GALESBURG — Mike Halpin, the Democratic candidate in the race for the 36th district seat in the Illinois Senate, appeared in the Galesburg Public Library Tuesday evening to answer a series of debate questions ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.
Republican Mike Thoms, Halpin’s opponent in the race, was invited to the debate but did not attend. Thom’s campaign said he had a prior commitment. The questions prepared for Halpin and Thoms were not made available to them before the debate.
The two candidates in the race for the 71st district seat in the Illinois General Assembly, Republican Dan Swanson and Democrat Chris Demink, also met in the public library Tuesday night to answer debate questions.
The two candidates for the race for U.S representative of Illinois’s 17th congressional district, Republican Esther Joy King and Democrat Eric Sorensen, were invited to the forum but said they were not able to attend.
The event drew at least 60 people and was put on by Galesburg’s chapter of the NAACP in collaboration with United Against Hate, PFLAG and the Galesburg Public Library. It was broadcast by WGIL, and The Register-Mail’s editor Tom Martin moderated the questions.
A debate featuring candidates in Knox County races was also held last week in the Galesburg Public Library. Some of the quotes below are excerpts from the candidate’s remarks.
What specific needs have you identified in Galesburg and how will you address those as a state legislator?
“Like throughout Western Illinois what Galesburg needs is jobs, jobs, jobs. We’ve seen over the years companies continue to shift jobs overseas and down to Mexico. I mean it’s been happening for 20 years or more. Maytag leaving in 2004, Gates Rubber shutting down divisions, any number of businesses throughout western Illinois. And so we need to start bringing things back.
“I’ve been the sponsor of several bills in the Illinois House, as part of our budget, to bring tax incentives to manufacturers for electric vehicles, for microchips, for semiconductors. All these things that we have the transportation, infrastructure and the workforce and the education system to be able to put people in those jobs and start bringing those people back.
“Companies I hope have learned their lesson with the war in Ukraine and the pandemic that interrupted supply lines. We need to start making those things here. (…) I was so excited to see in the last few days the company in Moline that’s going to be manufacturing things in partnership with the city of Galesburg, bringing some good paying jobs here to the area and making sure that we’re going to build on that because when the jobs come, the workers come, the unemployed find jobs, they bring their kids here, they go to our schools,” Halpin said.
Where do you stand on access to abortion in Illinois?
“I’m a supporter of the Roe vs. Wade decision. I think that is where Illinoisans are, I think that’s where America is, and I don’t believe that any politician or any government, particularly men, should be telling women what to do with their bodies. I think that’s a personal choice between the woman, the doctor and the gyno and I think that’s the way it should be. Illinois is a Roe vs. Wade state and I intend to keep it that way,” Halpin said
What legislation would you support to ensure public safety without infringing on the second amendment?
“In the state of Illinois we have a fairly robust system of regulations that I think does a fairly good job of keeping firearms out of hands of dangerous people. One of the most important things I think we did do was extend the waiting period to make sure that you can’t just go in a moment of desperation where you might hurt yourself, or in a moment of anger, where you might hurt others, and make sure that you don’t have that immediate access to a weapon. And we changed that in Illinois and I think that saved lives.
“But more importantly what we should be doing is, again, funding public safety. Our budget this year funded public safety to levels that we haven’t seen in probably more than a decade. Our state police has record funding. We have a record number of cadets coming through the system, really encouraging people to become officers on the local level, especially with some of the reforms that we’ve made, where we’re trying to make that job easier, try to make that job more cohesive with the communities that they serve. I think that’s the most important thing we need to do, is continue to fund those efforts. To continue to fund violence prevention efforts across the state. We’ve got to interrupt that violence so we don’t continue to see it, generationally and widespread throughout the community,” Halpin said.
Rural counties have lost population in the last 10 years. Knox County lost 5.6%, McDonough County lost 16.5%. What is causing the loss and what can you do to help?
“Over the last 10 years I think the biggest cause has been an almost three-year period where the state didn’t have a budget. When you talk about 16% in McDonough County and in Macomb, we had a university that was being starved of resources for three years. Why would you, as a student, consider a university that you didn’t know whether it would be funded. You’re making a four-year investment and trying to make that decision. And for many, schools in Missouri and Iowa were particularly, specifically advertising to Illinois students, saying, ‘Come here,’ knowing that if you get that graduate degree or that undergraduate degree from a Missouri school, you’re going to stay in Missouri.
“That was the biggest thing, I think in McDonough County and one of the things I’m proudest of is bringing an end to that budget impasse, making sure we were funding our higher education, making sure that we were funding our K-12 education, making sure that we have a base-line budget so that businesses and individuals can actually plan for the future instead of wondering what’s going to happen over the next year. (…) So bringing that stability to the state is going to reverse that trend. Fully funding higher education is going to reverse that trend.
“The tax incentives I talked about earlier for jobs and manufacturing, bringing more people back to this community is going to change that trend. We’re certainly not around the corner. It took a long time, over the past decade, to start to see that loss, it’s going to take a long time to see it come back. But we have to start now. We have to be ready to invest in education, in training, in roads, bridges, and over the course of the next 10 years we’re going to see a return on our investment, I’m really excited to see that happen,” Halpin said.
What can be done at the state level to address mental health and addiction among incarcerated people?
“So mental health in our correctional facilities is certainly a problem and as I think one of the candidates earlier said, that’s not where we should be first addressing these issues. These issues should be addressed before they even get into the criminal justice system, or at the very least when they have their first encounter with the criminal justice system.
“We shouldn’t be moving people, incarcerating them, simply because of their mental illness or their substance abuse problem. We have to offer those services on the front end. It’s been a problem because we lack providers in western Illinois and other parts of the state. It’s tougher to access. One thing I’ve done is try to make sure that we’re increasing access to tele-health whenever possible. It certainly is not a substitute for in-person counseling or psychological help, but at least maybe it could be that interruption, that initial intervention that prevents a person from going on to a more dangerous track. And so that’s where we really have to focus our energies.
“A lot of patients that have these issues are poor people in the state, they don’t have access to the financial resources to get treatment. And so Medicaid picks up a lot of the slack. And for years and years, our Medicaid reimbursement rate was I think a third of our neighboring state in Iowa. But over the years since I’ve been in office, we’ve increased some of those reimbursement rates, we’ve increased access to telehealth, we’ve increased access to providers and more providers are accepting that medicaid. We’re starting to turn that tide but it’s going to take a lot of time to really catch up. But that’s the direction we need to go,” Halpin said.
Do you believe Governor Pritzker overstepped his bounds by shutting down Illinois early in the pandemic? And what should the Governor have done if not shut down Illinois?
“The governor was faced with a really difficult choice at a time when we didn’t have a lot of information. And I think when we compare the numbers from states, I live in Rock Island right on the border with Iowa, you start to see that the deaths from COVID-19 over in Iowa as a share of the population were certainly more significant than what we saw in our community on the Rock Island side.
“At that early stage I think it was very important to make sure that we all slow the spread of the disease, make sure that we weren’t overburdening our healthcare system, weren’t overburdening our nurses, our doctors and making sure that our families were safe. So I think in that early time the governor did a good job and made the right decision to keep us as socially distanced as possible while we let that run its course.
“I do think that there’s a time when perhaps we could’ve opened up a little bit more quickly. We could’ve relaxed some of the use of masks, especially after the vaccinations were out. Especially because I think those vaccines were incredibly important in reducing the spread. (…) We can certainly look back, as an armchair quarterback so to speak, and see what we could have done differently, but I think at the time the governor, and the legislature supporting him, saved lives over that time and I’m glad we did it,” Halpin said.
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October 20, 2022 at 12:57PM