LA GRANGE – Gubernatorial candidate Ameya Pawar drew loud applause several times while sharing his vision for Illinois on July 30 at First Congregational Church in La Grange.
“I want to ban fracking in Illinois,” Pawar said while discussing environmental issues, eliciting cheers from many of the 100 people squeezed into the small sanctuary of the church on the last stop of his statewide bus tour covering dozens of counties and thousands of miles. “The jobs of the future are in renewables. A lot of capital construction jobs have to do with the environment.”
One of many candidates in the crowded Democratic primary governor's race, Pawar also outlined other projects he believes state government should fund, including replacing old water main systems to remove lead, creating a state-owned utility to deliver internet service to rural areas, and bringing art and music back to schools and communities.
“We live in a wealthy state with a $700 billion economy – the fifth largest in the country. We're broke on paper,” Pawar said.
The candidate said he would pay for his plan by dropping the flat state income tax rate and implementing a progressive tax code used by more than 30 states, and closing corporate tax loopholes.
“Make sure wealthy people pay their share. Two-thirds of corporations don't pay tax,” Pawar said.
He criticized the tax-reducing incentives offered by cities to lure corporate headquarters away from other Illinois communities.
“This idea – pay me or I'm leaving, stealing jobs from Peoria to bring to Chicago – never works. It's a race to the bottom,” said Pawar, punctuating one of his main themes: The wealthy and powerful have gained control by dividing and ruling, he says. “We rise and fall together. We're neighbors. We should act as such."
Pawar has served as alderman of the Lincoln Square and Ravenswood neighborhoods of Chicago for six years.
“To demonize public institutions – government is the problem, capital improvements are evil – that narrative is fueled by the small, wealthy few," Pawar said. "People who benefit are people like [incumbent Republican Gov.] Bruce Rauner, who don't need public institutions."
Rauner's website said he is “working hard to create more well-paying jobs.”
But Pawar criticized Rauner's leadership.
“If we elect people who hate government – or on the basis of fame and fortune – we'll keep fighting over scraps,” said Pawar, alluding to his two well-known Democratic primary opponents: Chris Kennedy, the son of assassinated U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and J.B. Pritzker, whose family founded the Hyatt Hotel chain.
Before taking questions, Pawar outlined his New Deal for Illinois, which includes increasing state aid for schools to improve education and decrease property taxes, lowering prison costs by legalizing marijuana and reducing sentences for nonviolent drug possession, providing universal child care and mandating paid sick leave.
When asked how he would work with Mike Madigan, Illinois' powerful speaker of the House, Pawar cited his relationship with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“We battle it out. We fundamentally disagree on some issues. Other issues, we work together on, like paid sick leave,” said Pawar, which inspired another spontaneous eruption of applause.
Gail Clark said she drove from Chicago to see Pawar because “grassroots is becoming more powerful."
"I think after last November, people are motivated," Clark said.
She was one of many audience members who said they are more involved in politics than in the past because of their frustration with President Donald Trump's victory and subsequent policies.
Pawar's appearance was coordinated by Action for a Better Tomorrow, a nonprofit advocacy group that grew out of the 2016 presidential election to fight for a progressive agenda. The group also coordinated appearances by other gubernatorial candidates.
In addition to Pawar, Kennedy and Pritzker, Democratic challengers include state Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber, state Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood, business owner Alex Paterakis and community organizer Tio Hardiman.