URBANA – Local politicians had to answer some interesting questions relating to the environment – including why the federal government doesn't urge its citizens to become vegetarians and the environmental effect of war.
Audience participants at a Tuesday political forum submitted these questions to those seeking election and re-election this fall, as did the Prairie Group of the Sierra Club. Participants also fielded questions from moderator Kirstin Replogle that included topics such as offshore drilling.
Participants included Republican Frank Calabrese, who's running for incumbent Naomi Jakobsson's state representative seat for the 103rd District, and Jakobsson herself. Also present was Urbana Democrat Steve Cox, who is trying to unseat Urbana Republican Tim Johnson from Illinois' 15th District in the U.S. House. Johnson's spokesman Phil Bloomer represented him at the forum in the Urbana City Council chambers. State Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Gifford, also came to the forum, even though he's not running for re-election this year.
Though the questions varied, environmentally friendly themes emerged from all participating, including emphasis on conservation and recycling, bringing FutureGen to Illinois and encouraging Gov. Rod Blagojevich to reconsider his decision to close some of Illinois' state parks.
Calabrese said he thinks the latter problem is a failure to prioritize, and criticized Jakobsson for voting for a budget he said was $2 billion in the red. The problems with state government lie in Springfield, he said, a problem that shouldn't be solved by re-electing the same players.
Jakobsson said she sent a letter to the governor last week asking how he plans to close state parks and what costs would be incurred in doing so.
Frerichs said he's talked with members of the governor's staff and wonders about the motives behind disproportionate state park closures in central Illinois.
"There are a lot of things they have not thought through properly," Frerichs said.
Another issue close to many central Illinoisans' hearts came up several times as well, as candidates discussed the importance of bringing the clean-burning coal-powered FutureGen plant to Mattoon. Cox and Bloomer's opinions differed on offshore drilling, though. Cox said he doesn't support it at all, and instead thinks Americans should focus on finding ways to use alternative energy sources. Bloomer said Johnson thinks that Americans will continue to rely on oil, both for cars and numerous other petroleum-based products. Johnson thinks offshore drilling can be beneficial if done in a responsible way that doesn't exploit reserves.
One thing Cox and Bloomer agreed on: the federal government probably can't do much to encourage or force vegetarianism.
"This is still America, and they want their hamburgers," Bloomer said.