Emiliano Vera and Scott Stoll hit the debate stage

Devon Greene, editor-in-chief

The two Democratic Candidates for 93rd District State Representative met for a debate on Wednesday on Western Illinois University’s campus.

Candidates Emiliano Vera and Scott Stoll both spoke about what they think they can bring to the table and the first question they answered was about their plans to overthrow current Rep. Norine Hammond.

Vera responded to the question first and spoke about his experience against established opponents in the past.

“I have now six years of campaign experience going against establishment,” Vera said. “I got started on my political career when I was in college, taking on the Chicago Democratic machine. The very first race I was involved in, I was out knocking on doors, making phone calls and talking to people, real working people.”

“In that race, I became very familiar with the weaknesses Norine Hammond has and I decided to get into this race because I think I am the person that this district will vote for as a Democrat, considering how unpopular the Democratic party is in Western Illinois because it is seen as a party of the establishment and as a party of those big corporate interests that have been doing this district and the working people of this district wrong for so long,” Vera said.

Stoll spoke a lot about his experience as part of Rushville’s City Council, where he serves as Alderman and how that has kept him involved in the community. Stoll also spoke about the changes he sees for a new regime in the district.

“There are a ton of opportunities, people are thirsting for a change, for a change, for a new voice, for a fresh view of how we can help working class people, how we can help small businesses, how we can help infrastructure right now,” Stoll said. “I believe everyone has seen how the current establishment and how the current representative has sat on her hands for nine years and that has caused more problems.”

Both candidates also spoke about the drawing of districts in the area. One of the points that both Stoll and Vera agreed on was that a third party source is needed in the process of drawing voting districts. Both brought up that gerrymandering was a huge issue in the area, despite being primarily Republican issue, according to Vera. Gerrymandering is manipulating the boundaries of an area to favor one of the parties or a certain class.

Economic development was the next topic of debate and Vera pointed out the similarities between talking points from Stoll and Hammond and said that he is the only candidate that is calling for direct public investment in the economy. He also said that communities should not be giving tax breaks and begging corporations like Dollar General for jobs in the area, but that the money should be given to public jobs and investing in public jobs that are in the area in institutions like Western.

Stoll’s reply to Vera was one that once again touted his experience in the field. Stoll spoke about his position as the Economic Development Chair in Rushville and his experience dealing with small business owners and up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

Property tax and its relation to education were up next and both candidates agreed that property taxes in the area were a big burden to citizens and offered solutions.

Stoll’s plan to reduce the amount of property tax paid by citizens comes from plans like the Fair Tax Program.

“There are a lot of potential tax dollars, whether it be by the new cannabis tax, by the new Fair Tax program that will be coming out on the ballot in November,” Stoll said. “All of these things, if utilized correctly within our budget, can be put towards substantial educational benefits within our community.”

Vera’s plan also spoke to the proposed Illinois Fair Tax. According to Vera, Illinois is the only state in this region, besides Indiana, that doesn’t operate under a Fair Tax. He also spoke to the regressive nature of Illinois’ tax rate.

“They are unfair,” Vera said. “Illinois has the seventh most regressive tax rate of any state in the country. That means the poorer you are, the more you pay in taxes in Illinois. Someone in the top 1 percent is paying around 7 percent of their total income and combined state and local taxes to Illinois. Someone in the bottom 20 percent is paying 14 percent.”

Vera also brought up the proposed bill from Sen. Andy Manar that would shift the education funding away from local property taxes and will fund education from state central funds.

Next up was the proposed progressive income tax system. Both candidates agreed that the current tax system needs to be changed due to the burden that it puts on working class families.

The Legislation was next on the docket for the candidates and what they would pursue if elected into office. Stoll answered first and spoke to his focus on healthcare.

“The biggest problem, I think that we have right now is that we have two lobbyists for every one legislator in Springfield,” Stoll said. “Those lobbyists come from insurance companies and drug manufacturers. We need to get them out of this decision making. All it is doing is increasing premiums and increasing drug costs. We see it every day. I see it where somebody comes in and they can’t pay for their insulin or they can’t pay for this medication or that medication.”

Vera also focused on healthcare for his answer. However, he wanted to give a more specific and definitive answer.

“I have something that is more concrete,” Vera said. “A Medicare For All system in Illinois. Universal healthcare for every single man, woman and child. Every single person in Illinois, given as a right provided by the taxpayers as every other developed country in the world has.”

Both candidates took on affordable higher education next. Both agreed that there needs to be more funding for higher education and that it needs to start soon.

Vera spoke about the criticism he received from people he knew after returning to the area due to the lack of jobs. He said he was advised to stay away and go to cities where he could have real opportunities to make money.

Stoll covered multiple topics when speaking about affordable higher education, the first of which being passing budgets for schools in the state. He spoke about the budget impasse that devastated universities across the state, including Western Illinois University. He also spoke about MAP grants that provide thousands to students seeking financial aid.

In the candidate’s closing statements, both candidates spoke about what they hope to accomplish if they are selected as the opponent of Hammond and what they want to do if they can defeat the incumbent in November.

Stoll first commended Vera on his veracity and passion on the campaign trail. He also said that he is confident that he has what it takes to take down Hammond.

“I know I have the tools and skills and the experience to defeat [Norine] in November,” Stoll said.

In Vera’s closing statement, he focused on the fact that he is not being funded by the Democratic Party, like his opponent, Stoll. Vera said that this sets him apart because he is more in tune with the working class and he is the candidate that will stand up for them.

After the debate, Vera spoke about climate change, a topic that he wished was covered in the debate.

“Environmental policy is something that is critically important given that we are facing immediate climate change right now,” Vera said. “That’s something that is important to me and my generation and to the generation of my students.”

Vera also wanted to speak about diversity and how he is the only openly LGBTQ+ candidate in Southern Illinois.

“This is a town that has a lot of issues of racial injustice directed toward our black communities and our Hispanic communities,” Vera said.

Stoll wanted to set the record straight on the funding from the Democratic Party toward his campaign.

“I think it’s just a standard statement,” Stoll said. “Republicans used that same sentiment against John Curtis in 2016 and 2018 campaigns. The fact that he’s using Republican rhetoric when he’s supposed to be running on the Democratic ticket is a little disconcerting to me. Am I endorsed by the Democratic party? Yes, I am. I’m honored to be endorsed by the party.”

The primary election between these two candidates takes place on March 17.