Over a hundred retired teachers and educators, members of the Illinois Retired Teachers Association and their friends, filled the room at the old Elks Club in Des Plaines to hear candidates running for Illinois Governor.
Rauner did not respond to our invitation. Nor did Tio Hardiman. Ameya Pawar said he would attend. Then said he wouldn’t.
The format was inevitably constraining. Each candidate got four minutes and then there was only time for each to answer two questions.
I came away with a couple of impressions. With a long campaign ahead of us that may be the most I can expect from a event that our North Lake Shore IRTA members worked hard to organize.
Five of the candidates sounded like traditional liberal Democrats.
I might say that they even sounded like new progressive Democrats.
This is no small thing at a time when it seems like many Democrats are fighting over Trump and Republican voters rather than standing up for the Democratic base and where the last Democratic Governor in Illinois, Pat Quinn, claimed he was put on this earth to cut public employee pension benefits and who spent much of his time battling the state’s public employee unions.
This paved the way for Bruce Rauner’s election.
The first question after their four minute presentation came from me.
I asked, “What can be done to change the politics of this state so that in four years there might be a woman sitting there on the panel?”
From their answers I don’t think the solution will come from them.
Drury basically ignored the question. JB and Chris told stories about the strong women in their families. Biss addressed the need for male politicians to do more in be in inclusive, which seems like a dubious prospect.
For me the surprise was Kennedy. He didn’t say anything that was more substantive than the rest, but he was far better on the stump than I had expected for a candidate that has seemed almost invisible up until now. His answers almost always were illustrated by a compelling story. When he spoke of tax reform and a progressive income tax, which every candidate supported except State Representative Scott Drury, he targeted those in the legislature who literally profit from the current system.
“We had a super majority in the General Assembly and a Democrat as governor and a progressive income tax only got 31 votes in the House,” Kennedy said.
He was clearly bashing Speaker Mike Madigan, which is easy to do, but it was where none of the other leading contenders would go. Certainly not Pritzker.
Then there is State Representative Scott Drury. He has made a career of attacking the Speaker, but for all the wrong reasons.
Scott Drury is not going to be the Governor of Illinois. Ever.
When it was his turn to respond to the question about a progressive income tax he said it would take too long. Instead he called for another attempt at pension theft to save the state money.
While Drury will never be governor, his plan is out there and is supported by Democrats and Republicans.
He wants a buy-out offered to those current retirees and members of the Teacher Retirement System at seventy cents on the dollar. He claims number crunchers at TRS predict up to 30% of retirees would take the deal.
After the program I went up to Drury.
“Your idea is ridiculous,” I told him. “Why would any rational person agree to a deal that gives them less than the deal they originally agreed to and which the courts have ruled must be paid?”
“Because the federal courts can overrule the state Supreme Court and those people are afraid that the system won’t be solvent in the future,” was roughly what Drury told me.
When these kind conversations come up I flash on an image of an elderly retired teacher in downstate Illinois who counts on her TRS check for basic survival. She hears politicians like Drury talk and it causes them great anxiety. They do worry that their retirement savings won’t be there because creeps like Drury keep going after it.
First they scare the crap out of them. Then they offer them seventy cents on the dollar.
It’s like some scam artist knocking on the old lady’s door and fast-talking them out of their ATM number.
“It would be voluntary,” says Drury.
I told him that to come up with a policy based on fear that takes money from the elderly and retirees to save the state money was immoral. And that he was immoral. Or maybe I said amoral.
He shook my hand and told me that we agreed to disagree.
I hate it when someone says that to me.
Like I need their damn permission to disagree.