HARRISBURG -- Three of the eight Democratic gubernatorial candidates met Saturday at Morello's Restaurant in Harrisburg, to tell the party faithful why any of them would be a better leader than Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Former educator Bob Daiber, venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker and businessman Chris Kennedy spoke at a forum held by the Saline County Democrats.
The three were joined by Carl Spoerer, who likely will be the Democratic challenger to U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, in the 15th congressional district.
Daiber, the only Downstate gubernatorial candidate in the Democratic field, said he is campaigning at the grass-roots level.
"I'm the first candidate for governor from Southern Illinois in 20 years," the Madison County regional superintendent of schools said. "I'm proud of my roots in agriculture. I'm a centennial farmer, and I used to teach shop to kids."
Daiber said he has driven about 28,000 miles in seven months, talking to voters about reducing the state's financial liability of $14.5 billion in unpaid bills. In February he has proposed floating a $10 billion bond issue to pay those bills, saying Illinois could then balance its budget in about 3.5 years. He noted a similar idea recently has been proposed by state Senate President John Cullerton, and is gaining traction with lawmakers.
J.B. Pritzker, who is the managing partner and co-founder of The Pritzker Group, praised the group of Democratic candidates as a whole, calling them a "great crop."
"Any one of them would make a better candidate than the current governor," Pritzker said.
Pritzker said he was concerned with the influence of Libertarian businessmen Charles and David Koch, more commonly called the Koch Brothers.
"Republicans have elected governors from the Koch Brothers' group who are removing unions and dismantling health insurance, taking it away from people," he said. "And, Illinois is the Republicans' No. 1 target in 2018.
"I'm running for governor because I'll put Illinois back in the hands of the working class."
Kennedy, the eighth of Bobby and Ethel Kennedy's 11 children, opened his speech with a joke, comparing his family to the Phelps family of Eldorado, a high-profile, political Democratic family.
"The Kennedys are the Phelpses of Massachusetts," he said, to which the crowd laughed loudly.
Kennedy argued that mass hunger and homelessness began with the presidency of Ronald Reagan and continues to this day. He and his wife are founders of Top Box Foods, a nonprofit that makes discounted food available to families who reside in "food deserts," places where grocery stores are scarce or only fast-food restaurants exist.
He criticized what he called a lack of state funding for education, saying only 25 percent of Illinois high school graduates statewide are "college ready," and that only about 12 percent of those who come from Chicago Public Schools are college-ready.
He said after researching Saline County schools, those numbers are 13 percent for Harrisburg, 10 percent for Eldorado, 7 percent for Galatia and 3 percent in Carrier Mills.
"Other states pay for education at the state level," he said. "We hold on to a system damning our children to a life of economic servitude, because many lawmakers are working outside as property tax appeals lawyers. We should ban elected officials from having jobs harmful to the people they serve."
Bob Oglesby, Saline County Democrat Central Committee chairman, said he is proud of all three candidates, who will face off in the March 20, 2018 primary.
"This party stands for a lot. It stands for labor, it stands for veterans; it stands for the working class," Oglesby said.
The other Democrats running in the March primary are state Sen. Daniel Biss; state Rep. Scott Drury; state Rep. Tio Hardiman; civil engineer Alex Paterakis; and Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar, whose lieutenant governor running mate is Cairo Mayor Tyrone Coleman.
Congressional candidate Spoerer also spoke briefly, criticizing Shimkus as a congressman too beholden to lobbyists.
"One thing I'm against is a congressman who has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from special interests," Spoerer said. "Career politicians have got to go. They need to be replaced with public servants."