On Oct. 27, residents of the 12 counties of Illinois’ 12th Congressional District will get their only chance to watch the candidates face off. Lindenwood University-Belleville will host the debate among Republican Mike Bost, Democrat C.J. Baricevic and Green Party candidate Paula Bradshaw.
Bost is finishing his first term after beating incumbent Democrat Bill Enyart in 2014. Before entering politics, Bost served in the Marine Corps and as a firefighter. He has been endorsed by the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois.
His political career began with a victory as a write-in candidate for the Jackson County Board. After four years in that position, he served two decades in the Illinois House of Representatives.
Bost says that his experience is a strength and that he acts as a voice for the beliefs of the 12th District.
“I’ve got 11 grandchildren now and my concern for what we’re leaving them in the future is probably my biggest motivator,” said Bost.
As a representative, Bost said he fought against what he calls “over burdensome” government.
While Baricevic, a lawyer, has never held political office, he does have a family history of public service. Both a grandfather and uncle were aldermen in Fairview Heights while his father, John Baricevic, has been a successful St. Clair County politician and is now the chief judge of the 20th Judicial Circuit.
Baricevic attended Southern Illinois University Law School and is now a partner in a law firm specializing in labor and personal injury law. He has served as an appointed public defender.
"I’m drawn, I think, to try to help and, frankly, that’s why you run for office because at a fundamental level you have to want to help,” said Baricevic.
He has secured several big endorsements including the United Steelworkers of America and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31.
In a large, diverse district like the 12th, both candidates say everyone can agree on the importance of jobs and the economy.
“The number one issue we hear from folks who, whether they’re farmers or whether they work in infrastructure, whether they work in the city or a rural environment – the economy is always the most important issue,” said Baricevic.
Bost concurs: “Whether it is the metro area or whether it is the rural area … the Illinois 12th is about trying to make sure that we have good employment.”
At campaign events, Bost says he carries a roll of paper, three sheets across and 25 feet long. “Those are the rules that have been placed on coal mines during the last eight years during the Obama administration. It is why we see the coal mine jobs leaving.”
Bost, who has been endorsed by the National Council of Coal Miners Political Action Committee, says cutting “over-aggressive” regulations is crucial to protecting Illinois’ coal industry.
Baricevic says the role of a representative is to advocate for the district, to convince businesses to make it their home. He says the job "isn’t just an avenue where you vote for what you think might be good policy and you hang up the cleats; you continue to work for your district.”
Baricevic claims Bost has failed to secure jobs for the district.
Outside of the economy, Baricevic says some of the biggest issues facing Illinoisans are affordability of health care and secondary education. He says he strongly supports Medicare and is against any efforts to move to a voucher program.
Bost is adamantly against Obamacare and advocates for a slow and steady replacement to a system that provides affordable health care even for those with pre-existing conditions.
“[Obamacare] does none of those things and really all it is, you could have got it for a cheaper price if you had just told people to go ahead and buy catastrophic health care because most people that have it can’t use it until you get a $5,000 deductible out of the way – and that’s like not having it at all,” said Bost.
Both men say they support the 2nd Amendment. Bost has received an “A rating” and endorsement from the NRA. Baricevic calls for a “common sense” banning suspected terrorists on the FBI No-Fly list from buying firearms or explosives.
Baricevic says that as a congressman he would offer something that, in his opinion, is sorely lacking in both Illinois and federal governments – bipartisanship.
“My district is not a blue district or a red district. It’s a district of hardworking folks who want to provide and they are not done a service when partisan members of Congress fail to get effective policy passed,” said Baricevic.
Bost called out Baricevic on specific issues including the Iran deal and the defense budget.
“I am very much involved and in support of making sure we make the proper investments into our military,” said Bost. “He in one statement said that he would look at considering cutting some of that to find money there for education. I believe – we did actually have an increase for education funding but we didn’t do it by taking it away from our military.”
The Green Party candidate is making her third run for representative for the 12th Congressional District.
Bradshaw says she feels pulled to public service because somebody's got to do it.
"I think that this is supposed to be a government by and for the people and I’m a person," said Bradshaw.
She claims the two-party system and money in politics have left Americans feeling helpless to enact change.
"They feel they can’t have any effect on their government," said Bradshaw. "They feel like victims of the economy of the government. They’re trying to hold on and hope that they personally aren’t, you know, thrown out of their houses or become unemployed or all the things that have happened to so many millions of Americans."
In 2014, Bradshaw earned 5.6 percent of the vote. While pundits see her victory as a long shot, her vote total could have a significant effect on the result.
She is a vocal proponent of the Green New Deal which advocates employing at least 20 million Americans in jobs supporting sustainable transportation, renewable energy and the restoration of the environment.
She believes this plan would put money back into the hands of America's middle class.
Bradshaw supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour as well as establishing a Medicare-for-all or single payer health care system. The Green Party wants to eliminate the phrasing "over 65" from the original Medicare Act, thus insuring everyone.
As a nurse for 36 years, Bradshaw says she has the inside perspective on for-profit healthcare system is "outrageous."
"Why profit from other people’s suffering? And when you work in the E.R. you see stuff like this, you see people come in and they can’t afford their insulin so their blood sugar is 700, that’s ridiculous," said Bradshaw.
With a great grandfather and grandfather who worked in the coal mines, Bradshaw says she understands the poor treatment of coal miners by corporate interests and the danger and health issues they face. But she argues it is socially necessary to move away from coal to renewable energies like solar.
"The coal industry has been dying since the 60s, although politicians of the corporate duopoly like to dangle jobs, potential jobs in front of coal miners," said Bradshaw.
Beyond environmental issues, Bradshaw decries what she calls the loss of civil liberties that has occurred since 2001. She says American can't just sit back and let their liberty be taken.
"I would think that if Americans cared about the Bill of Rights they would have voted for me already, but I don’t know, maybe, maybe they don’t care, I don’t know," said Bradshaw. "But I certainly do, I care a lot."
This Thursday won't be Bradshaw's first time on the debate stage.
"There’s traditionally been three debates, one on foreign policy, one on domestic policy and the last one kind of hodge-podge, but my opponents have refused to debate except for this one time, so I don’t know what they’re going to do," said Bradshaw. "I guess they’re going to try to throw three debates worth of questions into only one debate."