SPRINGFIELD — Raise the minimum wage! Release your tax returns, Bruce Rauner and Jim Oberweis! Rich guys who “stash” their money in the Cayman Islands can’t relate to the average Illinois Joe!
Hammering it all home, a new, black-tuxedoed and top-hatted character debuted, dubbed “Baron Von Moneybags,” patterned after the Monopoly character, Milburn Pennybags. The satirical likeness allied with Gov. Pat Quinn waved a sign that read “.01%ers for Rauner!”
As that example of political theater and all of the day’s sloganeering showed, Wednesday was all about class warfare as Illinois Democrats converged on the State Fair facing their iffiest electoral hopes in more than a decade with a ticket topped by a governor trailing in most polls.
Not surprisingly, as the Democratic base embraced Quinn at a unity breakfast and fairground rally, there was nary a mention of the Chicago Democrat’s support for a permanent income-tax hike, his troubled Neighborhood Recovery Initiative or disappointing poll numbers.
“Our campaign doesn’t have trouble,” the governor said when asked if he was concerned about getting traction with voters.
Indeed, from labor to minorities, the party’s various factions and constituent groups appeared all too ready to put behind years of squabbling with Quinn and coalesce against a much larger and better-funded enemy in multimillionaire private equity investor Bruce Rauner.
During his morning remarks, Quinn portrayed the Winnetka Republican as anti-union and anti-teacher. The governor also repeatedly jabbed at Rauner’s wealth and led chants for a hike in the minimum wage, which the Republican candidate once said should be cut before later saying he could support an increase if it was paired with business-friendly reforms.
“Raise that wage! Raise that wage!” Quinn yelled.
The governor’s smacks at Rauner continued.
“The fella I’m running against, I heard him on TV one time. You know, they said: “You’re in the 1 percent, aren’t you?’ He said, ‘no.’ He’s in the .01 percent, OK?” the governor said.
“Well, I’m never going to be in that crowd, and I don’t want to be in that crowd,” Quinn continued. “I want to be a champion of everyday people who live from paycheck to paycheck. I want to fight hard for the 99.99 percent, the people all across Illinois who want a governor who’s a fighter for consumers, a fighter for workers, who’s never ever going to give up on everyday people.”
Perhaps the most stinging anti-Rauner attack came from U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, the wounded Iraq War veteran who is seeking re-election to her northwest suburban congressional seat and was Wednesday morning’s keynote speaker.
She hit Rauner hard, later likening him to a “deserter” for investing some of his personal fortune in funds and stocks based in the Cayman Islands, a notorious tax haven.
“I think if you’re avoiding paying your fair share in your nation, that fits,” she said of Rauner when pressed on that label, considered in military circles to be the most derisive of all.
The lineup of Duckworth, Quinn, running mate Paul Vallas and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin all pressed for Rauner to release a full set of his income-tax returns so voters can learn about the size of his wealth and any tax shelters he may have employed. Rauner has only released cover sheets of his taxes for three years and has not yet filed his 2013 taxes.
After the morning speeches, Durbin insisted he doesn’t take issue with the wealth of either Rauner or his Republican U.S. Senate opponent, Republican state senator Jim Oberweis, a dairy magnate whom Durbin said should also release a full set of his tax returns.
“We’ve had wealthy people, Democrats, who have been elected — John Kennedy, the Rockefellers. I don’t hold wealth against anyone if it’s legally and legitimately earned, and I assume theirs is,” Durbin said, accusing the two Republicans of having a “lack of feeling for people who are struggling.”
“When these people come out against the minimum wage with all sorts of qualifications and prohibiting the minimum-wage increase, that’s what I have got to resent, I have to tell you,” he continued. “It isn’t their wealth. It’s that they’ve lost touch with working people.”
The crowds were larger than in past years, and the event carried an unmistakably positive vibe compared to past year, even though House Speaker Michael Madigan, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, again was a no-show as he was in 2013.
A Madigan spokesman said the party chief was away fund-raising, and Democratic officials knew he would not be at the fair.
“He’s been raising campaign funds out of state. He’s been doing that all summer,” said Madigan spokesman Steve Brown, predicting: “We’re going to be badly outspent.”
Brown said they’re keeping the fund-raising location close to the vest.
Governor’s Days at the fair have not always been pleasant affairs for Quinn.
In 2009, the impeachment of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich hovered over the event, while fairground rallies in 2011 and 2012 featured public-sector union members picketing and heckling Quinn for reneging on promised pay raises. At last year’s event, Quinn faced potential primary challenger William Daley, who predicted the governor could not win a general election in 2014.
Following the day’s speeches Wednesday, Rauner’s spokesman Mike Schrimpf called Duckworth’s deserter charge “outrageous,” especially since the governor’s pension fund has offshore investments.
“If Pat Quinn’s allies wants to throw around words like that, they should at least tell the truth,” he said. “Pat Quinn is invested in the Cayman Islands, pays the same tax rate as Bruce and has given millions of tax dollars to companies that laid of Illinois workers. Meanwhile, Bruce has paid more than $25 million in taxes in the last three years, donated $13 million to charities and put out a plan that reforms corporate welfare. Pat Quinn is failing and his allies will say anything to distract from his disastrous record.’
Echoing that, Rauner surrogates called the Democrats’ focus on wealth a diversion from Quinn’s poor performance as governor.
“The one thing that struck me is their tagline that people are better if Quinn is in,” Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, told reporters. “A little amusing to me considering the record we have with the Quinn administration: 13 downgrades of the state’s bond rating, a temporary tax that they want to make permanent, a jobless rate that exceeds that of the entire Midwest.
“We’ve had a net job loss here in Illinois, a $500 million cut to education. That doesn’t sound to me like people are better off with that,” she continued. “I think they’d like to talk about just about anything other than that record.”
After Radogno and state Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, finished dissing Quinn, the new operative served up by the governor’s campaign, “Baron Von Moneybags,” stood nearby and posed for pictures with the cartoon-like characters Rauner has dispatched to Quinn events, a staffer wearing an orange jumpsuit and a Blagojevich mask and another with an elongated nose named “Quinnocchio.”
But it was Von Moneybags who got Wednesday’s last word, recalibrating Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” into an insult aimed not so subtly at Rauner and his nine homes and more than 20,000 acres of land in the West.
“This land is my land,” the character bellowed in an off-key pitch. “This land is my land.”