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Op-Ed Mon Mar 24 2014
The Illinois gubernatorial race is now officially between incumbent Pat Quinn and Republican Bruce Rauner. Rauner's political strategy seems to be a focus on the economy and budget, with the hope that social issues will not come to the forefront. Yet the electorate deserves to know where both candidates stand on all issues that impact their everyday lives, and this undoubtedly includes social issues. Additionally, our state's economy and budget do not operate in a vacuum--financial and social are inherently tied in politics. A look at the little he has said reveals that Rauner's election would have disastrous impacts for the 99 percent in Illinois.
Democratic governors in Illinois admittedly do not have the best record when it comes to the law. With the economy still struggling, it is not surprising that voters may be susceptible to bids for a change in Springfield. This means that Rauner has a dangerously realistic shot at beating Governor Quinn in the elections this November. Some influential Democrats have even come out in support of Rauner. This is shameful. For those of us who value the progressive laws Quinn has passed, along with those such as raising the minimum wage that will inevitably come up in the near future, it is vital that Quinn is reelected.
Rauner's game-plan seems to be painting himself as a fiscal conservative and a social moderate, without stating too many specifics. In this way, he possibly hopes to appeal to both his Republican base and others looking for a fresh approach in Springfield without upsetting any potential supporters. Yet, from what little he has said, it can be surmised that Rauner consistently supports policies that favor the one, or even 0.1 percent, a subset of the population of which he offhandedly remarked he belongs to.
Rauner's immense personal fortune will also play a role in aiding his gubernatorial bid. Danny Kanner, the communications director for the Democratic Governor's Association, told PBS that Rauner is "Mitt Romney on steroids." So far, he has already spent over $6 million into his primary bid, and it is clear that we will see a lot more of his fortune pouring out in the general election.
Rauner's stance on financial issues is in line with his own interests--Rauner's wealth is estimated at $500 million. He made around $53 million in 2012 alone. And it is not clear where much of the income at his private equity firm in Winnetka came from; although he has run into criticism for his company's deals with nursing homes, which were sued multiple times for patient neglect and wrongful death.
Although Rauner has flip-flopped on the issue, he originally stated that he was in favor of lowering Illinois' minimum wage to the federal level of $7.25--a stance that is quite rich coming from someone who made over half-a-billion dollars in one year. Thus, his election could devastate the legislature's current opportunity to raise the state's minimum wage to $10.65. At the same time as he supports further squeezing the working class, Rauner wants to lower the state's personal and corporate income taxes, and is against a implementing a graduated income tax. Increasing the minimum wage would inject more cash into the economy, as those at the bottom of the income spectrum spend most of their income. On the other hand, lowering the tax rate on the wealthy would only put more money into their pockets while increasing our state's budget woes.
Rauner constantly touts his business experience as enabling him to address the state's budget issues. Yet he has offered little in the way of specifics (beyond cutting taxes, which clearly will not help budget shortfalls). A state is not a company, and the Republican claim that being a CEO prepares one to run a government has become trite and tired. The purpose of government is not just to turn a profit; it is also to govern in a way that maximizes the human rights of all.
Meanwhile, Quinn supports raising the minimum wage to over $10. He successfully raised the state's income tax in 2011, and is currently in favor of implementing changes to make the tax code more progressive. Although unions have been critical of Quinn's pension reforms, they are backing him in full force. This is not surprising; particularly given that Rauner listed Scott Walker as a governor he admires. Rauner supports sharp pension cuts, and also possibly converting them into 401(k) accounts, which do not benefit retirees.
Quinn has truly delivered in terms of forwarding a progressive agenda during his time in office. He has helped pass meaningful laws that make a difference for the populace, including abolishing the death penalty and legalizing gay marriage. He signed Temporary Visitor Driver's Licenses, which allows undocumented people in Illinois to legally obtain a drivers license, and the Illinois DREAM Act. He has also been a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act, and set up Get Covered Illinois, with a goal of enrolling 300,000 uninsured Illinoisans by the end of March. If we reelect Quinn, who knows how many more laws Illinois could pass which would further equality and justice in our communities.
On the other hand, Rauner has stated that he would have vetoed the gay marriage bill had he been in office when it passed in 2013. And he supports concealed carry gun legislation. He does say he is prochoice. Beyond this, little seems to be out there about his views on social issues, beyond his railing against unions. The fact that he is attempting to keep his opinions quiet is treacherous and unfair to the public. Quinn has made his stances perfectly clear, and we know what we will be getting if we reelect him.
In one of his sickening plethora of campaign ads, Rauner displays an $18 watch he wears to demonstrate that he is just an "average Joe." The public cannot be fooled so easily. An average Joe does not have an annual income of $53 million. Ordinary people cannot use political connections to get their child into a top Chicago high school, as Rauner admittedly did. It is simply insulting that Rauner thinks the public is that facile.
Regardless of personal wealth, anyone who sympathizes with the majority of the population certainly does not support silencing unions and further squeezing the middle and working classes in an already tough economy. Our state cannot afford to have the progressive laws passed under Quinn repealed, nor any future efforts to extend equality quashed. It is critical that progressives and Democrats come out and show their support for Quinn in November.