Tuesday evening's forum for local candidates, co-hosted by Southeastern Illinois College's Student Government and WEBQ radio station, gave candidates for local races an opportunity to introduce themselves to Saline County voters who attended the event, held in an auditorium at SIC, and also to those who tuned in to the forum via WEBQ's simultaneous broadcast of the event.
Candidates for State Senate in the 59th district, incumbent Democrat candidate Gary Forby and Republican challenger Mark Minor were given the floor first. A coin toss decided that Minor would speak first, followed by Forby. Each candidate was given five minutes to speak.
Minor, a pastor from the Benton area who has experience serving on boards of education in that region, emphasized his passion for Southern Illinois and said he would work hard to continue to serve the people of the Southern Illinois if elected.
"It's not just about saying what's wrong (with government)," Minor said. "You have to ask yourself, 'What can we do to make things better?'"
Forby, who spoke immediately following Minor, worked as a small business owner while also maintaining his farm before serving on the Illinois House of Representatives for several years. Since then, he has been a state senator for nearly 10 years. Forby focused his five-minute speech on the importance of the coal industry in the region and his goal of creating jobs for Southern Illinoisans.
"The number one issue is putting people to work," Forby said.
State Rep. Brandon Phelps, a democrat from Harrisburg, spoke at the forum even though he is running unopposed in the 118th District. Phelps spoke out against what he called "attacks on pensions" and the closures of state facilities like Tamms Correctional Center. He also spoke in favor conceal-carry legislation in the state.
"The Second Amendment is a right," he said. "It's not a privilege."
The next issue discussed during the forum regarded the home rule referendum, which is on the ballot for Harrisburg voters. For this portion of the forum, Harrisburg Mayor Eric Gregg spoke in favor of the referendum during his five-minute time slot, while local businessman and preacher Teddy Ray Price followed with his argument against home rule.
Though many area voters are unfamiliar with Home Rule, neither man provided a detailed explanation of how it works. In a general sense, home rule status gives a city more control and allows them to pass ordinances without permission from the state and without a vote by citizens. Cities in Illinois with a population of 25,000 or more automatically receive home rule status, while smaller towns must first pass a referendum.
"I ran for mayor because I wanted to make a difference," said Gregg, who spoke first.
Page 2 of 3 - He said having home rule would equip the city with the tools they need to accomplish a variety of goals, including lowering property taxes and generating funds other ways.
"Now is the time to move our city forward," Gregg said, after referencing a conversation with Marion Mayor Bob Butler, who told Gregg that home rule, TIF districts and zoning are key to boosting the local economy.
Price then followed up with his argument against home rule, saying it broadens local government's power to enact zoning regulations, widens their eminent domain abilities and allows the city to incur debt above the statutory limit.
"Home Rule gives the governing body the power to do just about anything they want," Price said.
Price said he has lived in home rule municipalities previously and though it may look good on paper, it takes the decision-making power out of the hands of citizens.
Talking about his personal experiences with home rule, Price said, "If you want to put a storage shed in your backyard you have to go around and get permission from your neighbors, and then you have to get a permit."
After the brief debate about the home rule referendum, which was impassioned but not very informative, candidates for Saline County Coroner were given the chance to speak to the audience, again for five minutes each.
Republican incumbent Jerry Doug Watson focused his time emphasizing his experience as Saline County Coroner and running a funeral home for more than 30 years. The Eldorado native then made an off-the-cuff remark about "double-dipping," referring to city, state and county employees who receive multiple salaries or pensions for their various government positions.
This was clearly a reference to his opponent, Harrisburg Police Detective Curt Hustedde, who also works part-time for the Carrier Mills Police Department because they don't currently have staff qualified to handle death investigations. If Hustedde is elected county coroner, Watson seemed to imply Hustedde would be "double-dipping" by receiving salaries, benefits and possibly pensions, which are all taxpayer-funded, from his several government positions.
Hustedde, Watson's democrat opponent in the race, however, used his five minutes to explain why he is qualified for the position of coroner.
"The main function of a coroner is death investigation," Hustedde said. "That's what I do."
In his usual cheery manner, Hustedde then described some of the classes and workshops he's taken over the years to receive the title of state-certified lead death investigator. In addition, Hustedde has received extensive training in order to work as a crisis intervention specialist, which he thinks would assist him as coroner when dealing with the grieving family members of a deceased loved one.
"Hands down, I've got years of experience doing this," Hustedde said, in closing his remarks.
Page 3 of 3 - Next, each county board candidate present at the forum was given the chance to speak for five minutes, whether it was someone new to the political arena who needed to introduce himself, or someone who has served on the county board for several terms and simply wanted to discuss plans and goals for the future of the county.
Democrat candidates for Saline County Board who spoke at the event included incumbent board members Bruce Tolley, Jim Fowler, Bob Oglesby, Gary Siebert, Georgia Cowger and Danny Gibbs. Democrat candidates who have not previously served on the board but spoke at the forum included Unit No. 3 School Board Member Molly Wilson-Dearing, Clint Walker, former U.S. Congressman David Phelps and Matthew Mings.
Republican candidates for Saline County Board who gave a speech included incumbent board members Joe Jackson and John Prather. Republican candidates who have not previously served on the board but spoke during the event included Aaron Smith, Jeff Murray and Chairman of the Saline County Tourism Board John O'Dell.
Almost every candidate who spoke at the forum graciously thanked the SIC Student Government and WEBQ radio station for hosting the event.