early brain development is vital to a child doing well in school. He also likes the approach of some European countries where parents can get up to a year of parental leave with a new baby to build a strong bond and help the child make connections. Another change on Gaither’s list is more funding for mental health counseling in schools.

Spoerer said the trick is convincing taxpayers about the value of education to making strong communities. He supports removing education funding from property taxes and using another funding source.

“When we talk about all of the other problems, it all comes back to education,” said Spoerer.

In a related question, both men say the cost of obtaining a college education is out of hand and reforms are needed to make a degree affordable, without putting students into years of debt upon graduation.

Question: what can be done about American children who go to bed hungry?

Gaither said this another example of how Republicans demonize people who are struggling financially and rather than deal with the problem in a meaningful way want to cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program.

“The reason people need food stamps is because they are hungry,” said Gaither. “We have parents working two and three jobs, who still can’t pay the bills. We shouldn’t be punishing people who are hungry because of one anecdotal story.”

He noted his mother works with a backpack program that sends food home on weekends with school children. “It is sad we have to do this. We need to work on the economy,” Gaither said.

Spoerer said it is more than a children’s issue when one in every five Americans goes to bed not knowing when they will eat again.

As a financial person, Spoerer said he looks at economic data and trends and he discovered these problems escalated in the 1980s after the Reagan tax codes were enacted.

“That’s when we started seeing the growing disparity and increasing homelessness,” said Spoerer. “People don’t want to be on food stamps, they have to be.”

He added to reverse the trend of increasing poverty it is necessary to have a taxing system that does not favor the rich and an economy that pays living wages to workers.

“It is that simple,” said Spoerer. “When you look at the economic data, the negative trends started with the tax code.”

Both men believe society, including the 15th District, is poised for a change because of how the economic benefits are only flowing one way.

Gaither said traveling the 33 counties of the district he has encountered a great deal of frustration from both Democrats and Republicans regarding what they perceive as ineffective representation from Shimkus.

“People are desperate for something different,” said Gaither. “People are resilient. They deserve better, and they know it.”

He added it is important to spread the message that Democratic values of feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and elderly and helping those less fortunate are Christian values.

“Christ was the first liberal because he stood up for downtrodden people,” Gaither said.

Spoerer noted the district loses between 1 and 2 percent of the population on a regular basis.

“Our cities are dying. We need somebody to fight for us,” said Spoerer. “I feel we are being torn down internally, but we’ve been through this before.”

He is concerned about a short-sighted leadership policy so determined to give a $1.5 trillion tax cut to billionaires and corporations it does not realize, or does not care, the cut will increase the deficit and in a few years actually increase taxes on middle class and working Americans.

“The blue wave is coming. We are going to take back Congress,” said Spoerer.

The Prairie Press

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