January 29, 2010

Illinois governor candidates debate at Booth School

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Third-party and Republican candidates for Illinois governor debated on mostly economic issues at a debate held at the Booth School Wednesday, with some embracing their place at the margin.

Candidates from the Libertarian, Green, Constitution, Independent, and Republican parties were present at the debate hosted by Free and Equal, an organization dedicated to improving ballot access laws. Although all parties were invited to the debate, no Democratic candidates attended.

“I, too, have a voice and I just want to be heard,” Independent candidate Michael White said.

Though a third-party candidate has never won the Illinois governorship, the Green Party was made an official political party in the state in 2006, when Rich Whitney received 10 percent of the vote in the gubernatorial election. The party now needs fewer signatures to get on the ballot and has access to voter data.

“The Green Party is a real movement, and we’ve been working to create a new political party,” Whitney said. The last time a third party won official status was in 1986, when no Democratic candidate ran, and the Solidarity party, under Adlai E. Stevenson III, won almost 40 percent of the vote.

Republican candidate Dan Proft, who trails the other six Republican primary candidates in a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, supported the inclusion of the other candidates in the race. “Having third- party candidates expands the debate,” he said.

Some candidates enjoyed their fringe status, using the debate as a platform to express positions not in the mainstream; Whitney suggested the establishment of a state bank, and the Constitution and Libertarian party candidates called for the repeal of the 16th Amendment, which allows for a federal income tax.

“We need to eliminate the income tax,” Libertarian candidate Lex Green said. “The longer we go down the wrong road, the more drastic the remedy we need.”

Debate centered around five student-submitted questions that ranged from gay marriage to the recent Supreme Court ruling against restrictions on corporate donations to political campaigns. The candidates related almost all the issues to economic policy.

When asked if they would support a bill legalizing gay marriage, several candidates said it depended on fiscal details. “Most issues about gay rights are not about the rights, they’re about benefits,” said Green, referring to tax and other benefits married couples receive.

Questions about Guantanamo Bay led to a debate over “self-funding prisons.”

“It’s a sad day when we look at prisons as a form of economic development,” Independent William Walls said to applause.

Pressure has been building on Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn both from within his own party—he is being opposed by Democratic Comptroller Dan Hynes—and from doubts raised about the strength of the national Democratic Party after Scott Brown’s unexpected victory over Democrat Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts Senate seat.

All the candidates at Wednesday’s debate agreed that Illinois needs new leadership and that voters want new leadership. Appropriating Barack Obama’s campaign rhetoric, Constitution party candidate Randall Stufflebeam told the audience, “We are on the cusp of change.”

“Not the change we can believe in,” he added.

The Illinois gubernatorial primary takes place February 2, and the general election on November 2.