The EIU College Republicans invited U.S. Representative John Shimkus to campus Friday to speak to students and members of the Charleston community.
Shimkus said he does not hold town halls, rather he meets with individuals one-on-one, but Michael Fields, the president of the College Republicans, said the reason Shimkus came to speak was because he knew him.
Fields said he went to high school with Shimkus’ son and when he reached out and asked, Shimkus agreed.
Shimkus answered questions from students first and then from community members that varied from subjects about infrastructure to Medicare to higher education and the minimum wage debate.
He also answered questions about his democratic opponent Kevin Gaither during the 2018 election season and commented on special counsel Robert Muller’s investigation into President Donald Trump’s campaign to see if the campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election.
He said although he is a republican and supported former Illinois governor Bruce Rauner, he was upset with the treatment that state universities received from the state during the budget impasse.
“Now it’s up to the new governor,” Shimkus said. “So how do they bring some stability back to our university systems and do it in a way that there’s some certainty for years to come?”
Shimkus said he is unsure what an increase in minimum wage would do to Eastern.
In a January 2019 article from The Daily Eastern News, it was reported that an increase to $15 an hour by 2025 would eventually cost Eastern about $2 million.
“So as much as the language of compassion of the minimum wage and what it would do for people it does great damage to social service agencies that now have to find a way to cover that additional cost unless the state comes in with more money, what does it mean? It probably translates into higher tuition dollars,” Shimkus said.
He said the federal government is limited in how much it funds universities citing Pell Grants. The federal government also provides subsidized and unsubsidized loans and Federal Work Study.
But Shimkus said he is unsure what will happen with funding when the increase is in effect.
Shimkus did discuss the minimum wage debate during the question and answer portion, and when asked about people on public aid, he said at one time Republicans wanted to enact work requirements for applicants.
“That was viewed as unfair and unloving,” Shimkus said. “What’s really more compassionate is for people to have a job that can help them take care of their family and then they get the self-esteem to from going to work. That’s really the American Dream versus relying on government handouts.”
Immediately following this answer, he was asked if he supports a living wage for people, in which he responded what a living wage would be.
“Would (a $15 minimum wage) even be a living wage? So the answer is I don’t think the federal government should be involved … I will probably be voting no,” Shimkus said, regarding the upcoming vote on whether to adopt a national minimum wage.
When asked then how those people could afford a living and not rely on public aid, Shimkus said those individuals need to find a job.
“They get an entry level job in high school while they’re still living at home, they work part-time while they go to school, they maybe get an associate’s degree and they go to one of these manufacturing places that are paying them $19 an hour entry wages right now,” he said.
In regards to the election against Gaither, Shimkus said Gaither never asked him for a debate.
“My opponent never challenged me to a debate,” Shimkus said, responding to the audience member who asked the question. “Come on now, come on you threw this out. He never, I was waiting, he never challenged me.”
Gaither responded via Facebook message that he did ask Shimkus to several debates.
Though it was not a debate both Shimkus and Gaither were interviewed by Steph Whiteside, a reporter for Illinois Public Media (NPR) in November 2018.
Shimkus was asked about this interview and an article in the Southern Illinoisan and what he said.
In an October 2018 article from The Southern Illinoisan, Shimkus said he was not interested in any debates, town halls or other face-to-face meetings with Gaither during the campaign.
“I have no desire to spend time with my opponent, someone who is unknown,” Shimkus said in the article. “He has to be able to prove that he can engender support. It’s not for me to help him become known. My job is to represent the people of the 15th District honestly, with passion and a good work ethic, and they will decide whether they want to rehire me or not.”
The Mueller Report
Shimkus did not go into detail about the Muller investigation, stating that he did not know enough about it and citing that it was just released earlier that day.
He did say, however, that his guess would be that there would be no collusion between President Donald Trump and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.
“We should move on,” Shimkus said.
According to the Associated Press on Sunday, the Justice Department declared that the investigation did not find evidence that Trump conspired with Russia during the 2016 election.
Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]