Illinois State Sen. Announces Democratic Run for Governor

by | March 21, 2017

By Rick Pearson

State Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston formally entered the Democratic race for governor Monday, decrying a broken political system that favors "billionaires and machine politicians" and declaring, "this is a campaign for the rest of us."

Making his announcement in a 25-minute Facebook Live video, Biss pledged to change Illinois' constitution to require wealthier residents to pay more in income taxes. He said the state should be a "beacon" against a Donald Trump presidency for immigrants and women seeking abortions.

"We have a political system where billionaires and machine politicians are the ones who are listened to. That's the system we have to change," Biss said.

"We have to build a movement of the people because the question fundamentally is who do politicians feel obligated to listen to. In Illinois, the public has set very low expectations and we can understand why," he said.

Anticipating attacks from Republicans linking Democratic candidates to veteran Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, Biss answered one Facebook question by saying, "I've been clear for a long time that Madigan's been there too long." Biss said he supports term limits on legislative leaders.

But he also said a focus on a clash of personalities obscures the larger need to fix the state's fundamental problems.

He also said he was counting on motivating voters at the grass-roots level to even the odds against wealthier opponents. "I'm not the millionaire or billionaire in this race," he said.

Biss put together ads last fall attempting to link Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner to Trump and has served in the Illinois legislature representing the northern suburbs since 2011. If he stays in the race, Biss would be giving up his state Senate seat, which is up for election next year.

The former mathematics professor at the University of Chicago has been outspoken in his criticism of Rauner, the first-term GOP governor who largely has funded the Illinois Republican Party and turned it into a personal and political messaging arm to attack Democrats during the state's historic budget impasse.

Last year, Biss headed a federal super political action committee called Leading Illinois for Tomorrow. It made about $10 million in independent expenditures, largely for TV ads that sought to link Rauner to Trump, who was then the GOP presidential nominee.

Rauner helped fund millions of dollars in ads last year on behalf of Republican legislative candidates seeking to erode Democratic majorities in the Illinois House and Senate by attacking Madigan, the longtime speaker who also chairs the state Democratic Party.

Madigan's personal campaign fund gave $500,000 to the Biss super PAC. It also got money from longtime Democratic donors -- including $3 million from money manager Michael Sacks and $1.25 million from media mogul Fred Eychaner -- as well as from organized labor.

Other donors to the Biss PAC included Chicago businessman Chris Kennedy, who already has announced his candidacy for governor, and Chicago entrepreneur and investor J.B. Pritzker, who last week formed an exploratory committee for a run for governor.

Biss launched the PAC after considering but later withdrawing a bid for the Democratic nomination for comptroller against Susana Mendoza, then the Chicago city clerk. Mendoza went on to win the contest last year in a special election against Rauner-appointee Leslie Geissler Munger.

Biss also launched a series of sometimes wonky videos and essays under the "Road Back" label in an attempt to counterprogram Rauner's message. In one, the senator juggled flaming sticks as he talked about ways to shore up the state's finances.

In a Democratic governor primary, Biss would seek to appeal to progressives in Illinois as Democrats nationally struggle to find their identity between liberal and establishment wings in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton's defeat in the 2016 presidential race. Also seeking to appeal to the progressive wing is Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar, from the North Side's 47th Ward. Biss' colleague in the state Senate, Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill, also is exploring a bid for governor.

Biss served a term in the Illinois House before his election to the state Senate in 2012. He moved to the Chicago area after completing his undergraduate degree at Harvard University and his doctorate in mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

(c)2017 the Chicago Tribune