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Recapping Illinois’ 13th Republican District Debate

URBANA – Last Thursday, four Republican candidates hoping to represent the newly drawn 13th Congressional district debated at the studios of Illinois Public Media. Three candidates are modeling their campaign after former President Trump, while one is choosing a more bipartisan track.

Brian Mackey, host of the 21st talk show, started off the debate by asking each of the candidates: “Who won the 2020 presidential election, and was it free and fair?”

Terry Martin, a former political journalist, dodged it.

“Well, Joe Biden is in the White House. He’s signing the bills,” he said. “He’s the president of the United States. I don’t know if we can say that [he is] because there’s been no legitimate investigation.”

Jesse Reising, a former federal prosecutor, answered in a similar way: “Well, Joe Biden is legitimately the worst president we’ve had since Jimmy Carter.”

Regan Deering, a community organizer and former small business owner, followed suit.

“So the 2020 election was unlike any I’ve ever voted in my lifetime,” she remarked. “I know we now have the Biden administration controlling the White House and decimating our middle class-families. We do have loss of voter confidence in whether or not we had a free and fair election.”

Matt Hausman, an aerospace engineer and former teacher, had a different response. And that might be because he’s modeling his campaign after Congressman Rodney Davis, who’s known for his attempts at bipartisanship.

“Yes, Joe Biden won, and yes, it was free and fair, as was said by Trump’s own election security official,” Hausman said.

Economic issues and inflationary measures

The candidates were largely hoping for a return to Trump’s “America First” principles, which they think will grow the economy and decrease inflation.

Deering, who was endorsed by the late Congressman Tim Johnson, said that inflation is a tax on families across the U.S. A recent study from economists, including former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, found that inflation is inching closer to its 1980 peak. Deering said it’s being caused by irresponsible federal spending.

Reising, who has been endorsed by former HUD secretary Ben Carson and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) Tom Cotton, agreed with that sentiment.

“On the fiscal side, we have to cut this reckless federal spending that’s fueling the inflation,” Reising said. “We also have to bring good-paying jobs back to central and southern Illinois.”

Hausman advocated for the Federal Reserve to abandon its dual mandate, which was established in 1977. It allows the Reserve to account for both unemployment and price stability. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), among others, have pushed for the Fed to focus only on inflation measures and price stability.

Martin agreed that the Fed is to blame for high inflation rates.

“I think Jerome Powell, the head of the Federal Reserve…and the governors have done a horrible job,” Martin said. “I was warning about inflation two years ago…they should’ve not been keeping these artificially low rates.”

The possible repeal of Roe v. Wade

The candidates cheered on the possible repeal of Roe v. Wade.  Hausman expressed that it’s possible to lower the demand for abortions by creating stronger communities and allowing for better access to contraceptives. He said he would be in favor of an abortion exception for the “health of the mother.”

Deering said abortion is a personal issue because she was adopted.

“As a candidate, I will continue to support the sanctity of life,” she said. “But I also think we need to spend our federal tax dollars not on abortion services, but on supporting young women and families in crisis that may be facing an unplanned pregnancy.”

Martin admitted that he would be in favor of abortion exceptions in the case of rape or incest. He has been endorsed by Illinois Family Action, which opposes abortion-rights.

“We cannot just be taking the life of children in the womb willy nilly as the Democratic Party now wants to do,” Martin stated.

Reising touted his endorsement from a Springfield-based group that opposes abortion-rights, while attacking his Democratic contender.

“Illinois has some of the most radical abortion laws in the country,” Reising said. “My Democratic opponent, Nikki Budzinski, worked for and is endorsed by Planned Parenthood.”

Climate change and agriculture

Hausman, who was born and raised on his family’s grain farm, said climate change is a real issue that should be taken into account when thinking about agriculture. He came out in support of the farm bill and “innovative solutions.”

“Republicans have ceded this issue for twenty years,” Hausman remarked. “We’ve denied climate change, even though we knew it was happening. We need to accept that, and realize that heavy-handed regulations from the government are not the way to do it. The Green New Deal is not the solution.”

Deering described the district as an agricultural one and supported the farm bill, increased rural broadband access, and better infrastructure. 

Reising, who said his great-grandfather was a tenant farmer, spoke about the need for robust crop insurance and lifting the summertime ban on E15 (which is a 15% ethanol and 85% regular gasoline mixture). President Biden recently lifted this ban, despite its carbon footprint.

Martin recommended an increase in domestic oil production to boost the economy and to quell inflation.

Gun violence

I asked each of the candidates if they would support red flag laws, or universal background checks. None said yes, except for Hausman, who also pushed for raising the minimum age for purchasing a firearm.

“We as Republicans need to admit that there is a problem with guns being too easily accessible for dangerous hands,” he said.

Reising said the recent mass shootings are about mental health, not guns.

“In Texas, actually, 18-year-olds have been able to buy these types of weapons for many many decades, so this corresponding increase in mass shootings has nothing to do with the age at which individuals have been able to purchase firearms,” Reising argued.

Martin agreed with Reising that treating mental health is the best option because anti-gun violence laws aren’t enough. “We can pass a law on gun control, [but] we have to know that’s not going to be the solution,” Martin stated.

Deering said that gun ownership and gun safety is the solution.

Other issues plaguing Americans

Martin said he’s worried about middle-class families because these days politics feels like the “Twilight Zone.”

“You don’t know what a woman is anymore…I don’t know how to address that. I think we’re in a crazy time. I feel like the Twilight Zone,” Martin went on to say. “I would ask you for your vote because I’m here for common sense.”

Reising, a sixth-generation Decatur native, also described the country as unrecognizable.

“Our schools are failing our children. We’re facing skyrocketing crime rates. And when I get to Congress, I’ll work to strengthen our economy,” Reising said.

Deering reiterated her support for “American First principles,” while calling for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to be fired.

“We clearly need a lot less government in the way,” she said. “We need to be an American First [country] when we’re talking about energy, jobs. We’re talking about putting people first.”

Hausman said he’s in support of conservative principles and bipartisanship.

“Self-serving politicians use fear and outrage and divisiveness to win elections and then don’t do anything for us,” Hausman said. “I want to go to Congress and bring people together, so that we can work for solutions for everyday Americans.”

The primary election is set for June 28th, and the polling website FiveThirtyEight says the district is Democratic leaning by seven points.

The Republican debate in the 13th Congressional District was hosted by Illinois Public Media and co-sponsored by WAND News and the League of Women Voters of Champaign County. You can see the entire event on our YouTube channel.

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Harrison Malkin

Harrison Malkin

Harrison Malkin is a politics reporter at Illinois Public Media. He's focusing on elections across the state, particularly the 13th and 15th congressional districts and the gubernatorial race. Malkin studied Politics and Communications at Ithaca College, where he was a nightly newscaster and reporter for WICB. From 2020 to 2021, he was a reporting fellow at the Center on Media, Crime, and Justice at John Jay College. You can send a tip, recommendation, or note to hmalkin@illinois.edu.

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