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GOP debate focus turns to health

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Associated Press

CHAMPAIGN - Jim Oberweis compared government health care programs to the failed policies of the Soviet Union during a debate among Republican candidates for governor Sunday, saying the state needs to stop runaway spending.

Oberweis said government cannot afford to offer everyone health care, shelter and food.

"Quite frankly, it was tried in the Soviet Union and it didn't work very well," he said. "The free market is a much better allocator of our resources."

Also, he and opponent Bill Brady said they would resume executions in Illinois, lifting the death penalty moratorium that former Republican Gov. George Ryan imposed in 1999.

A third candidate, Ron Gidwitz, said he would be willing to lift the moratorium if he is convinced that no innocent people would be executed.

GOP front-runner Judy Baar Topinka, who did not attend the debate, has also said she would resume executions.

The three candidates disagreed on little during the two-hour debate.

They promised to reverse Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich's order requiring pharmacies to fill prescriptions for the "morning after" birth control pill. They also opposed imposing statewide restrictions on smoking in public places and struggled to name anything good that Blagojevich has accomplished.

Brady and Gidwitz also complained about rising health costs, but they emphasized trying to reduce the need for government programs by creating more jobs that offer health benefits.

"My goal is to help people get off of reliance on government and move them to self-reliance," said Brady, a state senator from Bloomington.

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They were joined by little-known Republican Andy Martin and Constitution Party candidate Randall Stufflebeam.

Corruption was a frequent topic, with all the candidates pointing fingers at Blagojevich, whose practice of awarding contracts to campaign donors is under review by federal prosecutors.

Oberweis said he won't take campaign money from contractors.

Brady called for limits on campaign contributions. Gidwitz said he would take a two-year break from fundraising if elected and institute other changes, but he said it may never be possible to eliminate corruption entirely.

"It has existed for as long as this state," he said.

Gidwitz said he supports government support of embryonic stem cell research, but he criticized Blagojevich for devoting $10 million for that purpose even after lawmakers had declined to endorse stem cell research.

Gidwitz said he would not provide government funds unless the Legislature approved. Gidwitz and Brady said they oppose the idea entirely.

The debate was in many ways a repeat of the Republican debate last week in Naperville.

Oberweis emphasized that he has never held office, offering himself as an antidote to political corruption that has plagued Illinois. He often mentioned his family's dairy and ice cream shops, whether to drive home his status as a businessman or to display connections to central Illinois farmers.

Brady, meanwhile, walked a fine line, downplaying any connection to the last Republican governor but portraying himself as a Springfield veteran who can get things done.

"Jim, it takes more than selling ice cream to be a good governor," he told Oberweis.

Gidwitz, a Chicago businessman and former chairman of the State Board of Education, presented himself as a pragmatic alternative to his conservative rivals - someone more focused on jobs and taxes than ideology.

Martin frequently scolded the other Republicans for their "blather" and simplistic answers.

"It all sounds so easy in a political forum, but it's not easy," he said.

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