DeKALB – At one point near the end of the candidate forum Tuesday night, moderator and WNIJ producer Susan Stephens stopped to tell the crowd how she thought the forum was going.
“There’s a lot of passion here tonight,” she said. “I’m loving this.”
Five of the eight candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for governor attended the forum at Northern Illinois University: state Sen. Daniel Biss, Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber, community organizer Tio Hardiman, business owner Alex Paterakis and former chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, Chris Kennedy.
Venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker, Chicago City Council member Ameya Pawar and physician Robert Marshall did not attend the forum held in the Sandburg Auditorium of the Holmes Student Center.
There were five categories of questions and candidates agreed on most issues, including that they would govern differently than Republican Bruce Rauner.
The governor was the target of many attacks during the event, both for the 2-year budget impasse between him and state House Speaker Michael Madigan and for the lasting damage to the state’s higher education facilities the impasse caused.
Kennedy said Rauner is a Libertarian disguised as a Republican who doesn’t believe in communal investment.
Paterakis said he won’t even call him governor because he doesn’t deserve the title.
Each candidate supports spending on infrastructure to both keep people working and repair the aging roads and bridges across the state, with Hardiman proposing a $50 million capital project fund for downstate. Each candidate supports reforming the way public schools are funded. Each supports the idea of single-payer health care.
The candidates had differences of opinion on the legalization of marijuana, however.
“It’s gonna happen,” Paterakis said. He said Illinois can be one of the next wave of states to legalize it. “I wanna lead in something. Not debt, not jailed governors.”
Several times throughout the night, Paterakis suggested taxing cannabis as a source of revenue for the state.
Daiber said he supports it because it is now socially acceptable.
“If you wanna buy some pot, you probably can on this campus,” he said to laughter. But he wanted Illinois to legalize marijuana by referendum and not legislation.
The only boos from the crowd on the night came when Hardiman said marijuana was a gateway to other drugs.
“Yes, it’s been proven in addiction studies,” he said in response. “I do support it, but we need to take a good look.”
Biss said he supports the legalization of cannabis because the laws are enforced unequally, because he wants to address it as a public health issue and because taxing it could be used for revenue.
Kennedy was more cautious with his response.
“I think it’s dangerous to embrace a public health hazard simply because you want revenue,” he said. “We haven’t studied this issue because the Republicans in the House and the Senate have prevented us from doing so.”
On health care, all of the candidates supported the idea of single-payer health care.
“I think the expansion of the [Affordable Care Act] funding is one of the greatest things that’s happened to the state of Illinois, certainly in this century,” Kennedy said. He said that although too many people still are uninsured, “It’s incredible the progress that’s been made.”
Paterakis said he supports single-payer, but cautioned that other socialized medicine programs in the country have gone poorly in the past.
“We’re the greatest country in the world and our health care system is atrocious,” he said. If single-payer were implemented, Paterakis said, due diligence would have to be done to avoid the tragedies that afflicted the Veterans Administration hospitals.
Throughout the night, Biss said the ideas of his opponents were not enough, and again repeated that statement when discussing health care proposals. He said single-payer health care would not come from federal legislation.
“If we decide Washington should take the lead, we might be waiting forever,” Biss said. “A state needs to go first. Illinois needs to go first.”
Daiber said health care should be the right of all Americans.
“Why do we have young people who can’t see the dentist? Why do we have people with fungal infections who can’t get treated?” he asked. “I’m for expanding community care immediately to take care of those people.”
Hardiman said he supports single-payer health care because it would help fight poverty in the state.
At the end of the night, during his closing statement, Hardiman told a joke in which Rauner leaps from a crashing plane accidentally taking a backpack instead of a parachute, leaving Hardiman, Kennedy and a Boy Scout in the plane with parachutes.
“The moral of the story is Bruce Rauner is going down,” he said.