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Candidates Square Off in First Gubernatorial Debate

All four candidates for Illinois governor participated in the first of three televised debates Thursday, Sept. 20.

   The forum hosted by Telemundo and NBC 5 was moderated by Chicago-based journalist Carol Marin, who ran the gamut of election year issues—taxes, pensions, education, crime, abortion and guns.

     Despite prodding, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and his opponent, Democrat J.B. Pritzker, offered little revelation in their leadership plans. Libertarian candidate Grayson “Kash” Jackson and Conservative Party candidate state Sen. Sam McCann held their own through the evening of interruptions and allegations.

  Marin kicked off the dialogue by asking Rauner if he was in charge of the state, to which she received a familiar answer:

    “Everyone in Illinois knows that our state has been under the stranglehold of Mike Madigan and his dominant political machine for decades,” Rauner responded.

   A repeated request for a “yes” or “no” answer garnished no results for Marin.

     Pritzker also stuck to script when questioned on specific tax rates for his proposed progressive income tax system.

    “We need to ask the wealthiest people like Bruce Rauner and me to pay a higher rate and have a tax cut for middle-class families and those striving to get there,” Pritzker said.

  After two additional attempts to elicit a specific number failed, Rauner jumped in: “Mr. Pritzker is dodging your question because he doesn’t want to tell the truth to the people of Illinois,” Rauner said. “He is proposing a massive new income tax hike on all the people of our state. He doesn’t want to talk about it because the truth is so painfully unpopular.”

    Marin moved on to Jackson, who supports the current flat tax rate, but said those living at or below the poverty line should be exempt from paying.

    McCann proposed a system of zero-based budgeting, under which all expenses must be justified at the start of each new period.

  “We don’t spend money based on how much we need this year, we spend it based on how much we spent last year plus a multiplier,” McCann explained.

    Marin then took a poll of the four candidates. None indicated they would consider raising sales taxes on some goods and services, nor would they consider extending taxes to retirement income.

   Only Jackson interjected with a condition under which he would consider raising some sales taxes: “If we were to take that money and reallocate that to property tax, that is a much more moral taxation system,” Jackson said, adding that burdensome property taxes are “what’s driving people out of the state right now.”

    A question of how to deal with out-migration from Illinois received tired responses from the ticket leaders: Pritzker attributed population loss to exorbitant property taxes and a struggling higher education system while Rauner cited lack of economic opportunity and high unemployment.

  According to McCann, business leaders have confided in him that strong infrastructure systems and safe neighborhoods with good schools would make Illinois desirable for them.

  “You can’t have a strong infrastructure system if you don’t partner with the federal government,” he said.

    “I look forward to, as governor of Illinois, partnering with our congressional delegation, partnering with the Trump administration.”

  Rauner faced fire when asked how to handle the state’s pension crisis. “I have proposed to the general assembly that we do the consideration model pension reform,” Rauner said. “I believe that is constitutional.”

   McCann interrupted: “It’s no surprise that billionaires and politicians think taking peoples’ pensions away from them is constitutional. The people I represent in Springfield and downstate Illinois who are counting on those pensions, they think it’s constitutional to get the money that they’re owed.”

  Pritzker also joined in: “What Gov. Rauner proposed late last year was that the federal government should allow the state of Illinois to declare bankruptcy. That’s how he wants to deal with pensions—he doesn’t want people to get their pensions.”

  Tension remained high between the front-runners throughout the forum, with Rauner calling Pritzker “deceitful” and Pritzker repeatedly referring to Rauner as a “failure.”

   But the Rauner-Pritzker clash paled in comparison to the heat between the incumbent hopeful and McCann. Rauner called McCann “a phony candidate,” to which McCann retorted, “You’re a liar and thief.”

  Jackson also got some punches in.

   “I’ve spent $25,000. You two gentlemen have spent what, $200 million to get on this stage?” Jackson asked. “Who’s the fiscally minded guy?”

  Overall, the forum left viewers with little new information on the candidates—beyond what’s already been said in attack ads—as the Nov. 6 election approaches.

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