News Local/State

Gaither Challenging Shimkus In 15th Congressional District Race

Shimkus and Gaither

John Shimkus (R-Collinsville) and Kevin Gaither (D-Charleston) are running for Illinois' 15th Congressional District seat. Shimkus - Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio Gaither - Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

Illinois's 15th Congressional District stretches from the southern tip of Illinois, to parts of the Metro East Area of St. Louis, all the way to Danville. Republican John Shimkus is running for his 12th term in Congress. He was unopposed in the 2016 general election but this year faces a challenge from Democrat Kevin Gaither of Charleston.

Steph Whiteside sat down with both candidates to get their views on a wide range of issues.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Steph Whiteside: The race for the 15th district of Congress pits incumbent Republican John Shimkus against Democratic challenger Kevin Gaither. Both candidates expressed support for the leaders of their respective parties, with Gaither praising Democratic candidate for governor J.B. Pritzker.

Kevin Gaither: I've got to say he's put his money where his issues are.

SW: And Shimkus expressed admiration for Trump's achievements while admitting that the process has been chaotic.

John Shimkus: I think it's been a pretty successful, but chaotic, successful almost two years now.

SW: The candidates diverged on the issue of tariffs which have hit local farmers hard. Despite the hardships, Shimkus believes that most farmers continue to support President Trump.

JS: You know, my producers are willing to be in this fight. They are concerned. They are stressed out. If you follow the farm publications, they do constant stories about this. But you talk to the individual farmers, rural America is still strongly behind President Trump.

SW: While Gaither holds a position that the tariffs are bad for the American economy.

KG: The tariffs are a really terrible deal for American workers. You know we're going to lose upwards of 400 plus thousand jobs. It's a huge loss for Americans.

SW: Both candidates acknowledged the importance of immigration as an issue in this election and they need to reform the immigration system. Gaither noted that immigrants play a key role in the agricultural economy, and also pointed to visas as a key area for reform.

KG: You know the real driver of illegal immigration isn't people coming across the southern border. It's visa overstays, and we don't even have a system in place to track that, and that's where we should be focusing our efforts is at updating our outdated, outmoded system.

SW: In addition to the visa issue, Shimkus also noticed that enforcing the southern border is a key element of any reform and mentioned the importance of protected status for DACA recipients.

JS: If people want a renewed and reformed immigration system that protects the DACA young adults and kids, then we need to get money for border security and bor der wall.

SW: On energy, both candidates stressed the importance of natural gas to the local economy, as well as recognizing that there is room for investment in other energy sources.

JS: The real challenge now for our country is low cost natural gas.

KG:  We're pumping more oil and gas than we ever have. We're more energy independent than we've ever been. That's a good thing. I don't want to cut off options for people. I want to give them another choice, because why would we want to frack when we can actually do something like grow something in the field that's a better option.

SW: When it comes to education, Gaither believes the federal government should be a key player in early childhood education.

KG: We need to really focus in on creating at least one space in a child's life where they can know what they are counting on which is school education funding.

SW: Shimkus, on the other hand, believes that it is an issue that should be left to the states.

JS: Really not primarily a federal responsibility, and we shouldn't micromanage that.

SW: On the issue of health care, the candidates again diverge. Shimkus stated that the U.S. has evolved to have health care provided by employers, although he does believe catastrophic insurance should be widely available.

JS: I've always believed that we should have. We should make sure that people have catastrophic coverage. I'm always worried about the people who have health events, and we know, I mean, if we're as old as all of us here, we probably know family members that have had tremendous health care issues and costs, and if they don't have some type of insurance to help them offset the catastrophic coverage they really could go bankrupt, and they really could be on it, and no one should do that. We should have accessible, affordable catastrophic coverage.

SW: Gaither expressed support for what the Affordable Care Act has achieved, while also stating that it didn't go far enough in addressing the drivers of high health care costs.

KG: The best part about Obamacare is getting rid of pre-existing conditions. But it did not solve the drivers of the high cost of health care. That's what we need to attack.

SW: One issue where the candidates came down firmly on opposing sides is the legalization of marijuana. Gaither is a yes, and Shimkus is a firm no.

KG:  Absolutely. I mean it only makes sense. This whole war on weed has not done anybody any favors.

JS: Absolutely not. I mean, there is no good thing that comes out of legalization of marijuana.

SW:  Both expressed support for gun ownership, while remaining hesitant about proposals to limit access to firearms for mentally ill individuals, citing privacy concerns and a need for an appeals process. Shimkus reiterated his support for the second amendment and believes that the tools already exist to limit dangerous individuals access to guns.

JS: In Illinois we have the Firearms Owners Identification card and we have the training for concealed carry. I've never been opposed to those type of positions and policies.

SW: Gaither believes the focus should be on keeping violent repeat offenders in jail rather than changing the gun control system.

KG: We have to hold people accountable when they commit violence especially when they have a firearm. That lack of accountability in this country with firearms that is the problem.

SW: I'm Steph Whiteside.

You can find more election coverage ahead of the midterms at the WILL Election 2018 page.