News Local/State

Republican Congressional Candidates Square off in Forum


Four Republicans seeking their party’s nomination in Illinois’ new 13th Congressional district took part in a candidate forum Saturday night in Champaign.

They are trying to replace Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) on the November ballot after Johnson last month announced his retirement from politics. About 250 people showed up to the forum, but it will be up to each of the Republican Party chairs in the new 13th district to select a nominee.

The contenders are former Johnson aide Jerry Clarke of Urbana, Congressional staffer Rodney Davis of Taylorville, Chicago attorney Erika Harold, and TheraKids President Kathy Wassink of Shipman.

“I know Washington, DC,” said Clarke, who worked for the Illinois House Republicans before working for Congressmen Johnson and then Randy Hultgren. “I wouldn’t be your normal freshman Congressman. I could hit the ground running.”

“The courage it has taken to stand up to Republicans and Democrats alike throughout my career is the same courage I intend to take to Washington,” added Davis, who works for Congressman John Shimkus.

Harold said she has experience engaging college students in the political process, and she pledged to help broaden the Republican Party’s reach.

“I’ve had a lot of experience reaching out to people who have not traditionally voted for Republican candidates because I’m not the stereotypical Republican,” she said.

Wassink noted that she possesses many of the qualities of people in the 13th Congressional district, and because of that, she said voters will be able to relate to her.

“I represent somebody who says, ‘She’s just like me. She’s a mother. She’s a business owner. She’s an activist. She’s a woman of faith,” Wassink said.

The candidates agreed on many of the same issues – not raising taxes, passing tort reform, and repealing the federal healthcare act. But they said one issue trumps all else – job creation.

Clarke shared what he would do to bring more jobs to Illinois.

“I would address that by unburdening the small business people and farmers from over regulation,” he said.

Davis said he would work to rein in government spending.

“If we cannot stop Obama and the Democrats from spending our nation into possible bankruptcy, we’re not going to have a country years from now,” Davis noted.

Harold is interested in pursuing renewable energy resources with ethanol, and she also wants to lower taxes on small businesses.

“I think that right now there’s sort of an unpredictability in terms of our tax policy, and so companies do not know whether they’ll be in a position to hire someone next year,” Harold said.

“There’s a new term now for our graduates - underemployed, which is very sad,” Wassink added “Jobs have to be it, but it has to start from a different language than we’ve been doing it. It’s not working.”

Republican Party chairs in 14 counties that make up the new 13th Congressional district are expected to choose a nominee by casting a weighted vote on Saturday, May 19.

“I really care about winning the race,” said Habeeb Habeeb, the Republican Party chair in Champaign County. “This is a D plus 1 district, which means it leans slightly Democrat. Any one of them can be a great candidate, but I want the candidate who can appeal and win the race. That’s important to me.”

The Republican nominee will face Democrat David Gill in the November election.

The re-drawn 13th Congressional district includes Champaign, Decatur, Bloomington, Springfield, and the Metro East area near St. Louis.