Democratic governor candidate Chris Kennedy on Thursday proposed changes to state government and elections, contending private interests profiting from “crony capitalism” are stifling democracy.
In a near half-hour speech to about 75 supporters at a downtown restaurant, the heir to the iconic Massachusetts political family presented proposals that continued his attacks on leaders of his own Democratic Party, as well as a state Republican Party primary funded in recent years by Gov. Bruce Rauner and his allies.
“The traditional balance of power is now asymmetrical,” Kennedy said. “The Democrats have become desperate. They now believe that to compete, Democrats must adopt the same behavior as those who have tried to oppress us. We’re mimicking behavior that we should abhor.”
That comment was aimed at a rival for the nomination, billionaire J.B. Pritzker, who is self-funding his own campaign and has put $28.2 million of his personal wealth into his candidacy.
Kennedy also continued his criticism of politicians — though not by name — who are also property-tax appeals lawyers, such as Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. And he called for splitting up political party leadership from elected officials. Madigan also is the state Democratic chairman, and Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios also is the county Democratic chairman.
Kennedy also criticized Mayor Rahm Emanuel, saying he has put politics ahead of adopting an elected school board for Chicago Public Schools. CPS is the only school district in the state without an elected school board.
The elected school board issue, Kennedy said, has “become the poster child of direct democracy, where the elected officials repeatedly ignore the will of the people. Our schools are not adequately funded because the funding mechanism is controlled by the mayor, concerned about his own re-election, making it impossible to properly balance the financial needs of the schools.”
Kennedy proposed a series of changes such as moving the state’s primary date from March to May or June in future elections, as well as a state constitutional amendment to move elections for governor and other statewide officials to presidential years. He said the current election cycle was a method to depress voter turnout.
At the same time, Kennedy proposed term limits for all Springfield politicians, starting with legislative leaders — another shot at Madigan who has served as House speaker for all but two years since 1983.
And borrowing from the playbook of former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, Kennedy proposed that Illinois become a direct voter-initiative state that would have voters propose and cast ballots to adopt laws. That also would require a change in the constitution.
But even as he decried the big money power of special interests, voter-initiatives could further inject such cash into state politics. Kennedy, however, said any change in laws would still be up to individual voters despite any massively funded campaigns for or against any initiative.
“We need to attack a conflicted political arrangement, a corrupt government and a state government that causes the rest of the nation to wince every time they hear our name,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”