Pritzker, Rauner clash in debate

McCann, Jackson elbow way into donnybrook, but incumbent and top challenger hold spotlight

 NBC’s Carol Marin, J.B. Pritzker, Gov. Bruce Rauner, Grayson “Kash” Jackson, and state Rep. Sam McCann take the stage for Thursday’s televised debate. (Twitter/Christian Mitchell)

NBC’s Carol Marin, J.B. Pritzker, Gov. Bruce Rauner, Grayson “Kash” Jackson, and state Rep. Sam McCann take the stage for Thursday’s televised debate. (Twitter/Christian Mitchell)

By Ted Cox

Gov. Bruce Rauner and J.B. Pritzker lashed at each other in the first of three scheduled debates for television Thursday ahead of the November general election, with Rauner accusing Pritzker of corruption while Pritzker coolly responded that the governor was lying about both their records.

Libertarian Party candidate Grayson “Kash” Jackson and state Sen. Sam McCann, running on his own self-styled Conservative Party, elbowed their way into the debate, but it was largely a scrap between Republican incumbent Rauner and the Democratic challenger Pritzker.

Issues were addressed, but typically descended to name-calling, with Rauner insisting, “This election is about taxes and corruption,” while Pritzker said it was about Rauner’s failed first term and his blaming everyone but himself.

They clashed most pointedly on education funding, with Rauner citing a bill he signed last year revising the state’s funding formula while adding a controversial tax-credit scholarship program and additional funding for charter schools.

“Unfortunately, everything you just tried to take credit for happened in spite of you, not because of you,” Pritzker countered, emphasizing that the education bill was passed after an initial Rauner veto and that he had little involvement in crafting the bill he finally signed.

They battled over taxes, with Rauner defending the state’s flat tax rate, while Pritzker called it “the most unfair tax system in the entire nation” and defended his proposal for a progressive tax.

Yet Pritzker would not be pinned down on what exactly the rates and tax brackets would be in his system, saying, “I believe it’s something we’re got to negotiate” with the General Assembly and the electorate.

Rauner charged that Pritzker was planning “a massive new income-tax hike on all the people of this state.”

“Gov. Rauner, you’re lying,” Pritzker replied matter-of-factly. “You’re lying again.” He emphasized his tax plan would offer a “tax cut for for middle-class families and those who are striving to get there.”

Still, the most heated exchange came between Rauner and his fellow Republican McCann toward the end of the first half of the hourlong debate at NBC Tower in Chicago, when Rauner complained that McCann “has been given far too much airtime in this discussion” and suggested he was being paid per interruption by House Speaker Michael Madigan.

“You’re a liar. You’ve been lying to the people of Illinois from the beginning,” McCann lashed back. “You’re a liar and a thief.”

Rauner accused McCann of being a puppet for Pritzker in trying to peel off Republican votes downstate, and indeed at times they paired off as McCann sided with Pritzker against Rauner and Jackson against Pritzker with Rauner. But McCann, of Plainview, established himself most of all as “a loud, booming voice for downstate” and for the policies of President Trump.

“We’re in it to win it,” McCann said.

Jackson, meanwhile, cast himself as a regular guy who had spent $25,000 in his campaign so far, compared with the millions tossed around by Rauner and Pritzker in what may wind up being the most expensive gubernatorial race in U.S. history.

“Over 50 percent of our state are moderates,” Jackson said. “We have to begin to elect people who come from our neighborhoods.”

Still, he probably lost support when he suggested the state’s high property taxes should be relieved in favor of even more regressive sales and service taxes, with Jackson arguing, “You as a consumer consent to that tax.”

In a question on how the state lost 33,000 residents in 2017, Rauner fell back on talking points about jobs, but then Pritzker blindsided him by pointing to how Rauner’s two-year budget impasse hurt state universities and sent students elsewhere for college.

“When they leave our state, they don’t come back,” Pritzker said, “70 percent don’t come back.”

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“it’s easy for you to sit on the sidelines and criticize when you haven’t done an honest day’s work in your life.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner (WMAQ-TV)

McCann, meanwhile, established the differences between his conservatism and Libertarians by stating that he favored “infrastructure and education” as ways to keep residents in the state, later adding, “I see higher education as an investment, not an expense.”

On gun control and violent crime, Pritzker blamed guns “pouring over the borders from neighboring states” and called for “legislation to stem the flow of these guns.”

Rauner then countered that “the best antidote to a gun is more jobs in the neighborhood,” but Pritzker pointed out he’d cut funding for mental-health services and for job training.

“I think you’ve got it all backward, governor,” Pritzker said.

Rauner responded pointedly that “it’s easy for you to sit on the sidelines and criticize when you haven’t done an honest day’s work in your life.”

“What have you been doing the last four years?” Pritzker responded. “Nothing.”

McCann cast himself as a downstater who found Chicago’s murder rate almost alien. “I spent the last 24 hours in Chicago,” he said, “been watching some of your newscasts, and I am absolutely amazed at the number of stories that you report on. Your whole newscast is nothing but violent crime after violent crime after violent crime. It's actually appalling.” He then added he favors Trump’s tough stance on crime.

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“What have you been doing the last four years? Nothing.”

J.B. Pritzker (WMAQ-TV)

Rauner insisted the state’s election system was sound, but Pritzker pointed out he had not moved to take the state out of the controversial Crosscheck system that critics have said aids in voter suppression. “I don’t see why anybody would trust him to secure the ballot box,” Pritzker added.

There were areas of agreement. Nobody actually wanted a new tax on services in addition to goods, and no one wanted to tax retirement income. Rauner defended signing a bill extending abortion rights by saying, “I support a woman’s right to decide, and I believe her income shouldn’t determine whether she has that right,” but that was right before he turned his attack on McCann.

Similarly, when the death penalty came up, Pritzker defended his reasons for opposing it, while Rauner launched into a diatribe on corruption.

“This is a question about the death penalty,” reminded moderator Carol Marin.

There were no gotcha moments in a series of questions about what the candidates pay at the grocery store and the barber shop, although Rauner, who said he’d just been shopping last weekend, nailed a question on the price of a gallon of milk — $2.49 at Jewel. He added that he paid $27 for a haircut at home in the northern suburbs, $13 in Springfield, while Pritzker said he spent $35 on a haircut, with a $10 tip, and McCann said he paid $11 with a $2 or $3 tip, and Jackson said he spent $8 with a $2 tip.

“I think this race is about values, not about money,” Pritzker said at one point, and Rauner snorted audibly in reply. But then Rauner said he agreed, it was just that his values were different.

Two more televised debates are scheduled ahead of the election Nov. 6.