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Fourth-term Republican State Rep. Tom Demmer and his Democratic challenger, Seth Wiggins, recently met virtually with the Shaw Media Editorial Board, ahead of the November election.
Demmer, a self-proclaimed "lover of" and "believer in" Illinois, offered policies for the 90th District that largely diverged from the plans outlined by Wiggins, a self-described "Democrat raised by Republicans."
The two candidates mostly contrasted in their ratings of the state's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, approaches to economic solutions and main legislative priorities.
The pair did align, however, on the topic of firearm regulations, agreeing that the state has meaningful safeguards in place that work to put guns in the hands of responsible owners and to protect the public.
Wiggins, a United States Air Force veteran, said he's "not going to advocate to take your guns away," but that the Second Amendment "isn't absolute."
As long the right of an individual to possess a firearm in a home or in public is regulated through the lens of public safety, Wiggins said, then he wouldn't seek additional restrictions.
Demmer said he doesn't mind the checks on firearm owners that come with the state's Firearm Owners Identification Card Act or the state's concealed carry license, so long as those processes work.
The coronavirus pandemic, Demmer said, has led to serious backlogs in the Illinois State Police's processing of applications for and distribution of FOID cards and CCLs.
"These are people who are trying to follow the laws, who are trying to comply with the checks that go in place, who are trying to make sure their paperwork is updated," Demmer said. "If we're going to put in place those kind of checks and restrictions, we need to make sure that those are functioning and they're working well."
Demmer's criticism of the state's handling of the coronavirus went beyond FOID card bottlenecks, extending to the governor's office.
State-level decisions made by Gov. JB Pritzker should have given more deference to the importance of local buy-in and have been made with the support of local leaders, Demmer said.
If local and regional circumstances were taken into account with statewide choices like mask mandates and stay-at-home orders, Demmer said, then people's "compliance and confidence" in those decisions would have been "greatly improved."
Wiggins said "whether we liked it or not," the state made life-saving moves keeping Illinoisans at home and businesses closed to reduce the virus' transmission rate.
He said he recognizes that "people are still hurting" from the state's mitigation efforts, and their "frustration" is justified, but that the larger goal involves keeping people safe and preventing a more widespread outbreak of the virus.
Proposed Graduated Income Tax Amendment
Demmer and Wiggins further split on their strategies to bring economic stability to the district, especially as it relates to tax structures, job growth and the future of industry.
Demmer, who voted against the proposed graduated rates that would take effect if the graduated income tax amendment passes in November, said he disagrees with the proposed revision of the state's tax structure because the legislature hasn't demonstrated "fiscal discipline."
Citing previous tax increases that were touted as "temporary," Demmer said it would be "too tempting" to raise or tweak the rate schedule after the amendment passes, especially to pay for new proposals that rely on the state spending above its current levels.
Wiggins largely rejected that argument, saying he supports the proposed amendment because "we're at a point where we need to do one of two things — we need to raise revenue to meet our bills, our unfunded liabilities, or we need to cut."
The graduated income tax structure allows the state and the district to increase their revenue without sacrificing funding to services like education and public safety that people have come to rely on, Wiggins said.
Keeping Jobs and Growing Industry
Wiggins offered three plans to boost job numbers in the 90th District, including subsidizing post-secondary education with civil service jobs at government agencies, a bridge income initiative and working with businesses and trade schools to train individuals who have little education or experience.
All three plans, Wiggins said, would "increase the value of the district" by keeping people within its borders, staffing businesses and local agencies and evolving education opportunities.
Demmer said he's committed to retaining economic drivers in the district, like the Exelon nuclear generating station in Byron, by collaborating with local, regional and state officials to reverse its closing and make the economic and environmental case for nuclear energy.
Demmer added that he's using his relationships with other districts and stakeholders to come up with solutions that "right off the bat would have bipartisan support," if introduced in the legislature.
He also wants to direct state resources toward other regional industries, like agriculture and construction, to address longer running concerns held by local officials over the competitiveness of Illinois products and attractiveness of the district to new corporations.
If re-elected, Demmer said he would work to "rebuild trust in state government" by advocating for ethics reform and introducing new health care policy.
In regard to ethics reform, he hopes to help pass measures like doing away with legislators' ability to lobby while in office and the "revolving door" of former legislators serving as lobbyists.
As the House GOP Caucus lead on health care, Demmer said he plans to introduce and pass another comprehensive medicaid omnibus bill that will build on previous policies that increased health care accessibility and affordability, and allocated funding for juvenile behavioral health care.
"There's a good way to get all people involved on that, and to get support from both sides of the aisle and people from all parts of the state," Demmer said. "That's been an area where I've really spent a significant amount of time during my time in the legislature, one that's been particularly rewarding."
If elected to the legislature, Wiggins said he would focus on "accessibility, equality and service."
Specifically, Wiggins hopes to increase accessibility to affordable health and mental health care, education for students and funding for teachers. He also intends to secure and codify equality across gender, racial and sexual orientation lines.
Wiggins, who is an out LGBTQ member who was born a woman and transitioned to a man, said he wants to "give representation for people in my community, not at the expense of other communities," and give a voice to children and minorities.
"Let's have someone who's willing to make that conversation, not just willing when it comes up, but is advocating specifically for that conversation and wants to bring us forward there," Wiggins said. "That's what my candidacy offers."