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Kelly and Auxier go head to head in Bost's absence at first 12th District debate

Carbondale Southern Illinoisan

Wednesday, October 17, 2018  |  Article  |  by ISAAC SMITH The Southern

Candidates--Federal (13) Bost, Mike--State House, 115

BELLEVILLE — The two challengers in Illinois’ 12th District contest had the conversation all to themselves Tuesday during the first of two public debates — incumbent Mike Bost had other plans.

Democratic challenger Brendan Kelly and Green Party candidate Randy Auxier took questions from a panel of four questionnaires from local media outlets including The Southern, WSIU and The Belleville News Democrat, as well as a representative from League of Women Voters of St. Clair County.

Bost declined to come Tuesday’s event in favor of attending an event for veterans.

The two candidates took on the subjects of gun control, dark money in politics, health care and school debt.

Auxier and Kelly both had harsh words for the Republican-backed tax reform bill that passed last year, an effort Bost has backed.

Kelly said it was “the Bruce Rauners of the world,” who benefitted from the plan, while Auxier said a plan that was in place under the Reagan administration was reasonable. He said the Trump tax plan was “irresponsible.”

In the wake of the contentious Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing and as the #MeToo movement moves full speed ahead, the candidates were asked their plans to bring more women into roles of power.

“It’s just something I believe in,” Kelly said, adding that he had worked to bring a lot of women into his organization. He also pointed out that he did not believe Bost had any women working in his campaign.

Auxier said he didn't have much experience being a boss, but was sensitive to gender diversity.

Both had a good chuckle at a quip about listening to the women in their lives — campaign manager or otherwise.

With several colleges and universities in the districts, higher education came up.

“There’s no such thing as affordable higher education anymore,” Auxier said, explaining that he favors gradual forgiveness of student debt.

Kelly didn’t disagree, but said there needed be a change at how the government benefits from student debt.

“Change the rule that allows the federal government to make money off of student loans,” he said.

Primary education was also a point of discussion. Both agreed the model of accountability through standardized tests was out of date.

“That approach has failed,” Kelly said.

Auxier proposed a single-payer, federally distributed model for funding school, which he said would be more equitable.

As State’s Attorney of St. Clair County, Kelly said he understands perhaps better than most the impact of gun violence, but said there needed to be a measured approach to stemming that violence.

Auxier said the Green Party focuses on localism, and said local communities should have more control over how the deal with guns.

Kelly said in Southern Illinois, people don’t fall into neat categories. They are a people who love their guns, their union and want to smoke weed and not be prosecuted, he said.

Kelly and Auxier both said dark money has no place in elections.

“Every time we try and reform the electoral system, it gets worse,” Auxier said, favoring publicly-funded elections, as are the norm in Great Britain.

Kelly said the first item that he would sponsor would be a constitutional amendment that would correct the effects of Citizens United, a controversial Supreme Court decision that restricting political donations would restrict free speech.

One statement summed up the tenor of much of Tuesday’s debate.

“The boss is the people,” Kelly said.

The next debate — with all three candidates — will be at WSIU 7 p.m. Oct. 26 at and will be televised.