URBANA – There were few disagreements in a debate between the Democratic newcomers hoping to represent the newly drawn 13th congressional district, which stretches from East St. Louis to Champaign.
David Palmer, a former basketball player, and businessman, and Nikki Budzinski, a former aide to President Joe Biden and Governor J.B. Pritzker, debated on Thursday night ahead of the June 28 primary. The debate was hosted in the studios of Illinois Public Media.
Budzinski, hot off an endorsement from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), said inflation is the main focus of her campaign. She attributed it to COVID-19, an overreliance on the global supply chain, and the erosion of the middle class.
“I’m running for Congress because I want to help rebuild the middle class. I have been working on issues that support working people my entire life,” Budzinski said. “And that’s what I wanna’ do when I go to Congress. And that really starts with fighting inflation.”
Palmer identifies as a member of the middle class and said he’s seen the toll of inflation at the pump and the grocery store. But he argued that the biggest issue facing constituents in the 13th is maintaining safe communities.
“I think one of the most important things is that we wanna’ have a safe community, and I think when you look throughout the 13th, you know, people are seeing increased levels of gun violence,” Palmer stated. He pointed to the intersection between gun violence, economic inequality, and an underfunded education system.
Palmer and Budzinski agreed on numerous issues, including codifying Roe v. Wade at the federal level, but differed on banning assault weapons in light of the recent mass shooting at a school in Texas. Both candidates support universal background checks on gun purchases and red flag laws, which allow guns to be taken from people at risk to themselves or others. Palmer, who’s a gun owner, came out in support of the much-discussed assault weapons ban, but after the debate, Budzinski didn’t answer directly about her position on that.
“I support universal background checks, I support red flag laws,” she said. “I think those are things that haven’t yet been accomplished, and I think in Congress those are the things I would be very focused on.”
A federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004, but President Joe Biden is seeking to reenact this measure. A study from New York University found that mass shootings involving assault weapons fell during the ban, but rose significantly in the following decade.
Last August, Palmer, who resides in Champaign, told KSDK’s Mark Maxwell: “I didn’t know that Nikki lived in this district. I think people here want someone who lives in the district currently, but she’s done a lot for the district with labor and I have a lot of respect for her.” While this didn’t become a point of contention in the debate, Budzinski reiterated her connection to the district as a long-time labor organizer and public official, and as a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign alum.
WAND-TV and the League of Women Voters of Champaign County partnered with Illinois Public Media in the debate. You can see the entire event on our YouTube channel.