Farm Bureau ‘Meet the Candidates’ event draws large crowd

Megan Brinkmann of Waterloo and her 1-year-old son Nash receive two bowls of delicious ice cream from Country Financial employee Kathy Nelson during the Monroe County Farm Bureau’s Ice Cream Social and “Meet the Candidates” event on Thursday (Alan Dooley photo)

Monroe County citizens take their politics seriously and their ice cream joyously.

A turnout of more than 300 at the Monroe County Fairgrounds on Thursday night in the face of recurring downpours to “Meet the Candidates” for the November election – and for free ice cream – amply demonstrated both truths.

Sponsored by the Monroe County Farm Bureau and Country Financial, the event offered candidates for the fall elections opportunities to introduce themselves to Farm Bureau members and to state their positions and qualifications for the offices they are seeking.

Children who accompanied parents were offered supervised recreation during the remarks portion of the evening.

George Obernagel served as master of ceremonies, introducing each candidate and monitoring a four-minute time limit for each.

U.S. Representative

Republican Mike Bost was first up. Bost, of Murphysboro, said he felt the current leaders in Washington are overstepping their boundaries, and should restrict themselves to controlling our borders, national defense and foreign trade.

He also said he was opposed to the concept of passing a bill, “…to see what it does.” A fiscal conservative, Bost currently serves as 115th District State Representative.

Democrat Bill Enyart of Belleville, first term incumbent in the U.S. House seat, noted that he serves on the House Armed Services and House Agriculture Committees, supporting Illinois issues including Scott Air Force Base and farming interests.

He pointed specifically to his support of the new agriculture bill, which he said will provide farmers stability, and another bill to curb EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers influence over non-navigable waters, as well as his advocacy for ethanol.

Monroe County Board

Bob Elmore spoke first. A Springfield native, Elmore moved to Monroe County in 2008.  He told how his business background as sales manager for a publishing company would apply to ensuring proper use of tax payers money.

A Republican precinct chairman, Elmore said he feels Monroe County needs better health care facilities. Neighboring Randolph County has three hospitals and Monroe County has none, he pointed out. He also said he would seek an education partnership here with SIU-Carbondale.

Democrat Mike Kovarik, incumbent county commissioner, said his employment — working from home — permits him  to devote time as necessary to county government needs.  Saying his father had taught him not to focus on the past, but on what’s next, he was none-the-less proud of the county’s reducing debt during his tenure, as well as the reputation being garnered by the Oak Hill elder care facility.

Kovarik noted that politics play no part in the Monroe County Board, and that since he sees no new federal or state funds on the horizon, he would continue to fight to control county expenditures.

Monroe County Sheriff

Kevin Hirsch of Fults pledged to put people before politics if he was elected.  Hirsch is running as an Independent.

A sergeant of guards at Menard Correctional Center in Chester,  Illinois’ largest maximum security prison, he cited his work there and character building experiences growing up on a small family farm, Boys Club and FFA background as qualifications for the job.

Neal Rohlfing of Hecker said he is a lifelong resident of the area and a member of a fourth-generation farm family member.  Noting 17 ambulance calls for drug overdoses thus far in 2014, he said the county’s law enforcement will require advanced technology to cover the large area with limited personnel.

Rohlfing, a Republican, cited his 12 years of experience with the Fairview Heights Police Department and four years with the Drug Enforcement Agency Task Force and two with the St. Clair County Sheriff’s drug unit as well.

Democrat Dennis Schreder, current chief deputy sheriff in Monroe County for the last seven-plus years with 24 years of service as a Monroe County deputy, said he was ready to lead from the first day.  He also noted the sheriff’s annual budget of $2.4 million, and his close experience with managing it as further evidence of being prepared to run the department.

Schreder quoted former President John F. Kennedy, stating that rather than a Democratic or Republican answer, “…we need the right answer.”

County Assessor

Barrie Scott, a local architect running as a Democrat, criticized the current assessor for the large number of appeals in recent years – growing from 230 to 935.  He was also critical of what he termed as a timeliness issue with assessments in recent years.  He noted that late assessments cause late tax payments, which requires districts and departments to dip into reserves or to borrow to make budgets.

Scott pledged that the citizens will be his employers, stating that even if they are unhappy with his work at times, they will always be respected and receive fair treatment.

Current assessor Carl Wuertz, a Republican, cited his 13 years of work in the assessor’s office, including eight as supervisor. He noted that an increase in complaints came during an unusual time of recession when people were seeing property values decrease.  But, due to the three-year cycle of reassessments, they were not seeing concurrent drops in assessed values.

He noted that even accepting the number of complaints, 96 percent of property owners didn’t complain. He also cited his 400-plus hours of continuing education with the Department of Revenue.

Other political officeholders up for re-election in November who are unopposed also spoke Thursday night.

Monroe County Clerk and Recorder Dennis Knobloch of Valmeyer is seeking another term in office, where he has served since 1997.

Monroe County Treasurer Kevin Koenigstein of Columbia is running unopposed and has been serving since 2008.

Regional Superintendent of Schools Kelton Davis is running unopposed.  He has served in this capacity since 2012, when he was appointed to fill Marc Kiehna’s term.

Obernagel wrapped up the remarks period, thanking all who made the evening possible and all candidates for helping to build a better understanding of the issues and their positions.  He urged everyone to study the issues and vote in November.

The evening closed with attendees and candidates lining up for ice cream, cookies and beverages. Most of the candidates also stayed for the social portion of the evening and entertained questions from those in attendance.

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