'Liar,' 'failure,' 'phony': Going gets nasty with jabs in first gubernatorial debate

Sneers and jeers predominated Thursday in the first debate matchup with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrat J.B. Pritzker.

The two wealthy businessmen were joined on NBC 5 by Libertarian Grayson "Kash" Jackson of Antioch and state Sen. Sam McCann of Plainview, a Conservative Party candidate.

"He doesn't want to tell the truth to the people of Illinois about his proposed massive tax increase," Rauner said of Pritzker.

Pritzker, who did not give details of his plan for a graduated income tax, jabbed at Rauner over the state's budget impasse.

"Everything you're trying to take credit for happened in spite of you, not because of you," Pritzker said.

McCann emerged from relative obscurity to get under the governor's skin, frequently interrupting Rauner and calling him a "liar." Rauner struck back, describing McCann as a "phony candidate" who was "getting too much airtime."

"Get used to it," McCann riposted.

One sharp exchange between the front-runners originated from a Daily Herald editorial board interview in January where Pritzker suggested considering a vehicle miles tax based on miles people drive, not per gallon of gas, to prop up the shrinking transportation fund.

Rauner stood by negative ads he's run on the subject, saying "(Pritzker) said we should look at putting in a vehicle miles tax. Government putting a box in everyone's car measuring the miles they drive and taxing people to commute to work ... is wrong."

"I have not proposed a vehicle miles tax," Pritzker countered.

Rauner repeated his campaign theme that "this election is about two things, taxes and corruption." He linked Pritzker to powerful Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and accused him of using clout to get property tax breaks.

Chicagoan Pritzker repeatedly called Rauner a "failure" for a first term of legislative gridlock. "He's accomplished nearly nothing and failed as governor," Pritzker said.

The two candidates could not shake perceived missteps from the past.

When asked by NBC moderator Carol Marin about a comment in 2017 that he "wasn't in charge," Rauner responded that "everyone in Illinois knows that our state has been under the stranglehold of Mike Madigan and his dominant political machine for decades."

Meanwhile Pritzker reacted to allegations of removing toilets from a mansion he owned to get a cheaper property assessment. "We followed the rules. ... So many people across the state have to seek reassessment because the property tax system is so flawed," he said.

While the two had a brief consensus on immigration reform, most policy discussions degenerated into sniping.

On reducing gun violence, Rauner, a venture capitalist from Winnetka, said "the simple, biggest fact is we need more jobs and more economic growth."

Pritzker interjected, "You know - people who want to get jobs and want to get trained - and you cut funding for people who want skills training. You've got it all backward."

Rauner told the Hyatt hotel heir, "It's easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize when you've not done an honest day's work in your life."

Jackson, a U.S. Navy veteran, defended himself about owing thousands in child support. "I'm a perfect example of what happens when a member of our community gets caught up into a judicial system that they're woefully and painfully unaware of," he said.

The four candidates for Illinois governor debated at the studios of NBC 5 in Chicago Thursday. From left, Democrat J.B. Pritzker, and GOP incumbent Bruce Rauner, Libertarian candidate Grayson "Kash" Jackson and Conservative Party candidate William "Sam" McCann. COURTESY OF NBC 5 CHICAGO
The four candidates for Illinois governor debated at the studios of NBC 5 in Chicago Thursday. From left, Democrat J.B. Pritzker, and GOP incumbent Bruce Rauner, COURTESY OF NBC 5 CHICAGO
From left, Libertarian candidate Grayson "Kash" Jackson, Conservative Party candidate William "Sam" McCann, Democrat J.B. Pritzker, and GOP incumbent Bruce Rauner are candidates for governor.
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