Candidates for state representative, county office, and Montgomery County Board voiced their views in answers to questions at the Litchfield Chamber of Commerce political forum on Thursday, Oct. 8, at the Litchfield Community Center.
The forum was live-streamed on the chamber Facebook page, and will remain there, as well as on YouTube, for subsequent views. The forum was moderated by chamber President Mandy Jewell and director Cory Evans, and streamed by Cass Cooper.
In answer to a question about their top priorities once elected, Democrat candidate for state representative Chase Wilhelm listed standing up to speaker Mike Madigan, the economy, and working on mental and behavioral health issues.
“Number one is to fight for fiscal sanity,” Republican state representative Avery Bourne said in answer to that question, before listing “reigning in” the governor’s response to the pandemic and ethics reform.
Both believed the economy and jobs are the primary issues facing the district when asked. Answering a question about the Fair Tax on the November ballot, Bourne said she was against it and pointed out it would impact small business owners and farmers. Wilhelm indicated that he was not opposed to the tax change, but the issue is up to the voters “as it should be.”
Both candidates were also asked opinions about the governor’s response to the pandemic.
“The way he handled it was unconstitutional,” Bourne said. Wilhelm questioned shutting down Main Street and leaving Walmart open.
In their opening remarks, Bourne expressed pride in work she has done on school funding reform, spending reform, and ethics reform. Wilhelm described his resume as a laborer and 13-year service veteran.
“People are exhausted with party rhetoric,” Wilhelm said. “As a service member, I learned that I don’t have to agree with you to defend you.”
Attorneys, both with experience as prosecutors, Democrat Bryant Hitchings and Republican Andrew Affrunti emphasized their individual resume strengths: incumbent Hitchings from Hillsboro described his 90 percent conviction rate on felonies, in addition to his Panhandle upbringing; Affrunti began working as a prosecutor in 2008 and has worked in Sangamon County since 2013, currently prosecuting violent and gang-related crimes.
Both agreed that drugs–specifically meth–are the most pressing crimes facing Montgomery County.
Hitchings said that last year, 180 of the 321 felonies filed here were drug-related, but the nature of the crime has changed: meth used to be manufactured locally; “now it’s traveling in.” Hitchings said he has brought in Gateway Foundation to help determine whether defendants are candidates for rehabilitation or prison.
Affrunti said as state’s attorney he would focus on prosecuting delivery drug crimes more than possession, “focusing on those bringing it in.”
Both said outside agencies are the key to handling law enforcement use of fatal force, and both agreed that plea bargaining is necessary. Affrunti said he would “look at each case and talk to law enforcement.” Hitchings said, “If we don’t have an agreement we’re pleased with, we take it to trial.”
Republican Holly Lemons, who is running unopposed for circuit clerk, stressed the way in which she has updated her office in a budget-conscious way during her remarks.
Eleven of the 16 candidates who are running for Montgomery County Board answered questions by district: Republicans Connie Beck and Jeremy Jones are two of the three candidates running for two seats in District 1, Republican Jim Havera and Libertarian Jake Leonard are two of the three candidates running for two seats in District 2, Republican Doug Donaldson and Democrat Randy Singler are running for a seat in District 3, Republican Patty Whitworth is one of two candidates on the ballot for a seat in District 4, Republican Russell Beason is one of two on the ballot for two seats in District 5, Republican Bev McCoy is one of two on the ballot for a seat in District 6, and Republican Andy Ritchie and Democrat Tim Fogle are running for two seats in District 7.
Questions involved the biggest issues facing the county, engaging the public in the decision-making process, and the size of the 21-member board.
Every candidate who spoke described the budget and finance-related matters as the most pressing, although Leonard described it more as a problem of county government being too large and Johnson added loss of population and public education to the list of pressing issues. Whitworth, McCoy, and Donaldson were among those who suggested solutions to financial problems are found in economic development.
Every candidate also said they would be available to their constituents by phone in answer to that question. Many also mentioned social media, and two–Beck and Ritchie stressed using municipal connections.
Nearly every candidate also favored reducing the size of the 21-member board. Most suggested cutting one member per district, reducing the board by a third to 14. Fogle said that although the board is large, that allows more resources toward issues. Beason said he would be willing to discuss, but didn’t feel that 21 is too many. Singler said 21 is “enough,” but the size could be reduced, and Havera had no issues with the current size, citing that fewer county board members would result in more meetings for each member, and that could result in fewer people willing to run for the office.