State of State reaction: Democratic gov candidates bait Rauner — and each other

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Democratic gubernatorial candidates, from left, Bob Daiber, J.B. Pritzker, Daniel Biss, Chris Kennedy and Tio Hardiman at a forum with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD — Businessman Chris Kennedy said Wednesday that if Democratic nemesis J.B. Pritzker beats him in the March primary, he would support Pritzker over Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner — but Kennedy dubbed it a choice between the “unethical” and the “immoral.”

“It’s a pretty tough choice,” Kennedy said.

The Democrats vying to unseat Rauner were quick to voice their distaste for the governor — and occasionally one another — after Rauner’s fourth State of the State address.

But the governor’s re-election campaign took the opportunity to release a fundraising email proclaiming that “the battle has just begun.”

“The entrenched political interests in Springfield continue to put themselves ahead of the people they serve,” Rauner said in the email. “My motivation as your governor has never changed — I fight every day to make Illinois a better place to start a business, build a career, and raise a family. And I won’t ever give up.”

Kennedy’s comments came in his response to Rauner’s speech in Springfield, calling the governor a “plagiarist” for proposing changes to the property tax assessment system, something Kennedy described as stealing “a bunch of ideas from me.” Kennedy for months has called for changes to the system, while questioning Pritzker’s use of property tax appeals.

Kennedy also clarified the promise he made in a Tuesday debate to support whichever candidate wins the Democratic nomination.

“I think he [Pritzker] does represent the poster child for the pay-to-play political system in the state. Do I think ultimately he is a better candidate? Do I think it is better to have him in charge rather than Bruce Rauner? Yes, I think Bruce Rauner, based on his speech today, where he’s accomplished nothing in his years in office, has attacked the poor, relentlessly pushed those who have no resources out of our state, I think he’s immoral. That’s different than being unethical. If you have a choice between the immoral and the unethical, I guess I’d go with the unethical,” Kennedy said.

Pritzker, in turn, brought up that Kennedy had said Rauner should be “applauded” for running ads against Pritzker and that Rauner “speaks truth to power,” — Kennedy comments that Pritzker and state Sen. Daniel Biss have seized on for weeks.

“I’m fighting tooth and nail to take out Bruce Rauner while Chris Kennedy is extolling his virtues and saying that he should be applauded,” Pritzker said. “I think Democratic voters are going to make their own choices based in part on that.”

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Of the speech, Pritzker questioned the governor’s crediting himself with achieving historic education funding reforms and enacting criminal justice reforms.

“He talks about the education funding formula, and he takes credit. Who believe that he is responsible for the education funding formula? You know that’s not true. The man lies. One thing that Jeanne Ives seems to continue to get right — the one thing — is that Bruce Rauner lies repeatedly, and once again he’s lying,” Pritzker said, referring to the state representative challenging Rauner in the primary.

“He’s taking credit. He didn’t have anything to do with it. He vetoed it. He frankly did nothing to get that done. So in the end, failed leadership. All he can do is flail about. He can now talk about bipartisanship all he wants. I’ll be interested to see it. I haven’t seen it for three years.”

Biss said the speech was “given by a guy obviously paying no attention to state government for the last three years.”

“This is a speech given by a guy who has no idea how Bruce Rauner has failed. I thought it was desperate. Frankly, the truth of the matter is he has driven the state into a ditch and in a separate effort to somehow clean up that effort, he has pointed to things that haven’t happened,” the state senator from Evanston said.

Earlier Wednesday, a We Ask America poll of 811 likely Democratic primary voters, taken Jan. 29-30, showed Pritzker ahead at 29.79 percent, followed by Biss at 17.43 percent. Kennedy was in third with 11.50 percent. And it shows that 37.95 percent of those polled are still undecided in the gubernatorial primary.

Biss said he was “excited’ by the results, and said it’s been a “really, really encouraging few weeks.” The poll did show that Kennedy and Pritzker fared better Downstate.

“We’re spending a lot of time across the state with an incredible network across the state. The poll that came out this morning showed remarkable movement as a result in part of our advertising, and we haven’t yet had the opportunity to advertise Downstate. Now that we see our campaign growing, we expect to be able to do that throughout the state of Illinois,” Biss said.

Biss said he anticipates running television ads Downstate “sometime soon.”

Meanwhile, Madison County Schools Supt. Bob Daiber, who was campaigning in East St. Louis on Wednesday, questioned how Rauner could ask to restore public trust while targeting House Speaker Mike Madigan by saying he’ll introduce legislation to bar members of the General Assembly from handling cases before property tax appeals boards.

“How can you call for restoring trust and working together, and then in the same speech fire an attack at your political nemesis? The governor cannot be trusted and cannot be taken seriously,”Daibersaid in a statement.

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