Three Republicans are seeking their party’s nomination for the 18th Congressional District seat vacated by Aaron Schock in the midst of a spending scandal. The special election is a week from today, July 7.
The race features Darin LaHood, 46, a state senator and attorney from Peoria; Donald Rients, 51, of Benson, a former prison guard and currently a technology coordinator at State Farm Insurance; and Mike Flynn, 47, a policy analyst and writer/editor for the online publication Breitbart News, of Quincy by way of Alexandria, Va.
Rients describes himself in a single phrase: “I won’t compromise on Christian values.” Balancing the budget is his top priority, though arguably he can’t get from here to there without spending cuts to the military and entitlements, which he doesn’t favor. He says cracking down on illegal immigration can achieve those savings. He’s no fan of the Affordable Care Act … or the IRS, EPA, Department of Education, all of which he’d tame if not eliminate. He’d substitute a flat national sales tax for the income tax. He opposes the Trans-Pacific trade deal and fast-track authority, especially for the current president, while generally expressing distrust of corporations and special interests. He is a hawk on foreign policy, and supports “boots on the ground” in Iraq and Syria. Man-made global warming is “fiction,” he says.
No one in this field has the policy chops that Flynn does, not surprising regarding someone who once was the policy director at the American Legislative Exchange Council and has “probably written 2 million words on policy issues” between there and Breitbart — where he published the ACORN tapes — in addition to dabbling directly in many a political campaign, including Bobby Schilling’s first run for Congress. He’s on the ballot because of a general “disgust” and “disillusionment” with the Republican Party, which he believes has compromised away too many core values, and out of a “distaste of coronation” regarding a member of the “political class,” which is how he describes LaHood, the son of former congressman and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Flynn would repeal ObamaCare, move those with pre-existing conditions into a high-risk pool, reform Medicaid from top to bottom, and replace the rest with a market-based system that eliminates as many hurdles between patient and provider as possible. He’d give taxpayers a choice beween the status quo and a flat tax, based on Hong Kong’s experiment with such. He’d reform the tax code through a commission modeled on one originally designed to close military bases. He’d do away with a national minimum wage, severely curtail the reach of the EPA, end federal advantages for ethanol and let the charter of the Export-Import Bank expire, for good. He’s “immigration yes, amnesty no” and would fence the borders. He opposes TPP because of the flawed process behind it but is otherwise a “total free trader.” He’d arm the Kurds directly to fight ISIS and says Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. If elected, he’d restrict himself to the remainder of this term and three additional ones; he says he would not take a federal pension.
LaHood shares many of the conservative positions of the other two candidates but his are moderated. As a former federal prosecutor who’s handled immigration cases, he’s a rule-of-law guy, opposing amnesty, though he’d give a bit more on the likes of H-1B visas in consideration of Caterpillar’s needs. He’s a deficit hawk who’d reform entitlements, while being open to raising the eligibility age for Social Security and means-testing. On tax code reform, he’s in the “flatter and fairer” camp. He’s a free trader who supports TPP. He, too, would “walk away” from the “failed experiment” of ObamaCare. His position on foreign policy issues is peace through strength; he’d “do what it takes to stop ISIS,” including sending U.S. combat troops. He’d take an “all-of-the-above approach” to energy policy. Like the others, he’s pro-life, pro-Second Amendment. He favors term limits, though he’s wavered on how many.
LaHood was the only candidate to speak with any specificity about the Peoria area’s needs, especially on transportation — the Eastern Bypass, rail — and Illinois River infrastructure, though he was unclear on how he’d pay for it or any capital bill; he opposes any increase in the gas tax. He’d have supported last year’s farm bill.
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