Dirksen-Londrigan and Davis debate for 13th congressional district seat

Samira Kassem

The event was not open to the public but was live-streamed via Facebook and on-air on WGLT.
Photo: Samira Kassem

In a rematch from the 2018 election, incumbent Rodney Davis (R) is once again facing Springfield native Betsy Dirksen-Londrigan (D) to represent the 13th Congressional District of Illinois. The two faced off in a Bloomington debate Tuesday, October 13. 

The 13th Congressional District consists of Bond, Champaign, Madison, McLean and Sangamon counties, and all of Christian, Calhoun, De Witt, Greene, Jersey, Macon, Macoupin, Montgomery and Piatt counties. 

When the two ran against each other in 2018, Dirksen-Londrigan came within one percent of winning the seat. 

The debate was hosted by WGLT and co-hosted by Illinois Wesleyan University, as well as Heartland Community College, the Illinois State University American Democracy Project and Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, McLean County League of Women Voters, The Pantagraph and WJBC. 

Due to COVID-19, the public was not invited to attend the debate, however, it was live-streamed on Facebook and on-air on WGLT.
Questions were submitted by members of the Bloomington-Normal community. 

Opening statements

Representative Davis began his opening statement by thanking the hosts and Illinois State especially since he has three children currently attending. He outlined his emphasis on bipartisanship in his seven and a half years as a congressman as well as his priority for higher education. “Over everything,” he said, “this is the district that I am blessed to serve.” 

Dirksen-Londrigan emphasized healthcare in her opening statement. She told the story of her son Jack and how he contracted a rare disease from a tick bite at age 12 and nearly died. Had they not had good healthcare, according to Dirksen-Londrigan, her family would have gone bankrupt from the medical bills. She said that she decided to get into the race the day she saw Davis celebrating with Donald Trump on the White House Law overtaking people’s healthcare. She outlined that Davis has not been truthful about the 11 times he voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. 

“I am here to hold him accountable,” Dirksen-Longrigan said. 

 Gun violence

In response to an incident in Bloomington last week where a young person was killed and two others critically wounded from gun violence a block away from Bloomington’s chapter of the Boy’s and Girl’s Club, both candidates were asked what they would do to address gun violence. 

Dirksen-Londrigan focused on the importance of universal background checks. 

“We need to bring together gun owners and non-gun owners because in every part of the district I go they have the same concerns,” she said.

 She outlined that in the past Davis had voted against universal background checks and closing gun show loopholes because of his support from the NRA. 

“We need courage at the decision table, not people that are beholden to the NRA. Gun violence has taken too many young lives” Dirksen-Londrigan said.

Davis agreed with Dirksen’s statement that the district should have gun owners and non-gun owners sit down together to come up with solutions. According to Davis, “criminals do not care if they sing the right form and that we need to prosecute anyone who is committing a crime with a firearm to the fullest extent of the law.”

 He also told the story of how he was the victim of gun violence when a gunman opened fire on Republican congressmen practicing for a charity baseball game in 2017. 

“We don’t settle our political differences in America with bullets on a baseball field, we settle it with a ballot box,” Davis said. 

“We don’t settle our political differences in America with bullets on a baseball field, we settle it with a ballot box,” Davis said.

He urged viewers to walk into a central Illinois legal firearms dealer and talk about the process of legally obtaining a firearm. 

“Criminals are getting access to firearms in a way that is not lawfully, I will never infringe on the second amendment and those who lawfully want to exercise that right,” Davis said. 

COVID-19

The candidates were then asked about the way the pandemic has been addressed federally and what they each thought needed to be done.

Davis began his answer criticizing Speaker Nancy Pelosi and argued that the President has been willing to come to the table with bipartisan relief packages to help small businesses, but Pelosi’s priorities have been elsewhere. 

He said that Democrats and Republicans came together at the beginning of the pandemic, but Pelosi’s package had no bipartisan support and that even some Democrats voted against it. Davis also said that he has been engaged in research and development by trying to get the technology from UIUC to ISU. 

Dirksen-Londrigan then questioned why Davis has been appointed co-chair of President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. 

She argued that Trump knew the virus was airborne and deadly in early February, yet had no national plan for testing, tracing or getting protective gear to essential workers and said that while Trump told these lies, Davis was silent. 

“We do not have widely available rapid testing, we have it in certain areas. If we want to get our workers back to work, our students back to classrooms and our teachers back to school, we have to have a national plan,” she said.

 According to Dirksen-Longrigan, she would plan to extend unemployment insurance and make sure that constituents have detailed plans to get our economy back on track safely.

 “Think about what it would have been like if we had a president who stood in front of us and told us the truth and a representative who did not just bury his head in the sand,” she said.        

Farming and trade 

Candidates were also questioned about the agriculture policy regarding soybean farmers and trade with China.

Dirksen-Londrigan began by saying that she agrees with President Trump on taking hardline policies against China’s unfair trade practices, but said her agreement stops there. 

“You cannot live in central Illinois and not understand the importance of agriculture,” she said. 

She said that she has consistently believed in investment in conservation programs that farmers already know and trust and research in agriculture technology and that constituents need a representative in Congress who will stand by central Illinois farmers who grow corn and soybeans. The China tariffs, she argued, hurt corn and soybean farmers because they lost the markets to sell to and, while cotton farmers got their pay, Davis was not standing up for soybean and corn farmers in our district. 

“When Congressman Davis has gotten the chance to choose between people of central Illinois or president Trump, he has always chosen President Trump,” Dirksen-Londrigan said.

In response, Davis outlined that he had chaired the agriculture sub-committee in the past and gained endorsements from several farming organizations.

“I have worked with our farmer’s hand in hand since getting to Congress,” Davis said. 

He agreed that we need to invest in agriculture research and said that we need to hold China accountable and claimed that the Trump administration had been. 

2018’s debate was very similar, but had a live audience.
Photo: Samira Kassem  

Income inequality

Candidates were also asked about rising income stratification and how they would attempt to reduce gaps between the ultra-rich and the poor.

Congressman Davis started by stating that the Republican’s tax relief bill helped to revitalize the economy in central Illinois by reducing the tax burden. He said that before the pandemic the country was in a period of sustained economic growth and that we need to address poverty by getting poor people into good-paying jobs. 

“We live in the greatest country in the history of the world where a high school dropout mom can achieve the American dream,” he said. He went on to say that he has supported the PPP loan program and holding businesses that receive them accountable for keeping their employees in jobs.   

Dirksen-Londrigan then refuted Davis’ tax bill claims. She said that income inequality was exacerbated by the very bills that he was the face of in 2017 and that 60 percent of the benefits of the bill went to the wealthiest 20 percent and it resulted in corporations paying nothing in federal taxes. She said that if teachers can pay their taxes then so should billionaires and millionaires. She also said that Davis voted against raising the minimum wage and had taken over $200,000 from the pharmaceutical pacts that benefited from his tax bill. 

“He chooses the people who fund his campaign over and over again instead of the people he is supposed to represent. We are not billionaires and millionaires, but we deserve equal representation,” she said. Dirksen-Londrigan then proposed that she would invest in small businesses. 

 Climate change

The fifth question asked of the candidates was about greenhouse gas emissions and what the U.S. could do as a nation to reduce them. 

Davis said that what has been done in the past has worked and emissions have been reduced. He said that countries like China should be held accountable and that pulling out of the Paris Agreement was the right thing to do. He also said he did not support taking away coal or nuclear energy. 

“I believe that clean air, clean water, and clean land are basic human rights,” Dirksen-Londrigan said. 

She responded to Davis that she believed it was was a mistake to leave the Paris Climate Accords and that wind and solar energy are the jobs of the future. 

“We want to make sure that these good union jobs that people can raise their families on are happening here in Illinois,” Dirksen-Londrigan said. 

She noted that climate change is the top issue for college students in the district and that she would like to be a part of the congressional committee on climate change. 

 “I want to make sure that we have clean, air, clean land and clean water for our kids and our grandkids and generations of the future,” she said. She also clarified that she did not support the Green New Deal because she believed that central Illinois did not have enough of a voice in it. 

Bipartisanship and civility

In a brief section, the candidates were asked when they have shown independence from their party.

Dirksen-Londrigan said that she had taken the pledge to take no money from corporate PACS because she believed that when a candidate went to Washington they were hired by the people of central Illinois. She said that Davis talks bipartisanship, but he is co-chair of Trump’s reelection campaign and had voted with him 91 percent of the time. 

Davis criticized Dirken-Londrigan for being unable to name a Republican that she was excited to work within congress during a 2018 Bloomington debate and said that he condones all incivility in politics.

Systemic racism 

The final question was about how the candidates would address systemic racism in our country. 

Davis said that he has worked closely with Tim Scott, who is the only black Republican in Congress and that he has been in support of extra weeks of training on de-escalation techniques for the police. He also said that the death of George Floyd was a tragedy. 

Dirksen-Londrigan said that she was proud to have attended many peaceful protests against systemic racism and injustice in this country.

 “If we are not talking about the systemic injustices in our police, healthcare and businesses then we are missing the point,” she said. 

She also said officers should have implicit bias and de-escalation training, but that it should be acknowledged by law enforcement that not every 911 call requires an armed response. She said she was in support of more mental health professionals responding to 911 calls when possible. 

Closing statements 

“I want to go to Washington because I want to represent the people of central Illinois and I want to protect your healthcare. Davis has voted 11 times to take it away and our job is to make sure we don’t give him the 12th chance” Dirksen-Londrigan said.

 She said that, while Davis has taken $3 million in PAC money, her campaign has over 50,000 donors with an average donation of under $60. She said that she would plan to focus on rebuilding the economy, healthcare, bringing jobs to the district and moving forward together.

Davis responded that Dirksen-Londrigan had lied about his record and finished the story of his wife surviving colon cancer. He said that he never voted to get rid of preexisting condition coverage and said “take a record of success.”  

Voters in the 13th Congressional district will have until November 3 to decide who will hold the seat. Registered Illinois Wesleyan students can vote in person at Grossinger Motors Arena or Eastland Mall in Bloomington as well as multiple ISU locations.