Kevin Gaither received 29.1% of the vote, when he challenged incumbent U.S. Rep. John Shimkus in 2018. This year, with Shimkus out of the picture, the Charleston Democrat is trying again, running against three other Democrats in the March 17 primary in Illinois’ 15th congressional district, which covers much of eastern and southeastern Illinois.
Gaither says Shimkus promoted a “failing economic agenda” during his 12 terms in office that didn’t build infrastructure in the 15th District such as water and broadband capacity, and didn’t react to departing employers. (Gaither dismisses Republican arguments blaming Chicago Democrats such as Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan as “old”.)
One departing employer is the commercial printing company LSC Communications, which recently announced it would close its plant near Mattoon, employing 750 workers. Gaither says LSC stockholders benefited from the federal tax cuts passed by Republicans in Congress in 2017, but failed to invest tax savings back into the company.
“When you just give away tons and tons of these tax cuts without any guarantees for workers, investment in the company, investment in America, what you get is companies cashing in all of that in stock dividends, massive money just flowing out to all of their stockholders, and not one dime to the workers, to the business and to the community,” said Gaither.
While acknowledging a partisan divide that makes bipartisan work difficult in Congress, Gaither says lawmakers can find common ground when they see the struggles of their constituents.
“I think when people think about welfare, it naturally divides,” said Gaither. “But when somebody sees somebody suffering, it changes the equation. So I think we need to be meeting people more face-to-face.”
Gaither says healthcare would be a top priority for him, notably prescription drug reform. But he doesn’t support “Medicare for all” proposals, such as the one promoted by Vermont Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Gaither says Sanders hasn’t presented a way to pay for the proposal, and that the expansion would be too much for Medicare’s computer systems.
“There’s just no way that the government system, which are antiquated computer systems, can handle that,” said Gaither, who says upgrading those systems would be a priority for him, if elected.
Gaither faults the U.S. trade war with China with hurting Illinois agriculture. He dismisses the recently signed U.S.-China “Phase One” treaty as an “alleged deal”, and says while President Trump’s goal is good, he’s going about it “in a terrible fashion”. Gaither says Congress should reclaim its role in U.S. trade policy.
Gaither believes Illinois agriculture needs to diversify, and says the newly legalized hemp crop could be a game-changer for the state’s economy, if production facilities were built in Illinois. He says he would promote the development of such facilities if elected.
‘If you look across the world, every single country heavily subsidizes their ag sector,” said Gaither. “And we should inject a whole bunch of investment on the front end to get this jump-started.”
Gaither says despite low unemployment, he does not think the economy is doing well in the 15th District, with too many people forced to hold multiple jobs to make ends meet.
“If you go into any one of these communities and you say it’s a roaring economy, I would hope that they laugh your butt right out of town,” said Gaither. “But yet they often agree with the president.”
Gaither says that if elected to Congress, he would work for bipartisan efforts to improve the economy, including an increase in the federal minimum wage. And he would also work to promote more education about how government and the constitution work.
“I can’t tell you how many people I know that support the 2nd Amendment enthusiastically, and have never read one Supreme Court opinion that’s about the 2nd amendment,” said Gaither. “I think there is a disconnect there, between understanding how our government works and how our rights are so important, and linking those altogether.”
Besides Gaither , the Democratic candidates in the March 17 primary for Illinois’ 15th District congressional seat are Salem pharmacist and city council member Craig Morton, high school teacher John W. Hursey Jr. of Collinsville, and Coles County public defender and Mattoon school board member Erika Weaver. The Republican candidates are Mary Miller (wife of St. Rep Chris Miller), Altamont school board member Kerry Wolff, Vermilion County Treasurer Darren Duncan, and Camargo physician, Dr. Charles Ellington. They’re competing to succeed Republican incumbent John Shimkus of Collinsville, who is retiring from Congress after twelve terms in office.