ELMHURST – Democratic candidate for Illinois governor Daniel Biss spoke to about 25 students and community members when he visited Elmhurst College on Feb. 5.
Biss currently is an Illinois state senator for the 9th District, which includes Evanston, Skokie and Wilmette. His remarks at Elmhurst College centered on incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner, free college tuition, taxes, civic engagement, the economy and campaign financing.
Biss kicked off his visit by introducing himself and his campaign, which began through community organizing.
"I just completely fell in love with this idea that you could organize people into a real movement, and those movements could change society," he said.
He criticized Rauner and said going back to the Illinois that existed before the current governor isn't good enough.
"People across the state are hungry for something better," Biss said. "People across the state are tired of being told what we can't have and instead are ready to fight for what we should have."
Biss then answered several questions from the audience.
Elmhurst College senior David Gibson said he heard Biss speak on NBC in a gubernatorial debate, and he wanted to learn more about Biss.
Gibson asked Biss a few questions at the event. One was about free higher education, which is one of Biss's campaign tenets.
Biss said he believes "we have a moral responsibility" to create a free system of post-secondary education to level the playing field for participation in the economy, just as public elementary and high school education were made free for the same purpose, he said.
Biss said the state of Illinois isn't broke, but rather the state government is broke. Illinois' tax system was designed for an economy that existed 50 years ago, he said. Biss suggested repealing the flat tax in Illinois and placing a transaction tax on the Chicago Board of Trade and Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
"These are things that frankly we don't have the votes for right now in Springfield, and so there are people who tell you, 'It's impossible. Don't bother,'" Biss said. "And my message is: Let's build a political movement to change what's possible because we know it's right."
Miha Turk, a senior at Elmhurst College, asked how people can become more civically minded when it is difficult to bridge the "extremes" in American politics.
Biss said politics are divisive, and it is easy to drive wedges between people in politics, which makes things worse.
"I think there's a lot that unites us right now. ... And that is the feeling that somehow there are a few people who have figured out how to make the system we have work for them while the rest of us find it harder and harder to get by," Biss said.
He said the economic struggles of a majority of people in their 30s "[tug] at the fabric of society," and having an "economic transformation" and reinvesting in communities that have been "left behind" can present a solution to this.
"That's how to build a politics that can actually bring people together," he said. "And if you get that right, you can really change in a massive way what opportunity looks like in the state of Illinois."
In response to a question on campaign financing from Claire Goldenberg, a Democratic primary candidate for DuPage County Board District 2, Biss said the gubernatorial election is a "referendum on money and politics" based on the millions of dollars other candidates have spent compared to his strategy of smaller contributions from many people.
"Are we having an election, or are we having an auction? And the answer to that question lies in our hands for the next 43 days," Biss said.
Amy Ackerman, regional organizing director for Biss's campaign, said the campaign is active in DuPage County and wants to get more students involved, so campaign members were excited to come to Elmhurst College.
Estrella Vargas, a senior at the college, said after the event that she came to see Biss after seeing him speak in Evanston because she wanted to learn more about his platform.
Vargas said Biss's message resonated with her, especially with how Biss is getting college students involved.
"[That is] really important to me," Vargas said.
Get out and vote
Early voting in the primary election begins Feb. 8, and polls close at 7 p.m. March 20.