GRAYSLAKE – Emotions ran high Wednesday evening at the first moderated forum featuring all three candidates for the 8th Congressional District.
The League of Women Voters of Lake County moderator found herself having to moderate not only candidates Melissa Bean, Joe Walsh and Bill Scheurer, but also Walsh’s many supporters in the 350-member audience at Grayslake Central High School.
The debate, hosted by the league and the school’s students, got off to a contentious start when the audience broke out into the Pledge of Allegiance after moderator Kathy Tate-Bradish said it was not on the schedule when asked from the crowd. Tate-Bradish throughout the debate had to ask people to be civil because comments made among them could be heard at the front stage.
Democratic incumbent Bean is seeking a fourth term against Republican candidate Walsh and Green candidate Scheurer to represent the district, which includes northeastern McHenry County.
Walsh wasted no time attacking Bean at a public debate, leveling charges that she, with the help of “her enablers in the media,” has hidden from constituents angry with her votes in support of health care reform, cap and trade and the economic stimulus package.
“There is so much at stake this year. This is one of the most important elections in the past 50 years, we’re 14 days out [from the election] and we’re going to have a 50-minute forum,” said Walsh, who recently moved to McHenry from Winnetka to run.
Bean, of Barrington, defended her record, telling the audience she is a fiscal conservative and champion of small business who has voted for numerous tax cuts and wants the Bush tax cuts set to expire at year’s end extended.
“I work hard for 8th District families and businesses, and I get results,” Bean said.
Scheurer, of Lindenhurst, aimed his first remark at the students. He paid homage to the mascots of the district’s two schools before informing students of their share of the national debt.
“Go Knights, Go Rams,” Scheurer said to polite applause. “Now that we’ve had our fun, I’m telling you that you each owe $40,000.”
A four-student panel asked nine questions of the candidates, ranging from education to the effectiveness of the stimulus to the nation’s debt.
Walsh and Bean differed on whether the district’s constituents wanted the health care bill that Bean supported. Bean said health care reform was a priority among the district’s residents – she highlighted stories of constituents who were dropped when they had medical conditions, which now is illegal.
“Illinois has the highest rate of rescission in the country – that means [insurance] companies can legally drop your coverage when you need it most,” Bean said.
Walsh said he would work to repeal the bill with the Republicans in the House, and said he has heard a much different story from the district’s residents about their feelings about the reforms.
“This district has made that opinion very clear prior to the vote for the past eight months,” Walsh said. “We’ve taken a first giant step toward government-run health care.”
Scheurer said he opposed the plan as proposed, but supports creating a Medicare “Plan E for Everyone” to give people access to health insurance.
Walsh and Bean had one small exchange near the end, after Walsh told the audience he would only serve three terms if elected. Bean said she heard pledges of self-imposed term limits many times before, but Walsh interjected that he was being sincere, prompting a reminder from the moderator of the rules.
Walsh supporters, such as Bob Powers of Round Lake Beach, came and left feeling good about their candidate.
“The direction of everything has got to be changed,” he said. “Without changes in the leadership, we can’t do anything.”
Fox Lake resident Nick Burke, who supports Bean, said he was impressed with her performance under pressure, and was not impressed with the conduct of Walsh’s supporters.
“I think for a group that talks about values, they spent the last hour or so contradicting themselves,” Burke said.