ROCK ISLAND -- A candidate forum Sunday at the Rock Island High School cafeteria became a near Democratic pep rally, since none of the four invited Republican candidates showed up.
Of the races for 17th Congressional District, 36th Illinois Senate District and the Illinois 71st and 72nd House districts, just incumbent Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, State Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, and Democratic House candidate Mike Smiddy, of Hillsdale, attended the event sponsored by Community Caring Conference and Rock Island Township.
"If I had the Republicans' record, I wouldn't show up either," joked Sen. Jacobs. His GOP opponent, retired Secret Service agent Bill Albracht, was in Chicago on Sunday night attending a USO gala. No reasons were given for the absences of Rep. Rich Morthland, R-Cordova, (Mr. Smiddy's opponent), District 72 opponent Neil Anderson or U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona.
Democratic candidate Cheri Bustos (Rep. Schilling's rival) could not attend because of a "longstanding prior commitment," and Doug House read a brief letter from her. Questions at Sunday's forum were submitted entirely by audience members and ranged from job creation, Western Illinois University and how to reduce Illinois' budget deficit, to voter ID and concealed-carry gun laws.
A former aide to Congressman Lane Evans, Mr. Smiddy is a supervisor at East Moline Correctional Center. To improve the economy, he would focus on infrastructure, such as high-speed rail from Chicago to the Quad-Cities; improve tax breaks for small businesses and end corporate welfare for big companies that don't follow through on promises to create jobs. He said $696 million in tax breaks are given to companies outside Illinois that don't provide jobs here.
State investments in things such as the new WIU Moline campus, a new Metro LINK facility and widening John Deere Road all help create jobs and boost the area's quality of life, the three Democrats said. The general assembly has cut $3 billion out of its budget in the past two years, and lawmakers don't get enough credit for that, Sen. Jacobs said.
Other parts of the state should emulate what the Quad-Cities has done, with the lowest jobless rate in Illinois (7.2 percent in August, compared to 8.9 percent statewide), and Republicans' call to end the income-tax hikes of recent years will devastate the state, Sen. Jacobs said.
"If you cut that $7 billion out, how the heck are you going to run the state?" he asked. "You can't afford to do that." About 40 percent of state spending goes to pension obligations and 40 percent to education, the senator said, leaving just 20 percent for everything else.
"Who's for cutting education?" Sen. Jacobs said, noting the state workforce also is the smallest it's been in almost 40 years.
Rep. Verschoore said investing in education helps keep local students in Illinois, and gain the job skills employers say are needed but not being filled. Schools that look at layoffs should not cut teachers, but administrators instead, he said. The state also must provide a social safety net for the less fortunate, Rep. Verschoore said.
Mr. Smiddy said the East Moline prison has 1,400 inmates but the lowest staff level it's had in decades. "Cutting doesn't make sense to me," he said. "I'd like my Republican friends to come up and walk a cell block with three times as many inmates as we're supposed to have."
Sen. Jacobs said that the federal government's recent $165-million purchase of the Thomson prison will help the state economy, including bringing 1,250 jobs in -- many in areas of health care and mental health (available by checking usajobs.gov).
While Mr. Albracht supports a stricter voter ID law, all three Democrats oppose it, saying voter fraud in other states has been a minuscule problem and that Illinois should make it as easy as possible to vote. The three also support the state allowing concealed weapons (it's now the only state that does not), but Sen. Jacobs cautioned that it also can cause problems and any gun owner must receive proper training.
Mr. Smiddy said the state's pension problem shouldn't be shifted to local school districts, which are wrestling with their own financial woes. His wife is an East Moline teacher, and said her school is considering cutting free and reduced lunches, which 83 percent of students receive. "Without that, they're not going to be inclined to learn, because they're hungry," Mr. Smiddy said.
The three said the state and local area are getting better economically, but problems that took years to fester will take time to solve. Sen. Jacobs claimed that GOP candidates "care more about helping millionaires than struggling middle-class families," calling the Republican view of government as "cold-hearted and selfish" that "hurts families."
As a decorated Vietnam veteran who has protected presidents, Mr. Albracht deserves gratitude, but regarding working families, "he's a villain," Sen. Jacobs said.
Today is Saturday, March 8, the 67th day of 2014. There are 298 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: The price of board for single gentlemen occupying rooms in Davenport hotels has been raised to $10 per week. 1889 -- 125 years ago: Dr. J.W. Stewart was elected president of the Rock Island County Bible Society. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Mrs. I.O. Nothstein, Rock Island, was named president of the Woman's Home and Foreign Missionary Society of the Twin Cities. 1939 -- 75 years ago: Athel Young, wife of Chic Young, who draws the internationally famous "Blondie" comic strip, has been visiting her mother, Mrs. John Miller, in Rock Island for three weeks. The Youngs' infant son accompanied his mother. 1964 -- 50 years ago: 750 students from 30 northern Illinois high schools will take part in the Class D state finals music contest to be held next Saturday on the Augustana College campus. 1989 -- 25 years ago: A near capacity crowd shook the rafters at Wharton field House in Moline Tuesday night. When the decibel level returned to normal, Alleman's Pioneers had pulled out a 54-49 victory over the Orion Chargers. The win advanced Alleman into the Elite Eight for the first time in 25 years.