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13th Dist. Candidates Talk NAFTA, Ebola During Springfield Debate

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Illinois' declining manufacturing sector led to one candidate for congress calling for repeal of a controversial free trade deal.  The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, has been praised by those who see it as key to opening up new export markets.  But others say it has led to more outsourcing of jobs to other countries.  

Democrat Ann Callis of Edwardsville, who is seeking the 13th Congressional District seat, commented in a Tuesday debate in Springfield that she would support repealing NAFTA. 

Afterward, she walked back those comments:

"I mean,  I wouldn't say we have to rescind everything.  But let's work together to strengthen our labor unions in our country again," she said.

Her opponent, Republican Congressman Rodney Davis, defended NAFTA as having created jobs and made America more competitive globally.  But he sees room for improvement:
"If you saw the jobs report here in Illinois that was released just (Tuesday), you saw our manufacturing jobs continue to decrease.  I'm for free trade, but I'm for fair trade," Davis commented.
Davis says he would support changes to workforce training programs that could help small manufacturers.  He says he's willing to work the President and labor leaders  on a free trade plan for Asia.

The hour-long debate at the Brookens Auditorium on the University of Illinois Springfield campus included  several questions submitted by the audience and online at WUIS.org. 

Mostly, the candidates agreed.  They both said options should be left open when it comes to sending ground troops to fight ISIS. They also raised concerns about new Common Core educational learning standards.

WUIS/Illinois Issues and Illinois AARP sponsored the debate.  Certain questions were aimed at issues heavily impacting older residents.

Both say they support strengthening Social Security.  Callis said she would support raising the payroll tax to keep it solvent.  Davis objected to Callis' claim that he voted to privatize Social Security. 

Davis said he supported Paul Ryan's budget proposal because it would keep Medicare solvent.  But it's controversial as it would include privatizing coverage for some individuals.  Callis added going after fraud and abuse in the program would recoup money. 

On the issue of Ebola, Davis told the audience that he was upset the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was tardy in offering proper protocols to medical professionals.  He says those he talked with wanted details on what equipment to wear and how to properly remove it.  New rules were issued Tuesday.  But Davis, who supports banning travelers into the U-S who are coming from countries affected by Ebola, says more urgency is needed.

"When the young lady at Texas Presbyterian (Hospital) who was infected because she was doing her job as a nurse, it hit me," he said. "Not because it's politics. it's personal. It hit me because my wife, who is in the audience, is a nurse."

Callis says she supports new restrictions that send those travelers through 5 airports, including Chicago's O'Hare, where they can be screened.  She says it points out the importance of public health agencies and called attention to last year's federal government shutdown.

"That laid off two thirds of the workers of the CDC.  What if that happened now, during this terrible outbreak?" she said.

Both Callis and Davis say they favor increased funding to the CDC and the National Institutes of Health. 

The race has picked up an increasingly negative tone in the weeks leading up to the election.  Each were asked to respond to the ads.  Davis refuted claims he flew first class on the taxpayer's dime.  Callis said her opponent's ads that questioned her Illinois residency were misleading. 

A Davis ad that labeled Callis as the "worst judge in Madison County" during her time on the bench there also was brought up. 

State Journal-Register Political Writer Bernie Schoenburg, on the panel asking the candidates questions, asked Davis if he believed his opponent was a bad judge when his former boss, Rep. John Shmikus (R-Collinsville) gave her an award for her Veteran's Court initiative, Davis replied "I think the Veteran's Court was a phenomenal thing that Judge Callis and others in Madison County put together." 

Davis went on to say analysis of Callis' record of court opinions and how many were overturned are "fair game in a campaign."

The candidates will meet for a final time next week at Illinois State University.

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