EFFINGHAM — The four Democratic candidates for the 15th Congressional District gathered for a forum recently at the Effingham American Legion.

The forum, which was hosted by the Effingham County Democratic Central Committee, featured candidates Erika Weaver, John Hursey, Kevin Gaither and Craig Morton. The question-and-answer-style forum featured five prepared questions and two from the audience. The Democratic candidate to represent the 107th District of the state house of representatives, Dave Seiler, emceed the event.

Cost of health care

Hursey said he supports Medicare for All and believes that it is fiscally possible to fund it.

Hursey said he would like to eliminate costs that come with higher premiums and to negotiate drug costs.

Morton, who owns a pharmacy in Salem and is a doctor of pharmacy, said he believes the Affordable Care Act has been the most vital to health care in recent years.

“The single most important piece of legislation is the Affordable Care Act. What we need to do is build on it and quit griping about it and quit doing lawsuits about it and do a one-year, two-year, five-year, 10-year plan and use that as the backbone,” Morton said. “Get rid of what we hate and what we think is not working. Build on what does work, and use it (the act) as a backbone.”

Gaither said he has also been working with health care for nearly two decades. He said his approach to health care would be updating information and technology systems that store health care information of those who utilize Medicare for All, which he said he supports.

He said while waiting for those systems to be updated, office holders need to address excessive administrative pay that is leading to increased costs of health care services and insurance.

Weaver said she would, as a congresswoman, make sure funds meant for Medicare for All programs are appropriated for that purpose through an appropriations committee. She said she also supports mobile health care units that can provide access to health care and also come at a more affordable cost.

Social Security

Gaither said the Social Security system is something he would never vote to cut. He said Social Security needs to be increased for the bottom 30 percent of the population, and those who benefit the most from the system should be protected.

“We need to protect people in the disability program. We need to increase income cap. Social Security is so vital to our seniors, and some have to make tough choices (like) food or medicine. That shouldn’t be a choice,” Gaither said.

Weaver said she would also be against cutting the Social Security program. She said that much like with health care, she would see to it that funding goes to the program like it’s supposed to.

Weaver said while she does not have a plan or policy on how to fix the Social Security issues the nation is facing, she does have an end goal that she will collaborate with other congressional representatives to achieve.

Morton said Social Security should be tailored to accommodate and properly assist senior citizens with medicines, food and housing. He said the system should take from the top 30 percent of the population to help aid the bottom 30 percent.

Hursey likened Social Security to the Gordian knot legend in which the knot couldn’t be untied, so Alexander the Great cut it in half. He said the same should be done with Social Security.

Hursey said the middle and working poor classes need to be bailed out, and new streams of revenue need to go toward funding Social Security. He said these revenue streams could come from what he called the inevitable federal legalization of marijuana.

Socialist label

The candidates were asked what their response was to the socialist label Democrats sometimes receive from its opposing party.

Morton said the label does not bother him because he believes all governments take on a form of socialism. It is just up to the people to decide how socialistic the government should be.

Morton said the government should act as a facilitator for education, health care and more but allow the people to drive decisions in those sectors.

Hursey said he would proudly wear the socialist label. He said other Democrats need to be OK with that label as well.

“Hell yeah, I’m a socialist,” Hursey said. “They already think we’re socialists. We need to own that.”

Weaver had similar thoughts on the label. She said that if anyone thinks she or other Democrats are also socialists, nothing she says will change their minds.

Gaither said what is perhaps more important than a label is creating a vision for the country and especially for the rural parts of the nation that will keep people in those rural communities. He said people have to want to plant roots in those communities all while building families and businesses there.

Education costs and student loans

Weaver said she believes that proper funding for education can help keep costs low and also aid in chiseling student loan debt.

She said she would be in favor of free community college and also expanding apprenticeship programs to the high school level so those students can earn certificates more quickly. Weaver added that federal PELL grants and student loans should be increased by keeping the government responsible for funding them and properly funding schools.

Hursey too said he would support free community college but felt that first, preschool education should be free as well. He said after early education is made more accessible, the government can then work its way to free community college.

Morton said he would like to see junior and technical colleges promoted more, as well as unions. He said the colleges and unions are vital economic drivers in rural communities like those in the 15th District.

Morton said he would also like to put more responsibility for student loans back onto the banks rather than on the government.

Gaither said what is most important in education is restructuring it to aid in better history and government classes. He said implementing such classes at an earlier level will help students better understand and learn the topics when they are older.

He said schools also need to implement mindfulness training and emotional regulatory training at a young age.

Tax cuts and changes

The candidates were asked what their responses would be to the tax cuts and changes that have been made during President Donald Trump’s presidency.

Hursey said he believes people and corporations should have to earn their tax cuts rather than just be given them.

Gaither agreed, saying big corporations should have to invest in their employees with benefits and guaranteeing jobs before they are given any kind of tax breaks.

Weaver said it is vital tax cuts and breaks that are actually beneficial to the people remain for the long term. She said all too often tax cuts are just promised in campaigns and not fully followed through.

“If we’re going to have tax breaks or tax cuts or new legislation that benefits people, we have to make sure it’s going to be there for a while. We have a habit of presenting legislation and breaks, and we don’t keep them around. We don’t do it for the benefit of people. We do it for them to vote,” Weaver said.

Morton said all of Trump’s tax cuts should be revoked, and the legislation allowing the cuts should be started over again from scratch. He said instead the tax cuts should benefit citizens, the communities they live in and small businesses.

The candidates were also asked about climate change and unions based on two selected questions from the audience of nearly 50 people. The candidates generally agreed that both climate and environmental funding and unions should be supported.

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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