PEORIA — The battle for the 91st District boils down to constituent services.

Incumbent Mike Unes, a Republican, says his record for helping the citizens of his district is second to none. In fact, he says it’s that area of his job that he enjoys the most and the one that drives him to stay in office.

"I truly feel that constituent services is the most rewarding part of the job," he said. "I'd put my record of helping the people of my district up against anyone's in the General Assembly. It's why I put my heart and soul into this job."

But Carolyn Blodgett, a Democrat, says her entire life has led up to this moment. For her, helping people has always been a passion, and she bills herself as a modern day version of Jimmy Stewart’s character, Mr. Smith, the political outsider who was elected to Congress.

"I bring more of the middle class into the picture. I am a middle-class, working-class person, and I understand where a lot of people in our community are coming from. I have been unemployed. I have had to go to the public aid office to get assistance. I understand the struggles and every day, I work with people who go through those struggles. More importantly, I do what I can to support local businesses," said Blodgett, a caseworker with the Illinois Department of Human Services' food stamps and Medicaid programs.

The two will vie for a spot in November to represent that district in the Illinois House of Representatives.

The 91st District includes parts of Tazewell, Fulton and Peoria counties, including all or parts of East Peoria, Pekin, Canton, Lewistown, Farmington, Hanna City, Cuba, Bartonville, Marquette Heights, Mapleton, Kingston Mines and Creve Coeur. It's a largely rural district with many people receiving some form of public aid. Both say jobs are a key focus if they get elected. One area they differ is on the legalization of marijuana.

Unes says he's not in favor of it, noting that the officers and the drug counselors he's spoken to say it's a gateway drug and that many use marijuana before moving to more addictive drugs. He also points out that it's still illegal under federal law and that could pose a problem for businesses which spring up around the sale of pot.

"Many banks don't want to get involved as it's illegal federally, so what you have is more of a cash-based business, and then it's hard to keep track of sales tax and how the state can make money off it," he said.

But Blodgett says Illinois should be at the forefront of legalization.

"Legalizing marijuana could help with a lot of issues here," she said. "It's a source of income that we don't have now. I'm happy with the state moving forward with industrial hemp. They need a crop that they can produce more than once a year and one that doesn't destroy the earth. This is a multi-billion dollar industry."

Both say the state needs to do something to reform its pension system. Unes noted 20 percent of the state budget goes to pay for the state's pension fund. Doing nothing, he said, wasn't an option, but he also noted that reducing benefits has been ruled unconstitutional. To him, Illinois should look at trying to fund the system at 85 percent within the next few decades. While not ideal, he said, it's a start, and it's a more doable system than trying to fully fund the pension fund immediately.

Blodgett argues that the concept of "double-dipping," people collecting their pension while still employed at another job, should stop.

"Every governor says they are going to put a stop to it but we need to do it. It takes away jobs from younger people," she said. As for trying to reform the system, she said there are options such as extending the age when people can fully collect their pension but she cautioned that "we need to be careful there as (a person) can only do the job for so long before it gets to be too much."

Job creation is important to the candidates.

"(The district) has, like most of the state right now, numbers that show that our economy isn't going in the right direction. There are a lot of people in our district who need jobs that have living wages. I believe there is a lot more we can do to grow small businesses and get communities more involved in businesses instead of just trying to attract big companies to come in and save us. We have to help local people who want to be their own bosses and start businesses," Blodgett said.

Unes says one key focus of his tenure in the statehouse is to work to help businesses as he feels that current regulations regarding worker's compensation as well as other state laws can create the image the state isn't business friendly.

"The cost of doing business is higher in Illinois compared to our neighbors. We must pass legislation that make our state more business friendly," he said. "It starts with making our workers' compensation system more fair for employers and workers, cutting back on the regulation forced onto job creators and making it easier for small businesses to open their doors in the state."

Andy Kravetz can be reached 686-3283 or akravetz@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @andykravetz.