Democratic Party candidates for governor clashed over House Speaker Michael Madigan and campaign cash, among other topics, at a forum hosted by Aurora University Tuesday evening.
Candidates Daniel Biss, J.B. Pritzker, Chris Kennedy, Bob Daiber, and Tio Hardiman answered questions submitted by the public and chosen by moderator Rick Pearson of the Chicago Tribune during the hour-long forum held Oct. 17 as part of the university's Town Square Series.
Pearson began the forum by revealing each of the candidates' recent campaign finance disclosure figures. According to Pearson, Pritzker has a $28.2 million war chest and all but $7,000 has come from Pritzker; Kennedy has $1.3 million and has contributed $500,000 to his campaign; Biss has $2.7 million, and Biss pointed out that he donated $25 to his own campaign, while his wife donated $50; Daiber has $12,000 but $40,000 in debts; and Hardiman has raised $5,045, $5,000 of which came from himself.
Those figures led to a question posed to the candidates: is politics a rich man's game?
Pritzker, who has the backing of several labor unions, said the race is "about values."
"I've run a campaign where I've tried to put forward my own ideas," he said.
However, Pritzker pointed out that Gov. Bruce Rauner has stacked his own campaign war chest with tens of millions of dollars. Pritzker said Democrats have "got to join together to beat Bruce Rauner" and rebuild the party's infrastructure.
Kennedy said "all of us are outraged by the amount of money that is flowing into this race, and every race."
"I think J.B. rightly points out that this was started by the Republican Party in Illinois, and we need to respond to what they've done," he said.
Biss said the Democratic Party needs to build its infrastructure "but we don't build it with money, we build it with people."
"I think the future of our democracy is at stake here," Biss said. "We gotta decide if we want to have an election or do we want to have an auction."
Pearson brought up the topic of name recognition to Daiber, noting that he is the only candidate from downstate Illinois, and said "name recognition costs money."
"That's true," Daiber said. "And that's why we campaign hard each and every day. Money can do a lot for you in advertisements, but it doesn't do a lot for you in the human factor."
Hardiman pointed out that he was the only candidate running for governor who has run for a statewide office. Hardiman ran and lost the Democratic Party primary for governor in 2014. He said he secured 30 percent of the vote with a $30,000 campaign fund.
"It's all about the people speaking up (about) what they want to do," Hardiman said. "I did some math. You only have 17 billionaires that live in Illinois. If all the billionaires supported one another, they would have 17 votes, OK."
When asked what income tax rate they would charge the top earners in the state, some offered approximate percentages, while others demurred and declined to state a rate.
Biss said he would look at Wisconsin or other neighboring states; he said top earners in Wisconsin, for example, pay 7.65 percent.
Kennedy said it's "nearly impossible, with Gov. Rauner sitting as governor, to answer that question." He said we don't know if we'll have a budget next year, or what the financial condition of the state will be. He accused Rauner of allowing the state to pile up its bills and its debt in order to "wound" state government.
Pritzker did not give a rate, but said creating jobs would "grow revenues in this state."
Daiber said every person would pay $250 annually, with a one percent to six percent rate, with six percent for the highest income earners. Daiber said he based the six percent figure on neighboring states' tax rates.
Hardiman said his rate would be one percent to 10 percent, with seven to 10 percent reserved for the highest income earners.
Pearson asked the panel about Madigan, whether he should stay on as speaker or if legislative leaders should have term limits. He also asked how the candidates would make sure, if elected, that Madigan "wouldn't run you."
Kennedy, who has slammed Madigan for being a property tax appeals attorney while serving as speaker, again criticized Madigan on that issue.
"I don't think that what Speaker Madigan is doing is illegal, I just think it should be," Kennedy said. "He's a state rep and he's a property tax appeals lawyer. The problem with that is that it leads to us holding on to a system where we fund our schools through property taxes."
Kennedy later added, "Mike Madigan makes money on a system that's destroying our schools."
Biss said Madigan has "been around too long" and is "too powerful." He said he has supported term limits for legislative leaders, including proposing state constitutional amendments. However, Biss said Madigan is one person and is not the system.
"If we get too obsessed with just one person who has manipulated the system but did not create it, and then we don't fix the system but just get rid of him, we're going to be disappointed by how little changes," Biss said.
Pritzker said he's been "an independent progressive leader for my whole life, and that's not going to change when I go to Springfield if I get elected governor."
"There are things that I'll agree with Mike Madigan about, and there are things that I'll disagree with the speaker about," he said.
Pritzker said, for example, that he is in favor of independently drawn legislative districts. Madigan has opposed the so-called Fair Map Amendment proposal.
Daiber, however, took a strong stance defending Madigan.
"I give this guy a lot of credit," he said of Madigan. "This guy's accomplished a lot for the state of Illinois, and isn't given any credit for it. He has held Illinois together in difficult times."
Hardiman said he would work with Madigan if he were elected governor, but that he supports term limits.
"I would have to work with Mike Madigan, regardless of how I feel about him holding the state hostage," Hardiman said.