DECATUR — With less than two weeks remaining until the March 20 primary, candidates seeking to be elected in Macon County made their cases to a packed room at the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church on Thursday evening.
The NAACP's Decatur branch hosted a two-hour forum for candidates in the Macon County Clerk, treasurer and sheriff races to answer questions submitted by audience members, but not without introducing themselves and sharing the reasons they chose to run for office. They are:
Macon County Clerk
- Amy Rueff, Democrat, a two-term trustee on the Decatur Township board of trustees, as well as the resource director at the Illinois AFL-CIO
- Samantha Murray, Republican, a senior research and operations manager for the office of Gov. Bruce Rauner
- Josh Tanner, Republican, Macon County Supervisor of Assessments
Macon County Treasurer
- Incumbent Treasurer Ed Yoder, Republican
- April Kostenski, Democrat, financial administrator for Dr. Stuart Baker and treasurer for the Macon County Democrats
- Shavon Francis, Democrat, an accountant at Archer Daniels Midland Co.
Macon County Sheriff
- Lt. Jon Butts, Democrat, who joined the department in 1989
- Lt. Antonio "Chubby" Brown, Democrat, who joined in 1991
- Lt. Jim Root, Republican, who joined in 1996
Earlier in the day, some of the same candidates had also appeared at a political forum held at Richland Community College and sponsored by its Black Student Association.
During Thursday night's event, all of the candidates were asked about their opinions on the state of their respective offices, what they would do to improve them and how they plan to remain active within the community if elected.
The county clerk is the head election authority in the county, as well as the issuer of vital records, such as wedding licenses and birth certificates. Incumbent Steve Bean, who was first elected in 1990, announced last year that this would be his last term.
Rueff, a 20-year Macon County resident and volunteer to various local causes, said her love of the community inspired her to run for office.
As someone who has worked before with Bean and as a trustee who deals with tax levies and other tasks that she believes are necessary for the job, Rueff said her experience speaks to her fitness for the job.
"I do have the integrity to hold the office, I do have the integrity and the hard work to make it work for Macon County, and I'm very excited to get other people excited about voting, exercising their right to vote (and) letting their voices be heard at the polls," she said.
Murray said she would consider using social media and media outlets to help create awareness of the importance of voting during election seasons as a way to help turn around low voter turnouts within the community.
"Right now, people are so burned out on politics and politicians, and it's hard to get people excited and interested," she said. "But we have play that role in order to keep society moving."
Tanner said he would be willing to go to area high schools and discuss the election process in full detail with students. That way, he said, they will have a better understand of how the government works on a local and federal level when the opportunity arises for them to exercise their rights.
All three candidates for treasurer said they would not support the elimination of fees for people who pay their property taxes late. The treasurer handles the collection of property tax revenue, investing county funds and disbursing tax revenue to school districts and other municipalities.
Francis said she would consider using social media or letters in the mail as a way to encourage people to pay their taxes on time.
"Or, maybe if you can't get there in time to pay in person, then we will increase the satellite sites that you are able to pay your taxes at," she said.
Kostenski said she would support diversity hiring initiatives within the treasurer office if elected. When asked if he felt it was important to maintain an active presence within the community if he is re-elected, Yoder kept it simple: "I live here. I don't know how much more visible you would want."
The sheriff candidates were asked pointed questions regarding safety in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead. Police have said the 19-year-old suspect, Nikolas Cruz, was armed with an AR-15 rifle that he had purchased legally.
Brown said he believes in the Second Amendment and concealed carry, but does not believe that assault rifles, similar to the one purchased by Cruz, should be made available for average citizens to purchase. He also said that he has reservations about the idea of arming teachers as a solution to prevent future mass shootings at schools.
"Could you imagine if a teacher in the classroom was in a situation with an active shooter and shot a child?" he said. "Can you imagine the ramifications of that?"
Butts said lawmakers, law enforcement and mental health professionals need to work together in order to find a solution to make schools safer. However, he does not think that banning assault rifles is the right approach to take at this time.
"I think if you're an 18-year-old child and you want to use an assault rifle, then join the military," he said. "Where you'll get training, supervision, accountability and you'll leave there a better person because you'll know what a weapon is all about and how it's supposed to be used. You're not supposed to use it against humans."
Root said he is also not sold that banning assault rifles outright is the best route to take when curbing mass shootings. As for arming teachers, he said that is a decision for the Decatur School District to make, and said that the problem can't simply be solved by handing a teacher a gun.
"In order for anybody to be effective, they have to have training," Root said. "We train law enforcement officers, and even law enforcement officers can train and have issues."
None of the candidates said they would support the decriminalization of marijuana in Decatur, citing a lack of knowledge on the effects of medicinal marijuana.
Brown added that he is worried that some dealers may try to lace marijuana with other extremely harmful drugs, like fentanyl, while Root said decriminalizing the drug has led to high taxes in states like California and Colorado.
Although the primary election is March 20, more than 1,000 people have cast their ballots since early voting began Feb. 8. Early voting is available in the clerk’s office at 141 S. Main St. from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. today, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Bean said earlier this week.
Grace-period voting allows residents to register, change their address or change their name and vote at the same time. For more information about voting, call the clerk’s office at (217) 424-1333.