Governor hopefuls tout their platforms at forum

Governor hopefuls tout their platforms at forum

CHAMPAIGN – Candidates for governor Sunday sang out one message loud and clear – no new income taxes on their watch.

But the four Republican hopefuls – front-runner Judy Baar Topinka was a no-show – and Constitutional party candidate Randy Stufflebeam spent most of their time Sunday trying to make their platforms stand out from the crowd and from the policies of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, also a no-show for the event sponsored by the Illinois Forum.

Edwin Eisendrath, seeking the Democratic nomination, didn't show up.

In their introductions, Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove said he would be a reformer who would come from outside to clean up government, and Ron Gidwitz, a Chicago businessman, said he's a "job creator, tax fighter and education reformer." State Rep. Bill Brady of Bloomington, who's been in the General Assembly for 12 years, cited his public record as a voter for education reform, balanced budgets and family values.

"There's a seat vacant at this table that should be filled by Blagojevich, but he's been absent from Springfield since he was elected and he should after the next election," said Brady, one of several candidates who cited the governor's upstate focus for operations and his reluctance to come to the capital as reasons he shouldn't be re-elected.

A fourth Republican candidate, Andy Martin of Chicago – formerly of Champaign – said he has shown he's focused on "an action-oriented government."

Panelists included The News-Gazette editorial page columnists Tom Kacich and Jim Dey, WCIA anchor Jennifer Hendricks and WAND anchor Sean Streaty. Joshua Crane of the Illinois Forum was moderator.

The candidates said the state's bogged down in corruption, and they all promised action to change that, including monitoring contracts carefully. "We have to hold people accountable and responsible," Stufflebeam said. "That's lacking in Illinois."

Candidates split in their opinions on stem-cell research and requiring pharmacists to fill prescriptions for morning-after pills. Stufflebeam said he'd repeal the administration's $10 million executive order to fund stem-cell research and said it's "unconscionable to ask people to fill prescriptions that murder unborn children."

Oberweis said the administration's priorities are out of whack if the state can come up with money for stem-cell research but not funding for the Teachers Retirement System. He too opposed requiring pharmacists to dispense morning-after pills.

Gidwitz called for debate about the research but said he generally supports it. "No governor should tell private industry what it has to do," he said of the pill debate.

Brady said he's anti-abortion and said he believes using funds for research on embryonic stem cells is a waste of money because the progress that's been made has involved adult stem cells.

"The death penalty is barbaric, a disgrace," Martin said. "We're human beings, we're not perfect, and whatever our religions, we all recognize there's a higher authority. I'd like to make Illinois a nationwide leader on this issue."

Four candidates vowed to spend most of their time in Springfield if they're elected governor. Gidwitz and Brady said they'd move agencies and satellite operations now in Chicago back to Springfield. "There's organizational inefficiency if organizations are split," Gidwitz said.

Martin said it's time to start thinking about decentralizing the Springfield bureaucracy, an action enabled by computer communications and other technology. "Put the jobs where the people are," he said.

Addressing education issues, Gidwitz – former chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education – applauded one Blagojevich action and slammed another.

"He spent a lot of time on things that made the press," Gidwitz said. "He elevated ISBE so it has more influence on the governor but he didn't appoint people with independent minds to serve on it. It lost independence."

Brady called for the elimination of bureaucracy in the state education board and for the "maximization" of the roles of regional offices of education and the community college system.

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