During a recent weekend, Granite City resident Sandy Loftus went to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall in Collinsville for a pair of meet and greets, one with State Sen. Daniel Biss and the other with businessman Chris Kennedy, as she works to decide who she will support in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Democratic candidates haved lined up to run in the March 2018 primary, the winner of which would face Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in the November 2018 election.
“I hear identical stuff coming out of both of them,” Loftus said. “I’m staying open right now. I want to hear everyone.
“There’s so much being thrown at everyone. Just trying to sort out where everyone stands I feel like I’ve been sleeping for years not realizing what’s going on in our country.”
As gubernatorial campaigns begin collecting signatures to get on the ballot, candidates seeking the Democratic nomination are working to increase their name recognition in Southern Illinois.
In recent weeks, gubernatorial candidates Biss, of Evanston, and Chicago-area businessmen Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker all have made visits to the metro east.
Ameya Pawar, a Chicago alderman running for governor, also visited East St. Louis and Edwardsville earlier this year. He is scheduled to visit East St. Louis on Sunday, his campaign said.
Kennedy, the nephew of President John F. Kennedy and son of Robert Kennedy, visited Sherry J’s restaurant in Washington Park for a meet and greet with voters. Biss participated in an Indivisible town hall and spoke after Democratic congressional candidates had the stage.
Also in the race are Madison County Regional Office of Education Superintendent Bob Daiber, State Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood, Tio Hardiman of Calumet City, Alex Paterakis of Vernon Hills, and Robert Marshall of Burr Ridge.
Jak Tichenor, the interim director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said the large field is a good thing for the Democratic Party.
“I think it’s a healthy thing for the party to be looking around … to see where they’re going in the state of Illinois,” Tichenor said. “I think it’s healthy to do a self-examination and hear from all corners in their tent.”
Tichenor said the party has been on its heels since Pat Quinn lost in 2014, and after it lost some seats in the General Assembly in 2016.
With the downstate trending Republican, Tichenor said Democrats need to take the southern part of the state more seriously.
“They better think about downstate,” Tichenor said. “Take a look at the legislative map. There are seats that have been traditionally blue for decades and they have gone red. This has been a phenomenon that has gone on for the last 20 years in a real reversal for the Democratic Party in parts of Southern Illinois in particular.”
Candidates have been trying to show that more than just the Chicago-area would be on their mind if they’re elected.
Pritzker, who visited the Illinois Federation of Teachers office in Fairview Heights in July, and made other visits to the metro-east earlier this summer, recently spoke at the Southwestern Labor Awards Dinner in Belleville during his six-day bus tour with this lieutenant governor running mate Juliana Stratton.
“It’s something that’s important to us to stand up for working families,” Pritzker said. “I think the big message here is we’ve got to fight back against Bruce Rauner’s desire to not only rid this state of labor unions but also lower wages across the board. Somehow he thinks that’s going to bring jobs into Illinois. I think the governor should be waking up every day trying to raise people’s wages and raise their standard of living.”
The next day, Pritzker and Stratton opened a field office in downtown Belleville in the same location used by the St. Clair County Democratic Central Committee as its headquarters during the 2012 and 2016 election years.
“We’ve spent a lot of time downstate over the last six months. It’s very important to us that we’re not only visiting all these places multiple times but also really listening to people in every county,” Pritzker said.
The issues faced by the metro-east are the same issues we face anywhere in the state.
Gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy
Biss said he’s been traveling around the state since being elected to his current position in the Illinois Senate in 2011.
“I have taken my title, state senator, seriously. I have tried to represent the whole state. I have tried to be in the whole state, understand the whole state and learn from the whole state. That’s No. 1.
“No. 2, I have a campaign that’s listening everywhere and reaching out everywhere. It’s important to me to make sure that people in every corner of the state are empowered to participate in this campaign because that is what will empower people to have a say over how their government works,” Biss said.
During a stop in Collinsville, Biss spoke about how he would want to see a progressive tax system in the state, and how he supports taxing purchases of futures and investments in places such as the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Mercantile Exchanges. He also has called for closing the carried-interest loophole.
“That’s just asking the very richest people who are not getting taxed at all to pay a little bit. It raises billions of dollars and helps solve the state’s budget,” Biss said. “We need to be find creative tools to bring in the revenue the state needs by taxing the people with the ability to pay. And know this: People say Illinois is broke. Illinois government is broke, but the state is wealthy. We don’t have the guts to get the money where it is.”
Kennedy said he’s had experience in the downstate areas, as he first moved from Boston to Decatur to work for Archer Daniels Midland. He touts how he was chairman of the University of Illinois Board and helped develop a master plan for agriculture, while working with groups such as the Sierra Club.
“The issues faced by the metro east are the same issues we face anywhere in the state. But I have a special affinity for this area. They moved me all around Illinois, and I spent time in grain elevators and places like Decatur, alcohol plants in Peoria, trading barge freight in St. Louis just across the river,” Kennedy said. “These are not new issues to me. I don’t know if anybody else in this race has gotten a paycheck from this area. I have.”
He said education is the key to encouraging economic growth in the state.
“The economies we want are the ones in Silicon Valley, Austin, Texas, Boston, Massachusetts, Pittsburgh, Akron, and Research Triangle. They’re all driven by universities. Universities like SIU-Edwardsville,” Kennedy said. “That’s what we should be investing in. When I graduated from college, my friends, we moved to where the jobs were. That’s not how it works in America anymore. Now jobs move to where the kids are, where the highly educated kids are. If we’re not producing highly educated high school students and great college graduates, the jobs won’t move here and our economy will circle the drain.”
He also called for a progressive income tax.
“We could fix all of these problems, but we can’t rely on local property taxes to fund our schools. We need a progressive, graduated income tax that allows the wealthy to pay their fair share, which they’re willing to do,” Kennedy said.
Daiber has had a different challenge than most of the other candidates. The downstate candidate who is the Madison County Regional School superintendent has worked to increase his recognition in Chicago.
Daiber, who has driven 26,000 miles since Feb. 13, has done regular radio interviews in Chicago and has spoken to several Chicago publications.
“You pick up considerable viewer recognition,” Daiber said. “These type of programs have helped me in Chicago become known.”
He’s also been a regular participant in public forums along side Kennedy, Pritzker and Biss.
Daiber said downstate and the southside of Chicago have the same concern: job loss.
“Illinois has got to have a business plan,” Daiber said. You’ve got to have a marketing plan. ... I was listening to an agricultural report the other day, driving and they were talking about a plant in Texas that processes Illinois soybeans. Why not create an incentive to have that plant located to Southern Illinois? Process all that right here … our transportation, distribution, our logistics ability in the state are second to none.”
I think (Madison) County has got the votes and this endorsement could very well be the endorsement that’s going to make that decision.
Bob Daiber, gubernatorial candidate
Despite being a downstate candidate, Daiber did not get the endorsement from the St. Clair County Democratic Central Committee. That endorsement went to Pritzker.
“It was a little disappointing to be honest with you. In some ways I understood what they had done because they looked at who had the greatest wherewithal financially, but the issue you got is you’ve got to be able to sell a candidate to the voters. It’s not just the party endorsement. You’ve got so many party loyalists who vote,” Daiber said. “But you also got this population of people out there who want to know more about the candidate before they make their decision.”
Part of Daiber’s focus is getting the endorsement from Madison County Democrats, who are scheduled to hold an Iowa-style caucus on Sept. 18 to determine who will they support.
“I think this county has got the votes and this endorsement could very well be the endorsement that’s going to make that decision,” Daiber said. “I said this all along, the person who wins this gubernatorial nomination is going to be decided in southwestern Illinois. They could nominate one of their own or they could nominate someone from another part of the state.”
At a glance
Here are some of the issues Democratic gubernatorial candidates were talking about in their recent visits to Southern Illinois:
- State Sen. Daniel Biss discussed economic competitiveness: “There’s a concern about competitiveness. The system that we have in Illinois where our tax code is so property tax heavy, which means it’s so biased against small business and against middle-class people, has made it easy for people to cross the river, where there’s lower property taxes. It has made it easier for entrepreneurs to start businesses across the river.”
- Chicago businessman Chris Kennedy discussed lack of opportunity: “When there’s lack of opportunity you have crime that skyrockets. Opportunity is the enemy of violence. And we need more opportunity. Plus we have one of the great public universities in the United States here. It has shown it could be an economic engine, and we’re defunding higher education. We need to change the way we pay for our grade schools and high schools, and we need to take care of higher education. Invest in it.”
- Madison County Regional Office of Education Superintendent Bob Daiber discussed jobs: “In Southern Illinois, employment is the No. 1 issue. Loss of jobs, loss of public sector jobs because of the closing of (places) like the Tamms Prison. Loss of jobs in the coal mines, which were large employers down there, have devastated work. That is a first and foremost concern. It would be employment growth in Southern Illinois. Uniquely this is the same concern as there is on the Southside of Chicago. It’s the same.”
- Chicago businessman J.B. Pritzker discussed labor unions: “We think that Springfield needs to be put back on the side of working families. … I think the big message here is we’ve got to fight back against Bruce Rauner’s desire to not only rid this state of labor unions but also lower wages across the board. Somehow he thinks that’s going to bring jobs into Illinois. I think the governor should be waking up every day trying to raise people’s wages and raise their standard of living.”