By Ron Jensen
Published October 27, 2022 in The Burg
State Rep. Mike Halpin likely wishes election day would be as effortless as last week’s candidates forum at the Galesburg Public Library.
Halpin’s Republican opponent in the race for a state senate seat, Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms, was a no-show. So Halpin’s responses to questions posed by moderator Tom Martin went unchallenged. The 60 or so folks attending couldn’t compare the candidates on issues such as abortion, guns and the governor’s response to the COVID pandemic.
I attended the forum mostly to hear the candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives. I expected—and, I’ll admit, hoped for—fireworks between Eric Sorensen, the Democrat, and his Republican opponent Esther Joy King.
But they, too, evidently had better places to be.
Martin, the editor of The Register-Mail and my former boss, told me the candidates had been given two months’ notice about the forum. I have no idea when they notified organizers they would not attend.
Without them, the forum, which was scheduled for two hours, wrapped up in about 45 minutes.
The only time both podiums were in use was when the speakers were the candidates for the state representative slot in Springfield—State Rep. Dan Swanson, the Republican incumbent, and Chris DeMink, his Democratic challenger.
This was not a debate. Each candidate answered questions with no requirement to respond to his opponent’s remarks.
The event sponsored by the NAACP, PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), United Against Hate and The Register-Mail had no surprises. The two Democrats and one Republican took expected positions on the issues discussed.
For example, the Democrats appropriately supported the state’s criminal reform law known as the SAFE-T Act. The Republican did not.
Swanson, who said he did not vote for the bill, pointed out that 54 counties are challenging the law’s constitutionality.
DeMink favors the law’s elimination of cash bail, saying the current policy “preys on poor people.”
Halpin said people should be kept in jail “based on their risk to society, not the size of their wallets.” He explained that the law also increases training for law-enforcement officers and requires them to wear body cameras, along with other improvements.
Halpin and DeMink were not happy that the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision. Halpin said abortion is still legal in Illinois “and I intend to keep it that way.” DeMink said, “I don’t think women should be told what to do with their bodies by the federal government.”
“I believe in life,” Swanson said, noting that abortions in Illinois each year number almost twice the population of Galesburg.
Regarding the Second Amendment, Swanson said gun violence is “more a mental health issue.”
DeMink said he likes to hunt, but doesn’t need bump stocks, which allow guns to fire bullets more rapidly. “All I need is buckshot,” he said. Halpin noted that the Illinois legislature extended the waiting period for a gun purchase “and I think that saved lives.”
The forum would have been better with all six candidates on hand, but it’s likely those not there had legitimate reasons with Nov. 8 fast approaching.
Despite their absence, the event was worthwhile. There’s value in seeing in person your government representatives and those who want to be and hearing their views. It’s democracy. We should celebrate it while we can.
(The author was raised near Gerlaw and went to school in Alexis. He has worked for The Review Atlas, The Register-Mail and other publications, including Stars & Stripes in Europe and National Guard magazine in Washington, D.C.)