Rob Meister, the Republican candidate for the 103rd District of the Illinois House, says he approaches politics with a "red brain and a blue heart."
Incumbent state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson says she is running for re-election so she can continue offering "excellent constituent service," even if that means helping people who do not live in her Champaign-Urbana district.
Meister, who owns Minneci's Ristorante in Champaign, said improving Illinois' climate for small businesses is important to him.
The current business climate, he said, drives away small businesses or keeps them from hiring. As a small business owner, he said, it's often easier to do more work yourself, because it's so expensive to hire in Illinois.
"As a business we're regulated beyond belief," Meister said. "People are willing to work, but there's not enough jobs because Illinois continues to scare off small business."
Jakobsson, who was elected to the General Assembly in 2002, said she feels strongly about the environment and affordable, accessible health care and would like to see a progressive income tax, rather than a flat tax. She said she wants to continue to represent the people in the 103rd District.
"I want to continue to provide the excellent constituent service that my office has been known for providing," Jakobsson said.
She sometimes receives calls from those who don't live in her district who think she's their representative.
"If it's something we can take care of, we do," Jakobsson said, while still being respectful of those citizens' legislators. "We try to be as helpful as we can. People have come to know the office as one they can turn to for help with almost any state issue," even if that means just figuring out what agency or entity can help.
Meister's red brain, blue heart description means he thinks conservatively about finances but cares about helping people.
"If we want to be able to give people a leg up and give safety nets ... we can't do that running a constant deficit and constantly not paying our bills," Meister said.
When it comes to the state's pension crisis, Jakobsson said, some changes are needed, and everyone who has a stake in pensions should be a part of the conversation beforehand.
"We need to have an earnest, open, honest discussion," she said. "I think we need to certainly look at our whole revenue system when we're looking at funding our pensions," and that's also true when it comes to funding Medicaid and education. That's where her belief that Illinois should have a progressive income tax comes in.
"It would increase (state revenue) and would lower taxes for most Illinois residents," she said. "It would rectify the situation that we're suffering from."
As far as education, Meister said he'd like to see unfunded mandates for schools and universities reduced. He said he believes state universities could govern themselves better "not having to appease the state."
This could mean fewer increases in tuition, which would benefit students "spending a lot of money to go, and not earning a lot when they graduate."
Meister said it's also crucial to improve Illinois' economy to make sure there are jobs for those students when they graduate. Now, many work out of state in order to find jobs that pay well enough for them to keep up with student loans.
The goal should be "keeping a lot of those smart kids in this state and letting them use their ingenuity to build things for us here, instead of going over and making Indiana more successful," Meister said.
Jakobsson said she knows the issue of education is important for the state, but also for the citizens in the 103rd district.
"I want to continue to make sure the University of Illinois ...stays as the university that it is," and to treat funding for it as "an investment, not an expenditure."
"This is our flagship university and we want to make sure it stays our flagship university," she said.
Meister would like to stop giving cost-of-living adjustments for pensioners who make more than $200,000 a year. He estimates that could save the state at least $10 billion over the next decade. That money could be used to pay off state debt, saving what he estimates is another $10 billion to $15 billion in interest.
He'd like the state to make some cuts, "systematically and using common sense about what we can change and what we can do without," he said. "I think it's going to be a tough thing that takes a lot of time to (fix)."
Jakobsson opposes the disposal of PCBs at the Clinton landfill, and said she's worked to pass bills dealing with reducing mercury in the environment and water, and reducing lead in products for children.
"I want to make sure Illinois is on the forefront of taking care of the environment for all the residents of Illinois and ... the rest of the country, as well," Jakobsson said.
The candidates will both participate in a debate at 7 tonight (Thursday, Oct. 18) in the Champaign City Council chambers.