By Rick Pearson
Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton on Wednesday delivered a hard-hitting critique of Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, accusing him of pushing an agenda that would return the state to "the robber barons of the 19th century."
Clinton's speech to several hundred people at the Parkway Ballroom in Bronzeville had been billed as a get-out-the-vote rally aimed at trying to galvanize African-American supporters ahead of the March 15 Illinois primary election.
But the event evolved into an extended and surprising criticism of Rauner, a former private equity investor _ a potential way to reach out to backers of her tenacious political rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and his populist appeal of pushing against the wealthy, Wall Street and income inequality.
In the process, Clinton _ who was born in Chicago and raised in Park Ridge _ underscored just how critical the top of the presidential ticket could be in November to lower-ballot races here _ particularly the Democratic supermajorities in the Illinois House and Senate that Republicans are challenging.
"When I look at what's happening here in Illinois, (it's a) Republican agenda to roll back the clock on everything that made the middle class strong in the 20th century. It's pretty terrifying," Clinton said.
"They want to undercut workers' rights, undercut unions. You know, the American labor movement was essential to building the American middle class," she said.
Clinton, acknowledging Rauner was delivering his second state budget address at about the same time she was speaking, called it "material for some kind of sitcom because he'll be speaking without actually having a budget" _ a reference to the state's eight-month stalemate between the first-term GOP governor and Democratic-controlled legislature that's resulted in no formal spending plan put in place.
"The governor has refused to start budget negotiations unless his so-called 'turnaround agenda' gets passed first. Now, his plan will turn Illinois around, all right. All the way back to the time of the robber barons of the 19th century," she said.
Clinton said Rauner's pro-business, union-weakening agenda called for eliminating the payment of prevailing union wages on public works projects and would take away "hard-won rights to bargain collectively" with public workers. She also said the lack of a state budget has affected working parents cut off from affordable child care, eliminated some services for treatment for drug addiction and prevented payment of grants to college students from lower-income families.
"They need a governor who will actually pass a budget," she said.
Clinton recalled the Illinois politics of her youth.
"We had disagreements. There were Republicans and Democrats. My father was a Republican. We had our disagreements around the dinner table every night," she said.
"But there was also a common-sense understanding. There were certain things the government did, certain things the private sector did ... and it all worked together. We've lost that consensus, and we've got to rebuild it," she said.
Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said he found Clinton's comments "quite ironic, coming from someone who cashed a $280,000 check for a paid speech to GTCR." GTCR was the venture capital firm Rauner headed before he became governor. Rauner had left the firm by the time Clinton delivered the speech in June 2014, Chicago magazine has reported.
At the event, Clinton was joined on the ballroom stage by Geneva Reed-Veal, mother of Sandra Bland, the Naperville woman whose death in a Texas jail sparked national attention. Clinton, the former secretary of state, decried gun violence and the National Rifle Association, and called for criminal justice reforms.
Clinton recited a list of names of gun and police violence, including Laquan McDonald. The court-ordered November release of a 2014 video of the black teen being shot to death by a white Chicago police officer inspired protests and a political backlash toward Clinton supporter Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Clinton noted that several mothers of victims of gun violence also were in the audience, and said their grief "must move us to action."
"They must motivate every one of us to take on these issues, reforming police practices and making it as hard as possible for people to get guns who shouldn't have them in the first place," she said.
Clinton said she and rival Sanders share agreement on a number of issues, but sought to portray her agenda as more achievable.
"We need a president, yes, who's passionate about getting as much as possible (the) money out of politics and reining in Wall Street," she said. "But we need a president who's passionate about creating jobs and raising incomes like I am."
Veteran West Side Democratic U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, a superdelegate committed to Clinton, said she should be the favorite of African-American voters as the nomination process continues but warned she must continue reaching out to them.
"I mean, Bernie is coming and charging like the cavalry and I think that Hillary is going to have to stay out front, keep pressing the issues, keep demonstrating to the African-American community that there's no possible way that we would be taken for granted," Davis said.
(c)2016 Chicago Tribune