The three highest-profile candidates for governor of Illinois have a few things in common. Each has close ties to the North Shore. Incumbent Bruce Rauner grew up in Deerfield and Lake Forest and lives in Winnetka, while his Democratic challengers, J.B. Pritzker and Chris Kennedy, born elsewhere to prominent families, later put down roots in Evanston and Kenilworth, respectively.
All three enjoy prominent name recognition, and each came to politics from the business world. Rauner was a private equity manager and venture capitalist. Entrepreneur and investor J.B. Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune and the brother to former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, is a backer of 1871, a tech hub based in the Merchandise Mart. Kennedy, son of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, co-founded Top Box Foods, a non-profit that provides households in needs with access to healthy and affordable foods.
The personal wealth of all three has become a campaign issue. The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR), a non-profit and non-partisan group, is forecasting that this campaign could be the most expensive in American history. The election will be held on Nov. 6, 2018, but as of May 22, Rauner had raised nearly $71 million, which includes $50 million of his own money, Pritzker had raised $7.2 million and Kennedy $1.2 million, the ICPR reports. This does not include campaign funds raised by the other candidates, Daniel Biss, Ameya Pawar, Robert Daiber and Alexander Paterakis. Combined, this is already enough money to “exceed the cost of an average gubernatorial election,” according to the ICPR.
Prior to running for governor, Rauner had never sought public office. Pritzker waged an unsuccessful bid in the 1998 Democratic primary for a congressional seat that was won by Jan Schakowsky. Kennedy had previously considered a U.S. senate run in 2009, but opted out.
In advance of the March 2017 primary, Pritzker has received the endorsement of the Illinois AFL-CIO. Kennedy has received the backing of the Southern Illinois Democratic County Chairmen’s Association.
On the home fronts, Rauner and Diana, his wife of 20 years, are the parents of six children, three of whom are from his first marriage. Pritzker met his wife M.K. (Mary Kathryn) on a blind date. They were married in 1993 and have two children. Kennedy and his wife Sheila, who grew up in Winnetka, will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in August. They have four children.
What issues are the candidates focused on and what are their visions for Illinois? While the campaigns are in the early stages, the candidates, through their websites and in recent appearances, are focusing on issues they consider to be the most challenging for Illinois.
Kennedy, in a May 30 speech delivered at the Harold Washington Cultural Center, focused on the state’s property tax system, which he called “inherently corruptible” and which, he stated, has a far-reaching impact on education funding.
“The American Dream is crippled by the property tax system,” he stated, “because too few of our high school graduates are educated well enough to obtain jobs that command a salary that allow them to earn a living wage.” He added that the system hampered the ability to reduce gun violence because overtaxed communities were prevented from “raising the needed resources and revenue for officers and training.”
Early childhood education is a key issue for Pritzker, for which he is a national advocate. In his campaign announcement last April, Pritzker termed himself “a genuine progressive governor for everyone” and touted his successful initiative to provide school breakfast and quality early learning to at-risk children, and his role in establishing the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center that give teachers the tools to teach children “to stand up against hate.”
Included in Pritzker’s platform, according to his campaign website, are calls for a progressive tax system to relieve the tax burden from low, middle and working class households, rebuilding Illinois’ social services and investing in community and economic development.
Rauner’s re-election campaign, under the banner “Bring Back Illinois,” is focusing on such issues as term limits and fair independent maps, according to the campaign website. He, too, is focused on education, including funding reform and increasing school standards. In his budget address delivered last February, Rauner praised bipartisan efforts to solve the state’s ongoing budget crisis.
Rauner advocates restrictions on workers’ compensation payouts and a property tax freeze.
“Taxing our way to a balanced budget would only hasten the exodus of jobs and families from Illinois,” Rauner stated.
Regarding education, he proposed the state fully fund regular transportation costs for schools around the state for the first time since 2010, to increase funding for English-learners and early childhood education and to increase Monetary Award Program grant funding by 10 percent.