Businessman J.B. Pritzker and state Sen. Daniel Biss sent their running mates, state Reps. Julianna Stratton and Litesa Wallace respectively, to represent them in the Knox College Gubernatorial Candidates Forum Tuesday night.
Of the five Democratic primary candidates for governor, Stratton and Wallace represent the two leading tickets jockeying for the Democratic Party’s nomination.
The forum, organized by senior Knox Democrats president Sam Klingher, was put together to give Knox students and Galesburg community members the opportunity to engage directly with candidates in the 2018 Illinois Gubernatorial race.
The two lieutenant gubernatorial candidates sat on the stage of Kresge Recital Hall during the forum, which was moderated by Duane Oldfield, Chair of Political Science at Knox. The questions asked were submitted by community members prior to the start of the forum, as well as students from Knox, Western Illinois University and Augustana College. Five Augustana students attended, while only one Western Illinois student made the trip.
College affordability was a common topic throughout the night, as the candidates tried to relate statewide issues to the struggles facing college students. Wallace voiced her support of funding tuition for all students in the state, saying, “if not free, affordable and accessible.”
Wallace promised funding for this program would come from a progressive income tax plan Biss favors over the current flat tax. Stratton stayed away from discussing taxes, but said that Pritzker plans instead to “invest in our colleges and universities” that have lacked adequate state funding, and to “expand access to MAP Grants” for low-income students.
When Oldfield read a Knox student’s question regarding the legalization of marijuana in Illinois, students in the audience chuckled out loud, but the candidates both voiced their support for this measure.
Stratton cited the need for more tax revenue and Wallace mentioned restorative justice for those who are exposed to the criminal justice system through marijuana possession.
Both Stratton and Wallace mentioned that based on the blueprints followed by other states that have already enacted these changes, it is clear the time has come for Illinois to adopt similar policies.
Throughout the night, both candidates returned time and again to the ineffectiveness of the current Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, who they deemed responsible for the state’s lack of a budget for two years and six days. The state government was finally able to pass a budget over the summer, overriding Rauner’s veto of the plan.
Some of the effects of being budget-less for such an unprecedented amount of time are still being dealt with today, Stratton and Wallace argued, especially in state-sponsored programs including education, childcare, domestic violence shelters, mental health facilities and undocumented immigrant resources. Some programs had to shut down when they were no longer receiving money from the state.
Klingher was pleased with the results of the event, but noted that it would have been improved if the lead candidates on each ticket could attend.
“I think the forum had some really good discussion É They’re both stellar candidates, but I am disappointed that the [gubernatorial] candidates couldn’t make it,” Klingher said.
The Knox Democrats, however, do hope to bring Pritzker and Biss to campus later this term, as well as some leading Democratic candidates for Illinois Attorney General.