“Who should I vote for? JB, Kennedy, Biss? No one impressed me at the WBEZ debate.”
I blinked at the question. Messages firehose at me all the time — on Facebook, Twitter and email, now a distant third, nearly occupying the tenuous status once held by letters written in blunt pencil on blue-lined notebook paper.
But this query came in via iPhone Messenger, from somebody with my phone number. In the next line, he ID’ed himself. My old college roommate. Ah.
As a professional journalist, I couldn’t summarize the 2018 primary election more eloquently than he did in 16 words. Then again, he majored in political science. Months of increasingly wild accusations, millions and millions spent on grim, black-and-white TV commercials, and what are we left with? A sulfurous smell hanging in the air and three not-so-appealing choices. I’m not certain which of these guys to vote for, and I’ve had long conversations with each.
The opening question is telling. It assumes, as I do above, that the only election of interest is the Democratic primary. That’s true. (I was tempted to tease my friend with, “Aren’t you a Republican by now?” But that seemed cruel). Compared to the Democratic slugfest, the Republican primary has been a muted sideshow. Or make that, freak show, starring Jeanne Ives in a tent off the midway, a lady tattooed head-to-toe with vile and shameful appeals to the bottom rung of the Republican Party, using every racist code in the book short of semaphore flag: Immigrants are murderers. Transgender people are predators. Gays are bad parents.
Who can blame anybody for tuning out this Punch and Judy show? I prefer to experience the election as a civilian, primarily through relentless TV and radio commercials. J.B. Pritzker scored points early by swinging hard for Obamacare enrollment, his money stepping in for the delinquent Trump administration, and by firing back at Trump’s immigration slanders.The idea of a rebel stronghold in Illinois, built on emergent state power and the bottomless Pritzker fortune, is something I could get behind.
Then Pritzker starting to broadside his two less financially endowed opponents. A sign of fear. Maybe they’re closer than the polls show. Every time I saw that endlessly-looped commercial maligning Chris Kennedy, the former top trustee at the University of Illinois, for the school’s tuition hikes, ending with the tagline: “Chris Kennedy: Shouldn’t we judge him by his record?” I would yell back at the TV: “At least he has a record!”
To be fair, so does Pritzker. He has done more than merely being born: he helped create the 1871 high tech incubator, spearheaded the Illinois Holocaust Museum, though he doesn’t talk about that much, for reasons I will leave to you to ponder.
Kennedy I know personally. My children have made apple jam with his children. And while he is a lackluster fund-raiser and conducted a stumbling campaign, he did run the Merchandise Mart for years and might make a good governor should he somehow win. I might vote for him just so I can say, next time I see him, “Don’t blame me, Chris, I voted for you.”
I like Daniel Biss because the state senator has actual government experience, once considered important to actually running the government. As with Kennedy, his election would take a miracle and — shifting into Sydney Greenstreet’s Signor Ferrari accent in “Casablanca” — “The Pritzkers have outlawed miracles.”
The best thing about Tuesday’s election is it means the primary will soon be over and we can finally move on to the main event: the Rauner money and the Pritzker money running at each other, squawking the shrieks that Godzilla and Rodan make as they grapple in the middle of a scale model Tokyo.
If you remember your black-and-white Japanese monster movies, the struggle doesn’t end well for Tokyo. We, too, are ground down, and so far from good governance, so removed from intelligent debate, I’d feel foolish to even hope that we’ve turned the corner and not just taken another step downward. Giving Bruce Rauner the heave-ho will help; but we’ll still be in the same deep doo-doo we were sunk in when he showed up.
“That’s a toughie,” I replied to my friend, then made my recommendation.