MACOMB, Ill. -- State Rep. Norine Hammond and challenger Joshua Griffith don't agree on much, but neither candidate is happy about attack ads.
"They're trying to tie me to (Illinois Democratic Party Chairman and Speaker of the House) Mike Madigan. I've never even met the guy," said Griffith, a first-time Republican candidate, who is mounting a primary challenge against Hammond in the 93rd House District seat.
Hammond, who has served in the Illinois House since December 2010, is under attack for her vote to end a two-year budget impasse last year, which included raising the state income tax rate to 4.95 percent.
"That vote was about getting the state out of the situation where we were about to be the only state with junk-bond status," she said. "We were actually paying $2 million a day in interest on our unpaid bills. That, to me, was unconscionable. There's nothing conservative about that."
Griffith said Hammond's vote for the budget deal last year was what prompted him to challenge her in the March 20 GOP primary. Few Republicans voted for the deal.
"I think it was done too quickly. I believe there was a way to reach a (budget) resolution without the 32 percent income tax" hike, Griffith said.
Hammond said there was nothing "quick" about actions taken after a two-year period without a full budget.
"We were spending about $39 billion a year while we were taking in a little over $32 billion," she said. "The budget that we finally passed was $36.5 billion, so we cut about $2.5 billion out of the budget."
One of the attack ads against Hammond falsely states that the budget deal didn't make significant changes.
Although he supported Gov. Bruce Rauner in opposing the budget deal, Griffith is unhappy with Rauner's signature on legislation that allows the use of tax dollars to pay for abortions. He also opposes state laws that make Illinois a sanctuary state, one that does not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
"There's a legal way to come into the country. We need to enforce the laws," Griffith said.
Hammond sees education as a top issue in the 93rd District. The budget impasse crippled K-12 schools, community colleges and universities. For months, Hammond has served on a bipartisan and bicameral group looking at ways to better fund higher education. Schools, including Western Illinois University in Macomb, saw enrollment slide and nearly lost accreditation during the budget battle.
"We're trying to come up with ways we can incentivize Illinois students to stay in Illinois while we attract some students from outside the state, too," Hammond said.
Griffith wants to find ways to bring manufacturing and other quality jobs back to the rural district. He also has promised constituents he will oppose tax increases.
"Voters are tired of being taxed, and they don't want the state to kick the can down the road without making long-term fixes," Griffith said.
The top issue this year must be passage of a balanced and conservative budget, Hammond said.
Whoever gets the Republican nomination for the 93rd District seat March 20 will face Democrat John Curtis of Macomb in November. Curtis ran against Hammond in 2016 and received a little more than 45 percent of the vote.
Occupation: Minister and youth pastor, manages Locke's Roofing in Galesburg.
Experience: First run for political office, served in the U.S. Army for 11 years and was a military policeman.
Education: Bachelor's degree in religion and master's degree in education from Liberty University.
Family: Wife, Summer, and five children.
Occupation: House member since December 2010, current assistant minority leader.
Experience: Legislative aide from 1997-2010 for the late Rep. Rich Myers, Emmet Township trustee 2002-06, Emmet Township supervisor 2006-14, Macomb Planning Commission.
Family: Husband, Leonard, and one daughter.