BLOOMINGTON -- A candidate forum with three of the four contenders for the Republican nomination for Congress in the 13th District started with some fireworks Thursday night, but soon settled into agreement on most issues.
The fourth candidate, Jerry Clarke of Urbana, was unable to attend the forum. He was at Fort Knox, Ky., on Army Reserves duty, according to Bloomington developer Ed Brady, who made an opening statement on his behalf but was unable to participate in a lengthy question-and-answer session.
About 150 people attended the forum at the Eastland Suites Conference Center in Bloomington. It was the fifth open forum among the candidates in the last two weeks.
One final session is scheduled for Friday night in Carlinville before the 14 GOP county chairmen in the congressional district meet Saturday in Springfield to choose the GOP contender to go up against Democrat David Gill in November.
Kathy Wassink of Shipman opened the forum with a number of sharp attacks on Erika Harold, the Urbana native and Harvard Law School graduate who won praise for her performance at a forum in Champaign last Saturday night.
More recently Harold has worked at a Chicago law firm.
"There are two women in this race. Both of us are working really hard," she said. "But let's be specific about the differences of the two women. I am 48, almost 49 years old. I've had many life experiences that have led me to this position. I know what it is to raise a family, get up and drop your child at day care. I know what it is to work and come home. I know what it is to build up a career and build up a business."
She then said that "there are different forms of conservatism because some people, when you come from different areas, you tend to maybe have different conservative views.
"For example, if you are a conservative in Chicago you might say to taxes that you do need to get taxed ... if there's the right situation. But a downstate conservative says no, that's not the case, you never tax in this environment."
Regarding tort reform, she said, "If you're a Chicago-based lawyer you may say that I have questions about tort reform. But as a downstate conservative I say no."
And on gun laws, Wassink said, "A Chicago-based conservative may say, I believe in the Second Amendment but I have to look at the language for concealed carry. A downstate conservative says no, like myself. I am for concealed carry 100 percent. I actually have a FOID card and a concealed carry card."
Harold didn't respond to the references in her introductory statement.
The candidates, including Rodney Davis of Taylorville, a top aide to U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, generally agreed on most issues.
Asked about controlling Mexico's border with the United States, Harold said she supported securing the border but was less certain about dealing with illegal immigrants already here.
"One of the things that would be very important to me is to not use words that denigrate groups of people and to not have this debate in a way that uses inflammatory rhetoric," she said. "I think we have to speak to the respect and the dignity and the kindness of every human being."
"I haven't fully decided what to do with people who are here illegally," she added. "I think it's a very diffiicult issue. Securing the border is easy."
Davis said that the United States "has to have open levels of dialogue," even with dictators like Hugo Chavez.
"Because once we stop that dialogue, as we've seen in Cuba and other countries, it's pretty hard to get it back. Let's keep the dialogue open and continue to trade," he said.
Wassink said the United States "needs to stop borrowing from China."
One issue on which there was disagreement was the need for a federal concealed carry law. Davis said he would support one since Illinois is the only state now without such a law. But both Wassink and Harold said it was a state issue.