Democrats running for governor hit Rauner, differ on marijuana, minimum wage

Democratic gubernatorial candidates joined in piling on Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner but differed on issues such as minimum wage, gun control and legalizing marijuana at a Wednesday forum in Mount Prospect.

State Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston, Madison County Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber, Chicago activist Tio Hardiman, Kenilworth developer Chris Kennedy, Long Grove engineer Alexander Paterakis and Chicago billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker painted a dire picture of Illinois during the forum sponsored by the Daily Herald and Daily Herald Business Ledger.

Rauner "is leaving a path of destruction in his wake," said Paterakis, a business owner.

"For the last three years, the state's been burning ... dismantled," Biss said.

Democrats walked a line between appealing to their base and reaching out to undecided voters in the room.

Referencing the wealthy governor, Hardiman, who grew up in poverty, said "the billionaires are drowning out the cries of the working class."

Kennedy, a member of the iconic political clan, said Rauner isn't a Republican. "He's a Libertarian. ... Replace him with any one of us or a Republican and we'd end up in a much better state."

And in a strategy to recur in the general election campaign, candidates linked Rauner with President Donald Trump.

"Everything we care about is under siege by Gov. Rauner and his partner in Washington, President Trump," Pritzker said.

Minimum wage

Asked about raising the minimum wage from $8.25 an hour, Daiber differed from the consensus of $15 an hour, calling it a "hard sell."

Instead, he advocated an immediate increase to a $10 minimum.

Pritzker backs raising the minimum wage to $15 "with consideration for hardships it puts on small business."

Paterakis said his employees start at $14, but "I know many small businesses can't afford that."

He thinks the state could reach $15 an hour with incentives to companies to stay in Illinois and more vocational training. Hardiman also backed a $15 minimum, adding, "I would make sure women make the same money as men for doing the same jobs."

Kennedy said "no one should be asked to work full time in United States and live in poverty."

He supported "stair-stepping" wages up to $15 by 2020 or 2022.

Biss, sponsor of a bill for a $15 minimum wage, said "our economy is screwed up. Unbelievable power is concentrated in the hands of the very wealthy."

Property taxes

Pritzker promised to institute a progressive income tax to pay for schools, which now are largely funded by local property taxes. Kennedy and Biss also called for state funding of schools, with Biss adding failure to do so has "forced local governments to raise property taxes to outrageous levels."

Hardiman said he would set up a task force to study the issue, saying "36,000 people have moved out of Chicago because they're overtaxed."

Paterakis said legalizing the sale of marijuana could produce revenue to help schools.

Daiber argued against imprudent laws that cut into revenue.

"Every time you give another group another break on assessed valuations, everyone else pays more," he said.

Legalizing marijuana

Hardiman endorsed a referendum on legalizing general use of marijuana. "I've seen the ugly side of addiction," he said. "I don't want younger people to think it's OK to smoke marijuana." However, he doesn't agree with "locking people up for possessing small amounts of marijuana."

Daiber also wants a referendum. He joked he didn't want lobbyists to show up in Springfield with suitcases full of pot and then lawmakers "come in high and vote on it."

Biss is a "proud co-sponsor" of legislation to legalize marijuana. He thinks drug laws aren't applied equally, saying white students at wealthy schools get away with using marijuana, but if "black and brown kids in a poor neighborhood get caught, they have the book thrown at them."

Kennedy supported decriminalization but wanted more scientific studies. "There's no need to rush in," he said. However, he thinks medical marijuana should be "much more broadly accessible."

Paterakis favors legalization, adding it would help agriculture in Illinois. "This would be a great opportunity for our farmers to produce a new cash crop."

Pritzker thinks legalization could save lives. "Unfortunately, marijuana is readily available and also unfortunately some of it is laced with heroin. If we legalize it and regulate it, marijuana won't have those problems," he said.

Gun laws

Biss backs a proposed law requiring licensing gun dealers in Illinois. "We know a large number of guns used in violent crimes in Chicago are purchased from a few suburban gun stores, but ... we can't do anything because we don't license those stores."

Daiber and Kennedy also endorse the legislation, but Hardiman said Illinois has strict gun laws already.

"We just have to enforce the gun laws here," he said, adding he supports concealed-carry.

And, "you're not going stop killings in Chicago until black men unify and stop the killings in their neighborhoods," said Hardiman, founder of anti-violence CeaseFire Illinois.

Paterakis noted he had a federal firearms license and said Democrats should "not throw legal gun owners out of the discussion." He spoke of acquaintances who had killed themselves using guns and advocated better mental health programs.

Pritzker faulted Rauner for cutting funds for such social safety nets.

"Funding mental health (treatment), funding homeless shelters, giving people a connection to society - that's how you prevent gun violence," he said.

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