15th congressional candidates tackle important issues

By Melissa Silverberg

More than 650,000 constituents, nearly 10,000 square miles of land and more than 100,000 farms will all be represented by one man – the winner of the 15th Congressional District race for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Incumbent Rep. Tim Johnson, R-15th, and democratic challenger Steve Cox are campaigning for a spot to represent one of the largest districts in the state, which includes parts of 22 counties and the University.

Johnson, a Champaign-Urbana native, earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University. He has been in public service since 1971 when he was member of the Urbana City Council. Johnson then went on to the Illinois House of Representatives and has represented the 15th U.S. Congressional District since 2000.

Steve Cox was born in Memphis, Tenn. and worked in the U.S. State Department for nearly 30 years until his retirement in 2003.

“Mine is not a typical campaign; I am not a politician,” Cox said. “I’m running to be a more effective representative of the people on the issues.”

On the issue of the war in Iraq, the two candidates share the view that we need to bring our troops home, but with different ideas of how to accomplish this.

“We need to move from the stance of victory to the stance of legitimate success,” Cox said. “We need to make some kind of reconciling statement to the Iraqis and to the rest of the world so we can move on.”

There are more than 2,300 troops from the Illinois National Guard serving in Afghanistan, said Phil Bloomer, spokesman for Johnson.

“On a broader scale, he would like to see the war on terrorism be wound down,” Bloomer said. “We would like to see them brought home as soon as possible.”

Bloomer added that Johnson is against any kind of specific timetable because he said they play into the hands of the enemy, yet he would like to bring the troops home in a way that is both responsible and prudent.

In terms of making environmental progress on energy, both candidates expressed interest in getting FutureGen, a failed clean energy initiative in Mattoon, Ill., restarted.

Johnson and Cox also have similar, but slightly different views on education issues such as No Child Left Behind.

“We can’t just be concerned about teaching to the test for students to be successful,” Cox said. “In education there needs to be some serious refocusing.”

Bloomer said that while Johnson agrees with the goal of accountability in No Child Left Behind, the execution has been very poor.

“The one size fits all approach has not served anyone very well,” Bloomer said.

The 15th District is generally Republican, and Johnson was one of the few Republicans to be re-elected in the 2006 change in control to the Democrats.

“The district generally is favorable for Republicans, and almost any Republican that survived in 2006 is likely to win in 2008,” said Brian Gaines, professor in political science. “But we do get surprised now and then.”

Gaines also said there is a possibility that other democratic candidates around the state may be able to ride on the coattails of Obama’s assumed Illinois victory.

“It is important to know who is representing you in Congress,” Gaines said. “They should have values like your own.”