EFFINGHAM — Republican candidates for the party’s nod for the 55th Senate District and the 109th House District discussed a variety of issues recently at a forum hosted by the Effingham County Chamber of Commerce and the Effingham County Farm Bureau at the Elks Lodge.

Candidates Darren Bailey and Jeffrey Fleming are vying for the Republican spot for the 55th District, and candidates Andy Hires and Adam Niemerg are running for the Republican nod for the 109th District.

Also speaking at the forum but running unopposed for their party’s nomination were 107th District Republican incumbent Blaine Wilhour, 107th District Democratic candidate Dave Seiler and 109th District Democratic candidate John Spencer.

The 55th District includes Clay, Clark, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, Edwards, Effingham, Jasper, Lawrence, Richland, Wabash, Wayne and White counties. The 109th covers all of Clay, Edwards, Jasper, Richland, Wabash, Wayne and White counties, as well as portions of Lawrence and Effingham counties. The 107th District contains the northwestern portion of Effingham County and all of Fayette County, in addition to Marion and Bond counties.

The candidates were asked about their thoughts on the Fair Tax Amendment and state funding for their districts in general. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has proposed the fair tax plan that he said will cut taxes for 97 percent of Illinois residents in order to possibly fund education, social services and public safety.

The four Republicans running opposed for their party’s district nods each said they were not in favor of the progressive tax plan. Hires said instead of mass tax cuts, the state government should look at making sure Illinois households are receiving their share of promised incentives.

“I think some of the things we can do oftentimes when we’re trying to bring jobs to the area or incentives to the area we base it on number of jobs created or number of jobs that we save,” Hires said. “We need to look at things that possibly look at the median household income of an area (and) whether or not they’re receiving their fair portion of these different incentives that are out there for each and every district.”

Hires added that working together with legislators on “the other side of the aisle” can help bring in funding for the area districts. He said in working with Democrats, however, he would not give up his core Republican values.

Hires’ opponent Niemerg shared similar sentiments. Niemerg encouraged all in attendance to vote against the fair tax in November, saying there is “nothing fair about it.”

Niemerg said the fair tax would end up pitting one tax bracket against another, too.

“Right now what will happen is they’ll have the brackets set up and they say it’ll be what the Democrats proposed it will be but then they’re going to pit one bracket against another bracket and end up raising all of our taxes,” Niemerg said.

Bailey noted that the middle class would be most impacted by the progressive tax. He said instead of cutting taxes, the plan will end up increasing them.

Fleming said the state does not have a revenue problem but instead has a governmental spending issue. He said the government needs to find other ways to cut back spending and act in a fiscally responsible way to keep money flowing in his district and beyond.

The four candidates also agreed that the mass exodus of people the state is currently facing is because of high taxes and the minimum wage increase implemented by Pritzker.

Bailey said in order to end the exodus, the state should look at modeling its government on a neighboring state.

“I see modeling our government maybe after Indiana would be a start where we spread the wealth. We spread business across the state. We have a two-year budget,” Bailey said. “Businesses are suffering because we simply cannot afford this minimum wage. I’m telling you, it’s happening as well in Chicago, so I see the day of reckoning coming.”

Fleming said getting people to come back to Illinois starts with creating a more business-friendly atmosphere. He said if some regulations could be taken off of industries like the oil and gas industry, more jobs could be created in those sectors.

He added minimum wage hikes should have been regionalized rather than statewide. He said minimum wage should not be the same in southern Illinois as it is in Chicago because businesses cannot often afford the wage raises.

Fleming said higher taxes are also at the heart of people exiting the state.

“We’re No. 2 in people leaving the state and No. 1 in tax. You think there’s a correlation? Absolutely. We can’t raise those taxes any more. We’ve got to figure out a way to make this work,” Fleming said.

Term limits are something each of the competing candidates said they support. Bailey, Niemerg and Hires said they have each pledged to self-impose term limits and they and Fleming said they will push for legislation that limits terms in all offices in the state government.

To listen to and watch the full forum and hear all of the candidates’ responses, visit the Effingham County Farm Bureau’s Facebook page for link to the video.

Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at kaitlin.cordes@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 132.

Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at kaitlin.cordes@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 132.

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Kaitlin Cordes covers Effingham County, police and courts and sports features for the Effingham Daily News. She earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University. Cordes is a native of Effingham.

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