ELGIN – Three candidates vying for the GOP nomination in the 65th Illinois Representative District faced off Wednesday in a debate sponsored by the Kane County Young Republicans.
About 22 people attended at the Hawthorne Hill Nature Center where Steve Andersson and Dan Ugaste, both attorneys who live in Geneva, and Debbie Miller, a business owner from Elgin, answered questions about their candidacy.
The three will appear on the March 18 primary ballot, seeking the seat currently held by State Rep. Tim Schmitz, R-Batavia, who is not seeking re-election.
Miller said there was “one glaring difference” between her and the two other candidates in that she is not an attorney.
“I’m not putting down attorneys, but we have many, many more attorneys than any other profession” in Springfield, Miller said. “I think we need different voices in the General Assembly.”
Andersson, who serves on the Geneva Library Board and represents municipalities as an attorney, said he would find common ground between the two parties.
“And I would shine a light on the abuses” by Democrats, Andersson said. “It is not to embarrass people, but programs and conduct that is abusive.”
Ugaste, who said he represented businesses in workman’s compensation claims, agreed with Andersson, “especially if the other party is taking advantage.”
All three touted their fiscal conservativeness and goals to fix the state’s financial problems, including being more business friendly and not supporting any increased taxes or fees.
Andersson said he would work to get the budget back in line and make the state more business friendly.
“I am an elected official with a proven record of balancing the budget and reducing taxes over time,” Andersson said.
Miller, a sixth-generation resident of the Elgin area, said she was well-qualified to bring jobs to Illinois, “which I think is the most important thing.”
“Yes, we need to work on the budget,” Miller said. “People are suffering today and they need jobs to bring them out of that suffering.”
Ugaste said he is seeking election “primarily to fix our own fiscal house.”
Although all three stood against the graduated income tax, Ugaste charged that Andersson supported President Barack Obama’s progressive or graduated income tax.
“It was completely incorrect to suggest I was supporting President Obama,” Andersson said. “I was supporting Speaker John Boehner’s plan to avoid the fiscal cliff.”
Ugaste also rebutted Miller’s and Andersson’s qualifications, saying representing municipalities, being on an elected board or owning a business does not qualify them to serve in the legislature.
To a question about their most important issue unique to the 65th, Miller said Elgin used to be “on the map” for its manufacturing base.
“And I’d like to bring that back. We need good paying jobs so they can have good lives,” Miller said. “And to do that, what we need to do is support our technical schools so we can have the best technical employees.”
All the candidates supported public transportation. Ugaste said he hoped to get the four mass transit agencies to work together to improve efficiencies.
Andersson said transportation and others were “all good programs,” but he urged a forensic audit “to see where the fat is” and cut programs that are the most costly and least effective.
“We need to keep good programs,” Miller said. “I don’t believe in austerity, I believe in prosperity.”
Ugaste said if the mass transit system is improved, it will relieve gridlock and congestion on the roadway “and you will see this area prosper.”
In terms of pension reform, Ugaste said pensions already earned should not be touched.
“We need to uphold those obligations,” Ugaste said. “We need to look at reforming pensions ... to make them viable.”
Miller said the pension system needs to be affordable, honoring the ones who already earned it and the taxpayers who are paying for it.
Andersson said he did not like breaking the pension promise, but the alternative was to “do nothing and watch it collapse.”
Though unfair, cutting pensions was “the least bad option,” Andersson said.
Andersson advocated a defined contribution plan like a 401(k) for future hires.
“None of the teachers are at fault,” Andersson said. “I apologize to them, but if we don’t do something, they end up with nothing.”
All three also supported vouchers and charter schools as a way to bring diversity and competition to schools.
The primary winner will run in the general election in November. So far, no Democratic candidate has been named. The 65th District covers areas of Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles, South Elgin, Pingree Grove, Hampshire and Huntley.