ROCK ISLAND -- In a rare moment, candidates vying for Illinois' 71st House District took center stage Wednesday night.
Often overshadowed by federal candidates, Republican Richard Morthland and Democrat Dennis Ahern verbally sparred over who would better represent local residents in Springfield. Before a sparse audience of 15 people, the two -- along with Republican Mark Lioen who is challenging State Rep. Pat Verschoore in the 72nd House District -- spoke at a forum sponsored by the Illinois Policy Institute, a government finance think tank.
Mr. Ahern challenged Mr. Morthland's vocal opposition this summer to pay raises for the Rock Island County sheriff, county clerk and treasurer. Mr. Ahern noted that, as a Rock Island County board member, Mr. Morthland initially supported those raises.
Mr. Morthland denied the claim, saying the county board approval of the raises, subsequently overturned by board members, was done by a voice vote.
"When I tried to get the attention of the board chair, I was refused," Mr. Morthland said.
The two also addressed financial concerns outside of Rock Island County, such as pension reform for state employees. Mr. Morthland supports a two-tier system for state workers and wants to see them eventually offered a 401K retirement plan.
Mr. Ahern declined to specify his preferred approach, but said Illinois "cannot ramrod pension reform down their (state workers') throats without having them come to the table." He also compared Illinois lawmakers south of Interstate 80 and west of Interstate 39 to "mushrooms."
"We're kept in the dark," Mr. Ahern said. "We're fed a bunch of manure and, at the end of the legislative season, we're told how to vote."
But Mr. Morthland claimed Mr. Ahern feeds from the trough of a state mushroom king:Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
"My opponent's campaign has been largely funded and largely beholden to Illinois mushroom farmer No. 1, Michael Madigan," Mr. Morthland said. "Let's get rid of mushroom farmer No. 1. I will devote myself to that end."
Mr. Morthland said Illinois is virtually last nationally in job growth and development, but a leader when it comes to exporting its greatest asset:its youth. Illinois deters growth, he said, with taxes.
"If Illinois' disaster had a face, it would be worn by (Madigan),"said Mr. Morthland. "He's the guy that has to go. It's not hard to figure out where the problem is."
Mr. Ahern said he is not beholden to Illinois Democrat leaders, nor have they bought him by his acceptance of their contributions. He repeated his vow not to vote for Rep. Madigan as House speaker.
Mr. Ahern also said he wanted to review all options before backing an income tax increase. Both Mr. Morthland and Mr. Lioen oppose it. Mr. Ahern wants a forensic audit similar to the one he said helped Kansas save millions by discovering unneeded expenses.
Mr. Ahern also suggested exploring alternative revenue streams for the state, including slot machines in airports, legalized fireworks and a conceal-carry permit for gun owners. He said he also wants to actively market the Case New Holland property in East Moline and retain the Thomson Correctional Center as a state prison. The federal government has announced plans to buy the Thomson site and make it a federal prison.