Know before you vote: Primary candidates for U.S. representative of the 15th district

The general primary election is set for March 20.

Cassie Buchman, Editor-in-Chief

Kevin Gaither (D)

Kevin Gaither, originally from Sullivan, is running to be the democratic nominee for U.S. representative of the 15th district.

Gaither has a bachelor’s in chemistry from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and took some courses at Eastern.

He worked for the 2008 presidential campaign while living in Indiana, and has been involved in grassroots organizations and activist work.

“After I graduated college I spent much of my energy and time working in inner-city neighborhoods working in schools working to reach out to anybody about problems that I saw,” Gaither said. “The best way I saw to make a difference was to use politics.”

The biggest challenges Gaither sees facing the 15th district right now are the economic devastation, people not having adequate access to healthcare and education.

“The way I look at it is when the middle of the political center eroded, so did the middle class,” Gaither said. “If we don’t get that middle class solidified… get small businesses going, providing more jobs, we’re going to continue to lose people in this district and we continually having our backs against the wall.”

While he said universal health care would be helpful, Gaither added that what needs to be fixed first is getting people access to healthcare providers such as psychologists and neurologists in rural areas.

As for education, he said retraining programs are needed to help people get jobs that pay living wages. Regarding higher education, Gaither said he is in favor of expanding grants and subsidies to students and colleges. This includes helping colleges expand certain programs, such as ones in psychiatry, counseling and others.

Gaither supports building farmland to cultivate hemp.  “25,000 products are made from it … It’s a $100 billion a year industry. We could be making those products right here, putting people back to work here, selling the products here on our town square and we could be exporting it to other states around the world.”

Though he knows running as a Democrat in a more Republican district would be challenging, he said the important thing is to go out and talk to people and listen to them to combat this.

Carl Spoerer (D)

Carl Spoerer, from Mahomet, is running for the democratic nomination for U.S. representative of the 15th district. He got his degree from the University of Illinois, studying finance, economics and philosophy.

“I think the direction of our country is going in a bad way … the income disparity being what it is, the working people, the 99 percent, we’re being killed,” he said.

He cited problems such as jobs moving overseas as being issues for the district and said the trend has to be reversed by creating new job opportunities and training programs.

“Education is the key to success of our country,” he said. “Individuals, public schools are falling apart and public universities are starving and being threatened.”

Spoerer said would like to see college, trade schools and vocational schools be free.He also said health care is a right.

“If there’s one thing the government can do for us, it’s help us live long, healthy lives,” he said. “We’ve got to fix the healthcare system. I believe single-payer is where we need to go.”

He said he does not know if people make a connection between money and politics and the damage being done in other areas.

“This new tax bill is abysmal. It was horrible,” Spoerer said. “Jobs are now moving overseas faster than ever before because the tax code incentivizes businesses to do so. Trade should not be used as an excuse to ship jobs overseas.”

Spoerer sees abject poverty coming from the lack of economic activity as the biggest challenge facing the district right now.“We need to start getting money flowing in these communities,” he said.

Spoerer said unions should be included in economic progress. “Unions are the last stand for the working class. If we let our unions go under, the working class will go under.”

Spoerer said investment in renewable energy in Southern Illinois is needed, as well as promoting natural resources, parks, campgrounds and lakes.

“There are tens of thousands of jobs in renewable energy alone,” he said.

Though Spoerer acknowledges he is running in a Republican-leaning district, he said there are more similarities than one might think. “I’m running as a heartland Democrat, not a coastland Democrat,” Spoerer said. “Republicans in this district are heartland Republicans. Ultimately, we’re all heartland Americans. ”

John Shimkus (R)

John Shimkus is running unopposed in the Republican primary for another term as U.S. representative of the 15th district.

Shimkus has served in the House since 1997 and been representing the 15th district since 2013.

“I’ve always felt the government is too big, costs too much and is filled with bureaucrats,” he said. “One thing we’ve been doing in this administration is making sure agencies are more efficient, cutting back on budgets, making sure they focus on core things.”

He said he wants to bring job creation back to agencies and follow up on regulatory reform so people who want to make jobs are not overburdened.

Shimkus also wants to promote the tax reform bill, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was passed during his current term.

“I think the tax package both for the individual and corporate side keep manufacturing in Illinois,” he said.

Shimkus said he wants to make sure there are open market opportunities to sell soybeans and corn, not just domestically but internationally with foreign trade.

“Most of my farm producers want to make sure the markets they have right now don’t fall away because of trade disputes,” he said.

While he is pleased with where trade is at now, Shimkus is concerned with what might happen if the “trade war” begins.

“Right now our agriculture community is upset with trade relations with the rest of the world,” he said. “We are concerned they may go bad if we go into a trade dispute.”

Shimkus also talked about his support for coal.

“What’s important to my district? What’s important to my district is that my coal mines remain open and my power plants that use coal continue to do so,” he said.

Shimkus said what he calls the “War on Coal” is over, though there are competitors out there such as natural gas.

When it comes to people leaving Illinois, Shimkus said if there is an “efficient, simple tax code,” it will encourage people and businesses to stay.

In Congress, Shimkus serves on the energy and commerce committee.

“That consumes the vast majority of my time when I’m in Washington,” he said. 

Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]