suntimes
POWERFUL 
Weather Updates

Illinois students grill Rick Santorum after teacher interrupts stump speech

Republican Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum addresses students Hersey High School ArlingtHeights Friday March 16 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

Republican Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum addresses students at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights on Friday, March 16, 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

storyidforme: 27500650
tmspicid: 9938234
fileheaderid: 4572749
Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: March 16, 2012 9:14PM



GOP presidential challenger Rick Santorum faced three tough questions from high school students Friday afternoon on his education, health care and economic policies.

The questions he faced afterward from reporters at an Italian restaurant in suburban Chicago about the year he lived in Illinois seemed almost gentle by comparison.

“You recently commented on how you don’t believe everyone should go to college,” Becky Pauwels, 17, told Santorum. “Yet countries such as Germany and Japan, whose governments offer college to any motivated student, experience high rates of socio-economic mobility, which, by your own admission and all academic studies, is lagging in the United States.”

Since President Barack Obama proposes expanded access to college and training programs, how do his proposals differ from Obama’s, she asked.

“I didn’t say people shouldn’t go to college,” Santorum responded. “I said that we should respect all people’s decisions as to what course in life they want to take. Some people are academically inclined ... Some are inclined in other areas.”

Pauwels said afterward that Santorum did not really answer her question.

“I think Obama is a lot more pro-college — he wants to make it more accessible,” said Pauwels, who will be a freshman at the University of Illinois next year.

Santorum — who spent his senior year of high school in Illinois, said he would have stayed in Illinois for college but sent his application to U of I late.

“I applied to the University of Illinois — they just didn’t accept me,” he said. So he went to Penn State.

Santorum almost didn’t get any questions from students. His handlers told school officials he was on a strict half-hour time limit.

Seventeen minutes into his speech, the faculty advisor interrupted him.

“Excuse me — I know we’re on a tight schedule here. We have some students who would like to ask some questions if you’re ready to entertain those,” the faculty member said. Santorum nodded.

“We threw him into the lion’s den — all three questions were negative,” Santorum Illinois Chair Al Salvi said afterward.

The second question, from Stefan Vucicevic, 17, was about funding health care:

“Your main competitor, Mitt Romney, donated 16.3 percent of his income to charity and you donated only 1.7 percent of your $923,000 salary to charity,” Vucicevic said. “Your explanation was that you have to provide for seven children, one of which has special needs. ... How do you expect middle-class Americans who are in similar situations to pay for it? Isn’t your situation the exact reason why we need a universal health care system like most other nations have?”

The auditorium erupted in applause at the question.

“No, it is not the reason for health care should be universal,” Santorum said, explaining that Medicaid pays for the needs of children with diseases such as his daughter’s but that his family chose to pay for her care themselves. He donated more when he was making more money, he said.

Hannah Johnstone asked if Santorum’s economic policies weren’t “just giving the upper 1 percent more of the advantages they had under George Bush’s lower tax rates and deregulatory policies which is very similar to what you are proposing?”

Santorum said increased regulation and government spending under Obama was killing the economy.

Santorum admitted he did not want to move to Illinois in high school when his parents, who worked for the Veterans Administration, took a transfer to North Chicago.

“Who wants to move your senior year of high school?” Santorum asked. “I worked here a couple of summers, got some of my first jobs here. Worked at a conference center; shined shoes at a country club in Lake Forest. I must admit I became more of a White Sox fan than a Cubs fan. Bill Veeck. I graduated from Carmel, which was an all-boys school, which is probably what I needed at that point in my life. I did demonstrably better here academically than I was doing in school in Pennsylvania.”

Santorum said the millions of dollars being spent against him in negative advertising doesn’t scare him because people won’t believe the argument that he is not a conservative.

“We fought this in Ohio and Michigan. Illinois is a little tougher, more urban and suburban. Downstate isn’t as populous. That makes it a little tougher for us.”



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.