BLOOMINGTON — Republican congressional candidate Erika Harold said Monday that younger Americans need to be prepared to accept revisions to the Social Security system.
Harold, an Urbana attorney who is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, in next year's 13th District GOP primary, also offered the most complete defense so far of her anti-abortion position.
Harold spoke Monday to about 75 people at a breakfast meeting of the McLean County Republican Party. After her prepared remarks, Harold was asked about the need to cut the federal government's long-term debt.
"We do have to look at some entitlement reform and I think that it's politically unpopular and I probably shouldn't have even said that, but that's the reality. I wouldn't be going to Washington just to sort of tinker around the margins because when you have a national debt that's over $16 trillion, just cutting a few random earmarks is not going to be sufficient," said the 33-year-old former Miss America.
"As somebody who pays into Social Security and knows that the system probably won't be solvent when I'm there, I think people of my generation have to be willing to look at some different ways of having retirement."
She said she supported protecting benefits for people "who are near retirement, but people of my age, I think we have to be willing to make some sacrifices to see some systemic reform because just doing small things around the margin is not going to address some of the large debt issues and large debt drivers."
Later she explained that she didn't favor a particular Social Security reform or a specific piece of legislation.
"I haven't fully crystallized a plan yet, but it will be focused more on people who are younger, who have more flexibility in terms of their own options. I think it's fundamentally unfair to make dramatic changes to people ... who are invested in the system, have made certain life choices based on the promise that it's going to be there, but I think for a lot of people my age we don't necessarily expect that it's going to be there for us.
"For people my age I think it makes sense to look at some other options. I'm still kind of exploring and studying what those might be, and so I don't have a broad plan that I'm laying out today."
She said, however, that a program that would let individuals opt out of Social Security would make the program unsustainable.
"I don't see that a full opt-out at this point would be something that would ensure sufficient support for the existing system," she said.
Meanwhile, Harold also offered her most thorough explanation thus far of her anti-abortion views, saying that Republicans have to "talk about the value of life. For example, when we're talking about abortion it's not just about policy, it's about the value of each human life. And that ethos has to be present in everything we do."
She recalled a time when she spoke to a school group as Miss America about the value of each of their lives.
"And so I talked about the fact that they were fearfully and wonderfully made and their lives were not accidents, and that there was a plan for their life. And that they had great potential, regardless of their background. So even if they weren't necessarily planned by their parents, there was a plan for their life and that life had value and that life had meaning.
"Those are the kind of ways in which we have to be talking about life because just talking about abortion as a policy, that's not going to cut it. It doesn't capture the hearts and the minds and really the imagination of people who want us to aim higher and aim larger."
In her appearance, Harold never mentioned Davis by name, but said that she believed she would be a superior Republican candidate in the general election in November 2014.
"I believe that my strong roots in the Champaign-Urbana area community, coupled with the work that I have done within the Republican Party to reach out to women, college students and African-American voters, those are the features that would put me in a stronger position to capture a greater share of the independent vote, and for swing voters," she said.
Asked about the George Zimmerman case in Florida, Harold, who is biracial and spoke out against youth violence when she was Miss America, said, "I think the underlying issue of a 17-year-old's life being lost when they were doing nothing more than trying to buy snack foods is a tragedy. A loss of life that's cut off at exactly the point in time when he was going to go off to college, have a family, that is a tragedy. The Florida stand-your-ground law has some ambiguity and flaws in it in that it was not clear to me exactly how the law accounted for a situation in which two people could have been in fear for their life on that evening."