DECATUR — Voters in the 13th Congressional District have been treated to a much quieter campaign cycle than previous years.
Incumbent U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, a Taylorville Republican, and his Democratic opponent, Mark Wicklund of Decatur, have kept their disagreements limited to issues rather than character attacks. There’s been no negative advertising, and Wicklund has not received the influx of party money that benefited two previous Democratic candidates in the 14-county district, including much of the Bloomington-Normal area.
Davis, 46, is seeking his third term on Nov. 8. He names two priorities as next on his radar: increasing funding for pediatric cancer research; and addressing ballooning student loan debt.
Wicklund, 48, is a former Macon County Board member and president of the Decatur-Macon County Opportunities Corp. board. He has been especially vocal about veterans’ issues; his son suffered a hemorrhagic stroke while on leave from the Army in 2013, caused in part by his proximity to explosions from IEDs while serving in Afghanistan.
Both have pledged to work with members of the opposing party if elected to create meaningful policy changes, but they do offer differences in some areas.
Both have concerns about the Affordable Care Act, saying the law is hurting employers and keeping them from expanding. The two differ in how they would address those issues.
Davis has repeatedly called for repeal of the law, but acknowledged that Republicans have been unsuccessful in attempts to eliminate it.
His “Hire More Heroes” Act, signed into law in 2015, is an example of change made within the existing framework, he said. The measure allows employers, when determining whether they meet the employee threshold required to provide health coverage, not to count veterans who already are receiving health benefits.
Wicklund does not want to repeal the law, but would support the addition of a Medicare-for-all or single-payer component.
“I'm not talking about getting rid of our insurance companies, because we need somebody to actually handle the system that knows what's working, and our insurance companies know that better than anybody,” he said.
Education is a key issue for both candidates as well.
Wicklund said his own party shares some blame for problems with the educational system. “Our party leaders have gotten in this habit of (saying), 'Everybody needs an education … everybody has to go to school.' Well, horse hockey,” Wicklund said. “Not everybody's cut out for college.”
Technical training to prepare for trade work has moved from high schools to community colleges, he said. Wicklund wants to see those programs return to high schools, lowering costs for students and allowing them to pursue those fields right after graduation.
Davis thinks student loans are the next “bubble” facing the nation’s economy.
“Polls clearly show that students who are graduating and entering the workforce care more about student loans than they do about their 401(k), about saving for a house, saving for a car and doing the things that are necessary to keep our local economies moving,” Davis said.
He supports legislation allowing private employers to pay a portion of workers’ student loans without those employees being taxed; further, he wants to provide incentives for employers to provide those programs.
Both lament the polarizing nature of political discussion today.
“Many of the expectations that seem to be set by both sides really become Hail Mary issues that can’t be solved with one quick bill,” Davis said. “We have to have, especially in a divided government, an ability to sit down and have a principled compromise.”
“I didn't want third-party interests in this campaign,” Wicklund said. “All you get with that is negative ads and belittling your public, and I'm not that type of person.”