DECATUR — Candidates for two of the state’s legislative districts that cover the Decatur area gathered for a forum with Decatur residents Tuesday night, and some candidates were sparring with one another.
All five candidates in the 96th House District and the two candidates in Senate District 48 showed up to answer questions from leaders of the Coalition of Neighborhood Organization and a large crowd at the Decatur Public Library.
In the 96th District, Dennis Shackelford of Rochester and Jared Perry of Decatur are vying for the Republican nomination, while Sue Scherer of Decatur and Winston Taylor and Sam Cahnman of Springfield are fighting for the Democratic nomination.
Democrat Andy Manar of Bunker and Republican Mike McElroy, the mayor of Decatur, aren’t facing any opponents in the March 20 primary. McElroy wasn’t present, but submitted answers to predetermined questions.
Taylor and Cahnman took shots at Scherer, with Taylor responding to a mailer Scherer’s campaign sent to constituents that called out Taylor for accepting help from convicts in his campaign.
The mailer was paid for by the Democratic Party. Taylor and Cahnman called Scherer out for accepting money from Democratic Party leaders.
“What you see here is Chicago politics at its best,” Taylor said. “It’s supported by my opponent, Sue Scherer. She knew this was a personal attack.”
Cahnman also seemed to allude to Scherer’s support. Another mailer Scherer sent out referenced past sexual misconduct accusations against Cahnman for which he was acquitted or will not face charges and one judicial disciplinary commission complaint that is still pending.
“The real Democratic Party will decide who its candidate is on March 20, and that’s the voters,” Cahnman said. “Nobody else but you, the citizens, will make the decision.”
Scherer said it will be her hard work and dedication, not her support from Democrats, that will be the deciding factor if she wins.
“Everybody at the table probably tried to get the support of the party,” Scherer said of her primary opponents. “I told (party leaders) I’m an independent thinker.”
Responding to a prepared question, candidates roundly criticized payday lender practices. The Decatur City Council last week passed a resolution urging the Illinois General Assembly to more stiffly regulate such businesses.
“These predatory lenders charge triple digits, take advantage of the people who are the most desperate,” Shackelford said. “It has to be stopped.”
On the issues they viewed as most important, Cahnman, Taylor and Shackelford cited jobs, Perry called for balancing the budget and repealing last year’s 67 percent income tax increase, Manar called for more equitable spending on school districts, and Scherer called for an annual construction program for state buildings and roads.
“We have to take care of our budget situation,” Perry said. “We have to create jobs, and that’s going to be done by being more stable with our budget.”
Manar cited a recent move by Gov. Pat Quinn to close the Decatur Adult Transitional Center, a halfway house, as an example of cuts he said have “gone too far” in some cases.
“The key is prevention, and I think that has been brushed to the back burner in Springfield,” Manar said. “Sometimes it’s OK for the state to spend money on programs that in the long term have a positive impact not just on the communities, but on the state budget as a whole.”
On her personal approach to fiscal austerity, Scherer said she’s been frugal in her life.
“The state’s got it backwards,” Scherer said. “You take in $5, you spend three if you absolutely have to and save the rest for a rainy day. You don’t spend seven.”
On his qualifications for office, Taylor said his past work as a legislative liaison for state agencies, which he said he was legally obligated to quit to campaign, has prepared him for the duties in the House.
“Everything, functionally, that a state representative does, we did, except for debating bills on the floor,” Taylor said. “I worked hand in hand with the House, Senate and governor’s office drafting legislation.”
Cahnman called for broad reductions in pay and perks for legislators, saying the state must be “more frugal and efficient.”
“We should cut legislators’ pay,” he said. “They’re the highest-paid part-time legislators in the country. We should abolish stipends for committee chairmen. We should abolish legislative scholarships.”
The primary election is March 20. The 96th House District covers most of Decatur and stretches west to take in the east side of Springfield. The 48th Senate District encompasses the 96th House District and include parts of Macoupin and Madison counties.