Third Gill-Johnson race has old, new issues
Tuesday brings the third Election Day contest in Illinois' 15th Congressional District between incumbent U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, and Democrat David Gill, a Bloomington emergency room physician.
In their first race in 2004, Johnson defeated Gill, 61 percent to 39 percent. Two years later, Johnson won, 58 percent to 42 percent.
The 15th District encompasses 22 counties in eastern and southeastern Illinois, among them Champaign, Vermilion, Ford, Iroquois, Douglas, Piatt, DeWitt, Edgar, McLean, Moultrie and Coles counties.
A major focus of Gill's campaign this year is a vote Johnson took last summer that included funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Johnson was among six congressmen to vote no; 411 others approved the funding.
"I think this kind of disrespect toward our veteran is inexcusable, it's indefensible and it ought not be rewarded with a sixth term in the U.S. House of Representatives," Gill said.
But Johnson said the bill also was larded with nonessential spending.
"When you have over 500 earmarks, 90 percent of which go to Democratic districts, that are folded into a VA bill that has over a billion dollars of new construction in Afghanistan and doesn't properly address the allocation of resources between benefits and the administrative costs, combined with the fact that we've got an almost $13 trillion debt, I have no compunction voting as I did," Johnson said. "And every veteran I've talked to understands completely."
Said Gill, "I understand that he's a deficit hawk. I think that the deficit is serious and needs to be addressed. I talked about that back in '04, '05, '06 when we were building the deficit. I didn't hear much talk about it then, but the deficit must not be addressed by throwing veterans under the bus."
But Johnson said he's voted against most spending bills for years.
"I don't remember the last appropriation bill or budget that I've voted for," he said. "I may have voted for the VA bill in the last couple of Congresses, but quite frankly, I've taken the position that we are broke. And we are broke. We're $14 trillion broke.
"We've had two deficits, the highest deficits in the history of the United States of America. I voted against most appropriation bills in the Bush years, most budgets in the Bush years. We spent too much then although not at the magnitude we're at now. We just need to put a brake on the level of spending we're involved."
Gill said that "Johnson has voted no on everything it seems since Barack Obama went into the White House."
But Johnson said his no votes have been consistent.
"I don't think I'm either more conservative or more liberal than I was when I started my service," he said. "I've just seen this geometric increase in spending that really threatens the future of our republic."
Gill repeatedly calls Johnson "a career politician" in his public appearances. The incumbent has been in Congress since 2000 and before that was in the Illinois House from 1976 to 2000. He started his political career on the Urbana City Council, where he served from 1971 to 1975.
"I'm not a career politician by any stretch of the imagination," said Gill. "In fact, I spend most of my days railing against the concept of career politicians, those politicians who are funded by corporate America, who get their money from the big Wall Street banks, health insurance companies, oil companies and pharmaceutical companies."
He said "the corporate takeover of our politics and our government is rotting our democracy from inside out."
Johnson, on the other hand, said big government is hurting the country.
"I think there's more anger than I've seen in my several years in government and in politics. I've never seen people quite as angry as they are this year," Johnson said. "I think people believe there is more of a disconnect between their elected officials and them than ever in my political life.
"I think that all incumbents, including me, are going to have to justify their service or they're going to pay the price for it. And they should. I do believe that government at all levels has gotten out of control and I think the anger is justifiable anger."
Johnson, however, said he believes he "is the exception to the rule" because of his recent series of town hall meetings, his responsiveness to constituents and his telephone communication with residents of the district.
Gill, though, hammered Johnson for his absence this fall from a series of candidate forums and meetings.
"I think that's an insult to all of you, Republicans and Democrats alike," Gill told a crowd at a forum in Danville.
But Johnson said he didn't see the need for joint appearances.
"We determined that he had nothing new to say, nothing that he hadn't said in '04 or '06, and when you involve yourself in that you give him the opportunity to do what he did in '04 and '06 and that is to take unsolicited, surprise cheap shots at you," Johnson said. "I felt on balance that all of the issues had been discussed. We've discussed them in the media. I've had scores of town meetings. He didn't raise any new issues so I didn't feel any necessity to involve myself in it again."
Campaign disclosure records show that Johnson has collected $315,730 in this election cycle, while Gill has brought in $110,428. As of Sept. 30, Gill had $26,001 on hand; Johnson had $236,077.
Johnson's contributions included $108,055 from individuals and $207,675 from political committees.
Gill got $106,771 from individuals and $3,120 from political committees.