Illinois Valley Community College students were given more information to become educated voters Thursday when the Democratic representative candidates for the 76th district answered their questions.
Jill Bernal, of Peru, and Lance Yednock, of Ottawa, were on hand for a candidates forum.
Students seemed interested in learning how closely the candidates planned to work with educational leaders as well as additional security in classrooms following the recent mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Fla.
The candidates also spoke about their shared desire to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and discussed issues such as universal health care.
The event was sponsored by the College Democrats of Illinois Valley Community College and consisted of questions written by the group as well as students in attendance.
What changes would you like to see implemented in our government and what changes would you personally enact?
Yednock said his focus is working toward a balanced budget.
He said it’s the biggest change required and the state can’t afford to continue to avoid paying bills or “kicking the can down the road” with regards to the pension system.
“I think the most important thing we can do for Illinois is to recognize the problems with the debt and take real steps forward paying off past due bills,” Yednock said. “The interest rate on past due bills is killing us.”
He suggested spreading the tax base, looking toward moving to a graduated income tax and considering cutting or consolidating in the budget.
He also added to work on funding education through the general fund with less reliance on property taxes, which could lead to property tax relief without losing education funding.
Bernal agreed with both of those changes as well as encouraging bipartisanship.
“We need to work together whether it’s a Republican, Democrat or independent,” Bernal said. “Springfield needs to put that aside and work for what’s right for the people.”
Any ideas for improving safety at our schools?
Bernal said as a parent she never expected to have the fears that today’s parents have regarding safety. She noted as a county board member she has to pass a metal detector every visit and suggested that could be a preventative measure for future school shootings.
“If we had to do that at that level why don’t we have to do it here?” Bernal said. “If that’s what it comes down to, to make our kids safe, it has to be in place.”
Yednock suggested he didn’t have a definitive answer. He said he would prefer to not have metal detectors in every school, but admitted it may be a possibility as “the world has changed.”
He also added expanding resource officers and placing them in more schools, but currently draws the line at arming teachers.
“I don’t think that’s the way we need to try to solve this crisis, but I’m going to be open minded about any of it,” Yednock said. “It might have to be a little of all the above.”
Regarding the state minimum wage, do you think it needs to be changed?
Yednock noted his background as a union worker as he noted his desire to work toward raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour slowly over a period of four or five years.
He said a major portion of the economy is service-based with many of those jobs not paying enough to raise a family on.
He noted a small percentage nationally have had all the gains over the last 10 years.
“I think we have to be honest about it nationally and say that we’re probably going to have them pitch in a little bit more and help bring up wages for everybody and see if that creates a more robust economy,” Yednock said. “We’ve tried trickle-down economics for years and years. Let’s do it differently.”
Bernal agreed with Yednock regarding the $15 per hour increase and said those at the lower pay levels work just as hard if not more so than their well-paid counterparts. She noted the certified nursing assistants that work at the nursing home as an example.
“I can honestly say that a CNA job is the hardest job probably in the hospital,” Bernal said. "We need to pay those people more.”
What are your plans regarding health care in the state of Illinois?
Bernal said as a nurse she always has treating patients at the forefront of her mind. At the same time, her “predicament” is that when it comes time to pay it can be difficult for those without insurance.
“I kind of like the single-payer, similar to Medicare, that may be the answer but maybe it’s not the answer,” Bernal said. “There’s a lot of different options out there.”
Yednock agreed that it’s a complex issue with no clear answer, but suggested looking beyond the United States for leadership.
He said it’s a national issue and the federal government could be pushed to look at a universal form of healthcare for basic needs that everyone can contribute to, similar to what is available in Canada, France and Sweden. He said he’d do what he could in his capacity if elected.
“Maybe Illinois has to be the one state that says we’re going to change things,” Yednock said.
Would you consult with educational leaders regarding educational changes?
Citing her 12 years on the Peru School board, Bernal, said she knows exactly what schools need from their representatives.
“I know the importance of it. I see what it has done for my children. It’s my number one priority,” Bernal said.
She also said she understands the impact of unfunded mandates as did Yednock citing a visit to another panel discussion at IVCC that involved local school administrators and regional superintendents.
Yednock said he knows schools are worried about funding along with unfunded mandates and said he plans to network with school officials prior to voting on issues that affect them.
“We can’t keep making laws of any sort, not just educational purposes, without having the revenue for it and being able to implement it,” Yednock said.
In a separate question, both candidates noted the importance of improving access to higher education. Both agreed encouraging and improving access to both higher education and trade schools as key to future success.
Assuming you win, what is your strategy for winning the general election?
Both candidates expressed interest in continuing to run their campaign as they have up to this point.
Yednock said he plans to continue “knocking on doors” and getting the word out about his positions and stating he’ll be open to all options and working with those across the aisle.
Bernal plans to continue running her “grassroots” campaign and making herself accessible to the voters.