Biss Means Business In Race For Illinois Governor
by Sophie Lee
With a Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker, resident billionaire, in the race for Illinois governor, there did not seem to be room for any more hopeful Democratic candidates. Then came Daniel Biss. In a surprising turn of events, Biss has come out as a serious candidate for March’s upcoming Democratic nominee. He’s running his campaign on the premise that he is exactly what the other candidates are not. He is not a member of the one percent and he does not have a nationally recognizable last name. However, he is qualified, optimistic, and willing to breath fresh air into Illinois’ historically dishonorable public office.
Biss began his professional career as a math professor at the University of Chicago. It was this position that initially brought him to Illinois. He was inspired by the young activists he saw on campus and this spirit of grassroots activism is what initially pushed him to become involved in politics. He served as an Illinois State Representative from 2008 to 2010 and joined the Illinois State Senate in 2012. He cites the surge of political activism following the election of Trump as his cause for deciding to run for gubernatorial office.
Jones College Prep, which is filled nearly to the brim with young activists, quickly began supporting Biss in his campaign efforts. A club formed to support the effort and Biss was invited to a town hall meeting at their school, open to all in the Chicago student community. The meeting was held on Feb. 23. Student volunteers were available to help kids register to vote and handed out Biss campaign stickers, signs, and pledges to vote Biss in the Primary. The event, which was expected to be moderately small based on the number of pull-out chairs available, was filled past max capacity. Students took to standing on the outskirts of the room or sitting on their friends’ laps. Finally, in walked Biss himself and he was met with uproarious applause, clearly having already won over the hearts of young liberal voters.
After a short speech about his background as a candidate, he was asked about how he would encourage diversity through his potential new position. This led him to launch into a fairly hilarious retelling of Bruce Rauner’s, sitting Illinois governor, poorly timed debacle with a diversity demonstration involving milk and chocolate syrup. To summarize, the demonstration ended with Rauner saying, “Mmm, diversity! It’s good,” into a mic. It was an awkward mistake that was quickly circulated through social media platforms. Biss, on the other hand, discussed diversity, gender, sexuality, and social class with great ease. He was clearly aware of his audience, frequently joking around and breaking down complicated economic policies, like the under-the-radar ways money is being removed from non-white communities and then relocated into richer white communities, in a way that made them easily accessible for the students in front of him. In under an hour, it was clear that Biss contained none of the impenetrable, out-of-touch distance that leads many political candidates to seem inaccessible to a younger demographic. Biss’ hopeful, anti-establishment attitude is reminiscent of the spirit that got young voters to come out strong for Bernie Sanders in the last presidential election.
One of the first questions was unsurprisingly what Biss plans to do to fix the multitude of problems with Chicago public schools. He spoke about what many others have been pushing for some time now, calling the current system “profoundly broken.” Biss wants to change how CPS is funded, moving away from funding based on property taxes and towards equal funding for every school, regardless of location. This would mean that every school, whether in a rich or poor neighborhood, would have the same number of resources put into it, a bold move towards better education for all Chicago kids. Biss also said that he wants the Chicago school board to be elected, instead of appointed by the mayor, allowing citizens to have more say about what is working and what is not.
Shortly after this conversation, someone raised her hand and brought the recent school shooting in Florida onto the table. Biss’ eyebrows shot straight up at this and after a sigh he said, “Here’s what is not working: a lot.” Following a short round of applause for this statement, Biss went on to explain that he wants to enact state level licensing for stores that sell guns, allowing the state to put stores out of business if they are not following protocol, without having to go through ineffective federal legislation. He also wants to ban high capacity magazines and vows to pressure Illinois delegates to vote in favor of stricter gun laws at a federal level, should he win. Biss said that he believes in frequent interaction between state legislators within the Midwest. “We need to have give and take. We need to thrive together,” said Biss. He pointed out that even if we make progress on issues like gun control inside Illinois, state borders are not impenetrable and we need to move forward as a region if we hope for real progressive change.
Several questions were then asked about the economic problems in Illinois, of which there are many. Given that Biss’ background is in math, most of his answers, even ones not directly tied to the economy, circled back around to numbers and bottom lines. He explained that he wants to raise taxes on the wealthier classes, remove the mandatory flat income tax in our state constitution, and tax financial transactions to give money back to the state economy from the wealthiest corporations we house, to name a few of his proposals. The things Biss describes seem easy enough and many of them are ideas that have been circulating for years. So what gives him the ability to actually do these things when so many others have promised and then forgotten? Well, Biss said, “This campaign is designed to change what’s possible.”
Biss elaborated on this when asked about his competitor, J.B. Pritzker and the man’s campaign of ads against him. Biss laughed at this question and then replied that Pritzker was simply “playing out of the billionaire playbook” by pouring money into criticizing the opponent as soon as the race got close. He went so far as to ask whether Pritzker would really be a credible candidate if he was not a billionaire. Biss pointed out that Pritzker’s qualifications are similar to those of Rauner except for the fact that he is a Democrat. But is that really enough? If Democrats start handing elections over to the richest, most well known candidate, is that better? Especially since, as Biss pointed out, Democrats will run out of billionaires long before Republicans do. Biss said, “Are we going to say if you can’t beat them join them or are we going to beat them. Are we going to have an election or are we going to have an auction?” Biss is the grassroots, out of the mold candidate in this race. He believes that if he wins, it will be heard around the country that Democrats don’t need to “play the Republicans game” of buying office. He said, “We’ll show that you can do it with people and compassion and values instead of just money and connections.” It is arguable that Biss has already changed what is possible simply by getting this far, but seeing a win for him this March, and another when it comes time for the final gubernatorial election, would certainly be making a statement, not just for what Illinois’ politics needs, but also what the country needs. The primary election will take place on March 20.