Friday, March 16, 2018

Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout Illinois Primary Endorsements—State Offices

Since this Little Pop Stand at the Far End of Cul-de-Sac first set up business back in 2006—remember those simpler times—it has been the custom to award the highly coveted Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout endorsement in the Illinois spring primary election.  So this post may be of principle interest to denizens of the Sucker State—see list of state nick names for an explanation of that if this is new to you—or to political junkies and train wreck fans. 
The endorsements work like this—I start from the top of the ticket and work down through Congressional Districts to the county level.  I endorse only in my immediate area, so look else where for those hot Cook County contests, all but two Congressional Districts, and most state legislative races.  By the end of the process only McHenry County voters may still be interested.
Early voting, and increasingly popular option in Illinois is already underway so I should have probably gotten around to this earlier, but I am an old fart who is used to focusing on election day which will be Tuesday, March 20.  Also, I remained undecided in some key races mostly due to the large number of candidates.  Some fields are so crowded that all the clowns barely fit in the car.
First, however, Rule #1—avoid the Republican ballot like you would a diseased bat on your front stoop.  Whatever affection or loyalty you may have for the Party of Lincoln and your Dad is no longer applicable.  After years tending in this direction, today’s GOP is a cesspool of would-be oligarchs, flinty-hearted Randist libertarians, bug-eyed religious fanatics, racists, misogynists, xenophobes, gun worshipers, and, to put it kindly, dopes and dupes.  A few decent human beings may still try to swim in the muck, but their flesh is contaminated, and they are doomed as well as damned by association.  So this Blog is endorsing only in the Democratic Primary.  As the saying goes, they ain’t perfect, but they ain’t crazy.
Governor and Lt. Governor

Even conservatives know Rauner is a disaster.  Democrats line up to take him out.

Republican billionaire Bruce Rauner waltzed into office four years ago by saturating the airways with folksy commercials meant to paint him a simple man of the people and promising a reform agenda to “clean up the mess in Springfield.  That sounded pretty good to voters disgusted by disgraced chipmunk cheeked con man and chiseler Rod Blagojevich who was on his way to the Federal Big House for trying to peddle Barack Obama’s former Senate seat to the highest bidder.  Blago’s successor, Lt. Governor Pat Quinn, a self-proclaimed do-gooder and career politician usually at odds with his party’s establishment was a bland and boring plodder, could not work any better with the Democratic legislature and powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan than his predecessor and was pretty easily slapped aside by Rauner in a year of a national Republican tsunami. 
But Rauner got into a grudge match with Madigan which resulted in state government stalemate and two and a half long years without a budget which starved critical state programs, drove service providers and non-profits into bankruptcy, kept the debt mounting, and destroyed the state’s bond rating.  While attempting to setup Madigan as an obstructionist and arch-villain—not very hard to do, especially with suburban voters—lost support on the right wing of his party for deviating from orthodoxy and “betraying” conservatives on abortion, gay rights, and guns as well a begrudgingly accepting the deal that finally broke the budget logjam.  As expected, Rauner, despite his deep pockets, has drawn and rabid right wing primary challenger who has a slight chance of knocking him off depending on the turn-out of the crazies and how many disgusted Republican “moderates” stay home.
It was no surprise that under the circumstances Democrats crawled out of the woodwork for a shot at the crippled governor in a year where Donald Trump has also trashed the Republican brand.  Ten candidates filed originally.  One was ruled off the ballot for having insufficient valid signatures on his nominating petitions.  Two others, including Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar, the first Hindu gubernatorial candidate in Illinois and an early favorite of some progressives and Bernie Sanders style democratic socialists, had to drop out for lack of funds.
That left two rich guys with name recognition, J.B. Pritzker, and Chris Kennedy as obvious front runners and a pack of four othersBob Daiber, Madison County Superintendent of Schools; Tio Hardiman, an anti-violence activist, non-profit executive director, and the only person of color still in the race; Robert Marshall, a Downstate Doctor, Republican turned Democrat, and former Obama campaign volunteer; and State Senator Daniel Biss.

Daniel Biss, the self-declared Middle Class Candidate and a progressive favorite.
Biss, a moderately high-profile State Senator from Evanston and a mathematics and technology professor with a Harvard PhD, quickly broke away from the peloton and began creeping up on the leaders.  He did this in two ways.  First, he carefully courted progressives still stirred up and with blood in their eyes after 2016 Presidential election.  He recognized that their highly motivated dedication would both provide a deep pool of volunteers and spur turnout in the primary and general elections.  He visited every event and gathering possible, especially in the suburban and county collar communities where progressives were bringing in new voters in numbers that could both counter Pritzker and Kennedy’s presumed edge in Chicago and Cook County.  He emphasized issues these activist voters cared deeply about—health care for all, education, campaign reforms and opposition to voter suppression, a progressive income tax to balance the budget and fund social programs, and independence from Democratic Regulars and corporate-connected neo-liberals. 
Secondly, when he gained enough momentum to begin to attract adequate funding he went on the air with the message that he was the middleclass candidate with kids in public school and what looks like a modest decades old suburban brick ranch home—a sharp contrast to the wealthy leaders with their multiple mansions, condos, and vacation getaways.  That resonated well with voters disgusted with super rich candidates like Rauner and Trump using their personal wealth and connections to buy office. 
The only draw-back to this identification with middle class voters, who he clearly identifies as largely white-collar, managerial, and professional is that it once again makes some labor voices and blue-collar people feel once again ignored.  Other than broad statements, labor issues did not seem high on Bliss’s agenda.  And he was made more vulnerable when labor PAC backing Pritzker began airing ads attacking him for co-sponsoring legislation to cut the pensions of teachers and other public employees as part of a budget deal and for legislation boosting charter schools, a neo-liberal pet and the anathema of Teachers Unions.  Biss responded by reaching out to labor more, and got a handful of endorsements, although most unions back Pritzker—despite the virulent anti-union record of his families Hyatt Hotel chain—and Kennedy.
Bliss also briefly stirred alarm among some progressives when he dropped his first choice as his Lt. Governor running mate, Chicago 35th Ward Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, a strong Sanders supporter and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) for his declared support of for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, the bug-a-boo of the Israel lobby.  Biss, who is Jewish lost the endorsement of his own Congressman, Brad Schneider over the original selection and it threatened fundraising efforts on his home North Shore turf with its large Jewish population.  On the other hand, dropping Ramirez-Rosa was seen as a slap in the face to some Sanderistas and was viewed with alarm by those who regard the concerted attack on the BDS movement threatens free speech.
Despite these glitches by early in 2018 after nearly a year of campaigning, Biss was closing in on the front runners and in some polls surged ahead of Kennedy and was nipping at Pritzker’s heels, especially after Ameya Pawar, the only other candidate actively trying to stake out progressive turf withdrew and movement activists realized that even gut-level international issues like BDS were tangential to state economic and social issues.

J.B. Pritzker, fast out of the gate, tons of money, deep connections make him the presumed front runner and target for all other candidates. 
The man Biss found himself challenging, Pritzker, had used his personal bottomless pockets to take a leaf from Rauner’s play book and begin flooding the airways with introductory ads nearly two years before the primary and before any opponents were half-organized.  Although the Pritzker name was familiar—it is plastered on major buildings and additions at universities, museums, and hospitals, all gifts of the Pritzker family or its charitable foundation and J.B.’s older sister Penny Pritzker has been the grand dame of Chicago Society, a former Secretary of Commerce, and a national co-chair of Obama for America in 2012.  But J.B.’s name and face were largely unknown to the general public despite years of charitable work, innovative business ventures, and major behind the scenes clout as a Democratic donor.
In his ads, Pritzker eschewed the phony awe-shucks persona that Rauner had used and instead tacitly acknowledged his wealth by appearing in in a preppy crisp blue blazer, an open collar dress shirt, khaki slacks, and a gleaming black hair helmet.   Looking straight at the camera he established his charitable and community credentials with the story of his school breakfasts for children initiatives and showed his business savvy and strategies for economic development with his business incubator project.  Pritzker was also seen talking to Blacks, other minorities, and hard hat workers as well as fleeting clips of his marching for civil rights, in a Gay Pride Parade, and in the Women’s March.
Pritzker also loaded up his campaign web site with detailed policy proposals that taken together represented a remarkably progressive platform and showed that he had a firm and detailed knowledge of the issues—the very opposite of an empty suit like Donald Trump.  It was meant to woo progressive policy wonks.  But despite the effort, most progressive remained deeply skeptical of Pritzker both because of his wealth and more importantly because he was national co-chair and major fundraiser for the 2016 Clinton Campaign an unforgiveable sin to many grass roots progressive.
On the other hand, Pritzker held markers for support from many political figures from aldermen, to the Mayor, Congressmen, both Senators, and countless legislative and local candidates and he was ready to call them in.  Endorsement poured in not only from the indebted politicos but from community organizations he had backed, major issue organizations including Planned Parenthood, Personal Pac, anti-gun groups, Gay Rights organizations, and labor unions.  He hoped to build an irresistible tidal wave that would sweep aside his primary opponents and cause such despair among their supporters that funds would dry up.  He gained major media endorsements and a growing reputation as the one candidate who could beat Rauner’s own millions.
Yet into February Bliss and Kennedy continued to chase him, narrowing his lead when it should have been widening.
Kennedy played a big part in that.

Chris Kennedy, Illinois heir to a political dynasty. 

Chris Kennedy is the son of martyred liberal icon Robert Kennedy and nephew of John F. Kennedy and the lion of health care reform Ted Kennedy.  He is part of a wide spread political dynasty and possess one of the most magical names in American politics.  He came to Chicago as a young man to work at his family’s great asset here, the Merchandise Mart and eventually succeeded his uncle Sargent Shriver as its manager and went on to lead the Kennedy Family investment fund.  He liked Chicago and became a social and political fixture serving on numerous charity boards and became Chairman of the University of Illinois Trustees.  Like Pritzker, he maintained a family interest in Democratic politics and was often courted to run for offices ranging from U.S. Senate, to Mayor of Chicago, and multiple times for Governor.
But Kennedy, who was first wooed to run for governor against weakened incumbent George Ryan who was already tainted by the corruption scandals around his terms as Secretary of State that would send him to prison.  But he was too coy then and during subsequent bomblets for possible candidacies.  Often, he would assemble teams and even begin fundraising and then demure at the last moment before officially declaring himself.  Political insiders began to suspect that he had no stomach for the sharp elbows and dirty tricks of politics or that his family’s tragic history had made him literally gun shy.
Despite this, he was once again sought after by influential Dems to challenge Rauner in the wake of the state’s budget debacle.  One of the reasons for Pritzker’s early out of the gate was a preemptory shot aimed to keep Kennedy out of the race.  A lot of observers were surprised when after months of waffling, Kennedy jumped in the race long after Pritzker was the established front runner.
Then, Kennedy was slow to get his own ads on the air.  He is wealthy, but hardly in the class of billionaire Pritzker who has so far spent $53 million of his own money in the primary race.  He also had a problem of perception—the public is used to their Kennedys being, at least in the beginning of their political careers, being young, handsome, charismatic, and glib. Chris Kennedy might have been some of these things when he was first courted for office, but he is now gray haired and dough faced.  He is also short on charisma and while well-spoken is not given to flashes of pithy brilliance like his father and uncle.
When his nephew Congressman Joe Kennedy III fresh from delivering the official Democratic Party response to Trump’s State of the Union Address came to Chicago for a campaign event he totally out shown the man he came to endorse and dominated the news coverage of the event.  
But the Kennedy name still has magic, particularly in the Black and Irish communities—two groups who are often otherwise politically at odds—as well as with older traditional liberals.  The Black community is more politically fractured then before and the Irish have lost a lot of clout in the city since Richie Daley’s retirement, but there was enough residual support to build a base.  After he finally got on the air, Kennedy began to become competitive and was soon close to or a nose ahead of Biss.
A screen shot of Downstte TV coverage of Rauner's damaging attack ad liking Pritzker with Blagojevich.
For his part Pritzker survived the first crisis of his campaign—the audio tape excerpts of a phone conversation with disgraced Gov. Blagojevich which were aired in ominous spots by the Rauner campaign.   At first the tapes seemed demining, but upon closer hearing it sounds like Pritzker was uncomfortable, polite, but non-committal to the governor’s craven money grubbing.  We know from other tapes that Blagojevich thought that “only Pritzker” had the kind of money he really wanted to sell the appointment to Obama’s Senate seat, but there is no evidence Pritzker ever sought or solicited the appointment.  In the end there was embarrassment, but no smoking gun that could derail the campaign.
More serious was another tape that surfaced later in which Pritzker told Blagojevich “Of all the African-Americans that I can think that are sort of like qualified ... and people will say ‘Oh — that’s, you know that’s, that’s a pretty good pick,’ the one that’s least offensive and maybe gets you the most because it gets you that secretary of state appointment is Jesse White.”  It was a crude political assessment, and one not different than many private political discussions.  White, Illinois’s most prolific vote getter who almost always led the ticket as Secretary of State, was as popular with white voters as with the Black community. But many were bound to be offended by “least offensive” which in the Black community could be considered approving White as a kind of Uncle Tom and disparaging Black candidates more outspoken on race issues like police shooting, education, housing, and employment opportunities.  Pritzker lost some Black endorsements had to withstand a few loud demands that he withdraw from the race.  He had to appear at news conference at which he apologized, and generally ate humble pie while surrounded by Black supporters including Jessie White who said he wasn’t offended and, “I know where his heart is.”
All three leading candidates are keenly sensitive to the Black vote which seems up in the air with not African-American seriously in the running and no clear consensus favorite like Hillary Clinton was in the Presidential primaries and general election to spur turn out.  Each has turned to Black running mate to connect to that community. 
After Biss’s false start he turned to State Representative Litesa E. Wallace  of Rockford, a former community activist and co-founder of the Rockford Anti-Racism Network.  Kennedy tapped little known Ra Joy former Executive Director of CHANGE Illinois, a non-partisan coalition for systemic political and government reform as well as an arts in the community advocate from Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood.  He was also a senior aid to Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a liberal and feminist icon.  

Pritzker has heavily showcased his running mate State Rep Juliana Stratton in TV ads to counter charges of racism over coments about Secretary of State Jess White.
Pritzker picked freshman State Representative Juliana Stratton from the South Side of Chicago, former   Executive Director of Cook County Justice for Children and the Cook County Justice Advisory Council and currently Director for the Center for Public Safety and Justice at University of Illinois at Chicago.  The Pritzker campaign has used her much more prominently in ad spots than either of the other campaigns have featured their running mates in the wake of his embarrassments.
In the last two televised debates Kennedy became much more aggressive in attacking Pritzker, who sometimes seemed disconcerted while Biss lay down covering fire.  In the last debate Kennedy may have drawn real blood over revelations that Pritzker held secret untaxed overseas holdings worth millions.  While it is not surprising that a billionaire would hold such investment, it was particularly damaging to one who painted himself as a selfless custodian of family wealth meant to be dedicated charitable donations and the public good.  In fact, his clumsy excuse that the holding was meant solely to maximize gains for his charitable projects rang both hollow and false.
Biss has attacked both Pritzker and Kennedy for not releasing their tax forms, shoring up his image as the middle-class candidate.
Up until this last brouhaha I noted a slight late shift to Pritzker by somewhat reluctant progressives on political chat sites on the grounds that he would have the best chance of beating Rauner in the fall.  “I guess it will be our billionaire against their billionaire,” one said a bit glumly. 

So, after all of this, who will this Blog endorse?  In fact, none of the candidates are perfect and all have advance markedly progressive, although slightly different, agendas.  I think that any could beat Rauner in an anti-Trump, anti-Republican revulsion wave, although each would face different fights.  Rauner would have to continue his focus on the widely despised Speaker Madigan and tie the Democratic candidate as tightly to him as Democrats try to tie him to Trump.  Both Pritzker and Kennedy have enough ties to Democratic Party insiders that they make more attractive targets than Biss who has successfully emphasized his independence.
Also, Biss is enough of an outsider, even though he currently serves in the State Senate, to satisfy the throw-the-bums-out mood of both progressives and Tea Party types.
I also really admire Biss’s forthright health care proposals.  So Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout proudly endorses Daniel Biss for Governor and Litesa E. Wallace for Lt. Governor!
Attorney General
The shocking announcement that popular Attorney General Lisa Madigan would not seek re-election set off a mad scramble for the only open state-wide constitutional office.  Everyone expected Madigan to run for governor four years ago, but her Father, Speaker Madigan, would not retire making it politically untenable to run.  He was no more ready to go this time.  But instead of running for assured re-election, she bowed out.
It seems as if every Democrat with a law license and ambitions at least flirted with the race.  Eight got on the ballot.  The candidates are:
  North Shore State Representative Scott Drury dropped out of a long-shot run for governor and opted for the AG race when Madigan dropped out.  A former Federal prosecutor, in the legislature he was one of the few Democrats to vote against the so-called Millionaire’s Tax and sponsored anti-porn legislation, was one of several co-sponsors of automatic voter registration, and authored an assault weapon registration bill.  He is running as a non-partisan corruption fighter and his ads brag that he was the only member of the House not to vote for Mike Madigan as Speaker in 2017—he voted present.
  Sharon Fairley is a Black Chicago attorney and another former prosecutor.  She was appointed Chief Administrator of the Independent Chicago Police Review Board by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel after the Laquan McDonald shooting and several other high-profile cases.  The new board has not yet had the chance to prove its true independence and ability to break the cycle where officers are routinely absolved in killings. 
  Aaron Goldstein is a Chicago defense attorney and 35 Ward Democratic Party Chair.  He is best known for defending Rob Blagojevich.  Early in the campaign he was involved in a bazar incident in which he was assaulted on camera while filming a television spot on a North Side Street.  He said he believed it was a politically motivated attack, police believe it was a random incident of street crime, and some of his opponents have hinted that it may have been a set up for attention and sympathy.  Goldstein is also running as a corruption fighting reformer and has attracted some support from progressives.  

   Renato Mariotti is yet another former Federal prosecutor and is Co-chair of Lawyers4Choice and serves on the Board of Directors of the Chicago Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution Society. He is one of the least well known and poorest funded candidates.

  State Senator Kwame Raoul enjoys strong support from top Chicago and Cook County Democrats as well as a solid base in the Black community as the successor to Barack Obama in Springfield.  He is running on an anti-street crime platform and has the official endorsement of the Cook County Party, the Illinois AFL-CIO, and influential Black Congressmen Danny Davis and Robin Kelly.  His campaign is well funded and has been far more visible in TV spots than his opponents.  He is favored by many Democrats who feel that a strong Black candidate needs to fill this slot on the November ballot to drive critical Black voter turnout.

 Nancy Rotering is the Mayor of Highland Park on the North Shore where she supported a local assault weapon ban and successfully defended it against an NRA challenge all the way to the Supreme Court.  Her campaign focuses on gun control.  She gets a share of progressive support and the strong support of feminists including Congressman Jan Schakowsky.  The recent school mass murder in Parkland Florida and the youth-led crusade against assault weapons have given her campaign a late boost.
  Jesse Ruiz is Chairman of the State Board of Education and Vice President of the Chicago Board of Education.  Defending public education is his key issue.  His long-shot campaign is meant to stake out turf on state ticket for the growing Latino population.
  Nobody seems very exited that former Governor Pat Quinn is in the race.  Like an old fire horse, he can’t resist the alarm bell of another election.  As a lackluster and colorless accidental governor, he was ousted by Rauner.  Despite decades in public office, he does not enjoy support of either Regular Democrats or progressives and his old goo-goo base has become bored and disenchanted with them.  His campaign slogan is “you know me.”  The fact is in a crowded race full of candidates unfamiliar to most voters simple name recognition makes Quinn a top contender with Raoul
The winner of this clusterfuck will likely face Republican Erika Harold, a downstate lawyer and former Miss America of mixed White ethnic, Black, and Native American heritage.  Her attractiveness as a break-the-white-guy mold of the GOP belies her rightwing views particularly on abortion and gay and transgender issues.  The race could be far more competitive than the governor’s race where Rauner is trailing likely Democratic candidates by as much as 15%.
I find Rotering quite appealing but agree with the conventional wisdom that Raoul is the strongest candidate and greatest asset to the ticket.
Other State-Wide Offices

Popular Secretary of State Jesse White leads the slate of down ballot unoposed incumbants.
Respected and accomplished incumbents are running unopposed in the other state Constitutional officer’s races.  They are:
  Secretary of State Jessie White who will probably once again lead the ticket in total numbers of votes.
  Treasurer and former State Senator Mike Frerichs.
  Comptroller and former Cook County Clerk Susana A. Mendoza, who sometimes played a high-profile role during the state Budget Battles by refusing to issue checks when the money ran out, including pay checks for state legislators she claimed were derelict in their duty to pass a budget.
Next—Congressional and McHenry County Races.