PEORIA — A quintet of Democratic candidates for Illinois governor detailed plans in Peoria on Saturday for how they’d address criminal justice reform and create more economic opportunity in the state.
The forum at the WTVP television studios hosted by Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth is likely the only time the Democratic field will appear in the same place in the city before the March 20 primary election.
And there was little disagreement among the candidates about the priorities, simply in how to get there.
State Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston touted his record on criminal justice reform, including sponsorship of a bill that would forbid the state from suing former inmates to recoup the costs of their incarceration, though he said incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the measure.
He also decried what he said was a lack of proper mental health care and drug treatment for those who are incarcerated.
“We are so uneven, the extent to which we make appropriate resources available within the system,” Biss said.
And he pledged to pursue increased investment in underprivileged neighborhoods and to review how governors use their clemency powers.
For businessman and philanthropist Chris Kennedy, education is one of the most important elements to fight inequality and prevent exposure to the criminal justice system.
“The poor are poor in Illinois largely because they’re undereducated. ... The reason we have bad educational outcomes is that we pay for our schools through local property taxes,” he said, faulting majority Democrats — particularly House Speaker Michael Madigan — for perpetuating a system that leaves low-income areas disadvantaged.
He joined others including Biss, who supported ending cash requirements for posting bail, but said at the back end of the system more should be done to eliminate the court fines, fees and charges that low-income individuals owe that would prevent them from getting their records expunged.
Kennedy also touted his record creating a distribution network to get food to food banks and noted the importance of ensuring access to fresh fruits and vegetables in communities of need — citing as an example the recent announcement of two Kroger stores closing in Peoria.
Businessman and philanthropist JB Pritzker emphasized the need for early intervention programs for juvenile justice and cited cost figures of $172,000 for each young person incarcerated and one-fifth as much for getting them into early intervention.
“We’re losing too many kids to a life in the system, and that has to end,” he said, pledging to fund such diversion programs.
To prevent more people going on welfare, Pritzker said he would properly fund the child care assistance program that has seen cuts under Rauner, arguing that in many cases the reduced funding forces people to quit jobs to care for their children rather than working productively.
And to ensure minorities have proper access to bidding in the state procurement system, he emphasized the importance of appointing cabinet and subcabinet officials who represent the state’s diversity.
“When you don’t appoint people of color to positions of power in agencies that are doing substantial procurement, then you don’t get” the business flowing to those communities, Pritzker said.
Bob Daiber, who serves as regional superintendent of schools in Madison County, spoke about his personal efforts to help improve the system hosting an expungement summit to help people convicted of lower-level crimes get their records wiped. He also detailed work he’d done creating a mentoring program for at-risk youth.
Daiber boasted that he was the first candidate to offer a specific and detailed plan on pursuing a graduated income tax.
Candidate Tio Hardiman talked up his past record as state director of the CeaseFire anti-violence program and returned to a familiar theme he has spoken about in Peoria before.
“You’re not going to reduce gun violence in the community until black people unify — period,” he said, vowing to reduce homicides in Chicago by 50 percent if elected governor.
Hardiman would also transform some state penitentiaries into higher education institutions for low-risk, non-violent offenders.
A financial transaction tax he’d level on the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Board of Options would produce revenue that Hardiman said would be used to help fund projects throughout the state, with an emphasis on underprivileged parts of Illinois. Biss has also championed a similar proposal.
There was no interplay between the candidates, as each spoke separately, detailing in a 10-minute period how they’d tackle the two topics, and then two follow-up questions. Gordon-Booth urged them all at the outset to focus on detailing their own platforms rather than spending any of their limited time attacking opponents — a rule that all followed, with only occasional allusions to an opponent.
Robert Marshall is also on the Democratic ballot, but did not appear and has been something of a non-entity on the campaign trail.
The event was sponsored by the NAACP, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Alliance for Safety and Justice, the Peoria chapter of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, and members of the local clergy.
Chris Kaergard covers politics and government. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.