BELLEVILLE — Candidates for the 12th Congressional District engaged in another testy debate Wednesday night.
However, this time the action was all on the stage.
Democrat Bill Enyart, Republican Jason Plummer and Green Party candidate Paula Bradshaw appeared in front of voters again Wednesday night at Lindenwood University in Belleville.
This debate is the candidates’ third, sponsored in a partnership between the Belleville News-Democrat, The Southern Illinoisan, WSIU-TV and Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Lindenwood University was also a sponsor of Wednesday’s event.
The 12th District candidates answered questions about education, pay equality, foreign policy in the Middle East and government spending, among other issues.
The crowd was very respectful of all three candidates, but exchanges and accusations flew between Enyart and Plummer on a number of occasions. Both accused the other of lying.
Enyart repeatedly referenced Plummer’s refusal to release his tax returns.
In response, Plummer said his tax returns were not public information and that any information people would want to know is available.
Plummer accused Enyart of taking money from Democratic representatives who refuse to release their tax returns.
Enyart claimed $1.2 million in attack ads were taken out against him by “shadowy figures who operate Chinese casinos.”
Plummer claimed Enyart’s attack ads were pulled off the air because they were not honest.
Plummer denied endorsing vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s budget plan, a claim Enyart also made a number of times. Enyart said Plummer endorsed the budget plan in a June town hall in Alton.
Despite the squabbling, Enyart, Plummer and Bradshaw still managed to articulate their ideas throughout the debate.
In her opening statement, Bradshaw said she came from a family of coal miners, but it wasn’t worth creating jobs at the expense of neighbors.
“We know who gets rich from this, and it isn’t us,” Bradshaw said.
Plummer said the race was about whether government makes the best decision for the American people or if the American people make the best decisions for themselves.
“We need a government who is responsive to the American people,” Plummer said.
Enyart said the debate was a job interview and touted his experience.
“There are serious policy differences among the candidates,” Enyart said. “There are serious differences in experience and responsibility and leadership as well.”
All three candidates stressed the importance of Scott Air Force base to the region.
Bradshaw said the U.S. defense budget should be cut for operations around the world and that money used at home. Scott Air Force base, she said, should receive those resources because it protected the country from foreign invasion.
Plummer said he would look at how to grow Scott Air Force base, not just how to keep it in the area. That would take a representative who would stand up for what’s right, Plummer said, not just for the party line.
Enyart said he would have instant credibility on defense issues when he goes to Congress. Enyart spoke of his experience bringing military jobs to the 12th Congressional District while commanding the Illinois National Guard.
All three candidates were against food stamp cuts in the current version of the Farm Bill.
When asked about addressing the issue of poverty in East St. Louis, Plummer said it was time for different representation in the region because the area has struggled under the same leadership.
Enyart said infrastructure needed to be developed in the area — industrial and human. He also said property taxes were too high in the area.
Bradshaw said the federal government needed to step in to rebuild the area.
Enyart, 62, is an attorney from Belleville and recently retired major general who commanded the Illinois National Guard.
Plummer, 30, of O’Fallon is a businessman, former candidate for lieutenant governor of Illinois and an officer in the Navy Reserve.
Bradshaw, 59, is an emergency room nurse from Carbondale and a political activist.
On Twitter: @BrentStewartSI