Chris Kennedy is one of six Democrats seeking his party's nomination for governor.
In addition to an anti-violence program that he spoke about in the Peoria area last year, Kennedy and running mate Ra Joy also sat down with political reporter Chris Kaergard for a question-and-answer session about his campaign.
Here's an edited transcript:
Q: Particularly in the last couple of months, you've emphasized while campaigning that you're definitely not the choice of the Democratic establishment in Illinois. Some people might hear the Kennedy name and think "underdog?" Why is that a valid notion?
A: I think the most shocking thing for people to hear is a Kennedy being critical of the Democratic Party. The truth is, when President Kennedy ran for president, his greatest opposition wasn't Richard Nixon in the general election, it was the Democratic Party in the primaries that said, "We don't want you to be our standardbearer because you're Catholic and you'll lose in the general. We don't want you to be our leader because you're too young and you'll lose in the general. We don't want you to be our leader because you're not one of us and we don't want somebody who we can't control." He overcame all that.
My father, Bobby Kennedy, runs for Senate in 1964 from the state of New York and they say you're not from here, even though his parents raised him there. They call him a carpetbagger and they say we don't need you here. He overcomes the Democrats in the primary and wins the general election. He runs in 1968 against the head of the Democratic Party, the president of the United States, Lyndon Johnson, because too many people of color or who were poor disproportionately were fighting in the Vietnam War. Teddy, my uncle, runs against Jimmy Carter in 1980, the sitting president, because Carter oversaw a federal reserve that jacked interest rates to 19, 20 percent and drove tens of millions of people out of jobs, and Teddy said that's not the Democratic Party we want.
And I have to say the same in Illinois. This is not the Democratic Party that represents Kennedy values. These are people who are making money off the system as property tax appeals lawyers that's destroying our ability to educate the next generation of kids in our state. You want economic development? Jobs go to where the highly educated high school and college kids are. You can't produce highly educated high school kids when you rely on property taxes. Everybody knows that, yet we cling to that system because our leadership is property tax appeals lawyers, and they're destroying our state.
Q: How do you work with somebody like House Speaker Mike Madigan, who is absolutely a part of that system, if you're the next governor? The current governor has gone to war with him over many of the same things.
A: Kennedy Democrats are not afraid to compromise. They don't think compromise is surrender. You can negotiate without giving up. Ted Kennedy was one of the most liberal members of the U.S. Senate, but he always had friends on the other side. He knew that incremental change was the great outcome of a highly functioning democracy.
In Illinois, who has brought about great political change in the last decade? There are so few examples. We need somebody like (running mate Ra Joy) to hold up to the millennials and tell them, "Re-engage." You, too, can make a difference, because he did. The idea of bringing automatic voter registration — nothing scares an incumbent as much as new voters.
Q: Unpredictable voters.
A: Unpredictable voters. There's nothing more horrific than that concept. So they tried to stop them, repeatedly. The governor vetoes the bill. And (Ra) goes and he builds a statewide coalition so every state rep and every state senator know that their people want what he's calling for. And he passes it with such a large majority in the House and Senate that the governor can't veto it again.
Q: What are you both seeing as you come into downstate communities as far as needs and importance in those communities that you want to focus on?
Joy: The common through-line is a profound sense that the status quo has failed us in Illinois. That the promise of a representative democracy is badly broken, that we have a rigged system that favors a handful of political insiders at the hands of the many. People understand that our system is fundamentally unfair.
Kennedy: I'd say everybody has the same fear, whether you're in Chicago, the suburbs, central Illinois, western Illinois or southern Illinois. People don't want to die alone. We have the largest outmigration of millennials of any state in America with the exception of New Jersey. Everybody is afraid that their kids are going to leave and never come back. We're losing kids to Kentucky — to their universities, where we never competed with them before. Seventy percent of all college kids get their first job in the town in which they went to university. If they leave, they may never return. That's the greatest fear in Illinois. We need to retain those kids here.
When I graduated school, kids moved to where the jobs were. That's not the way the economy works any more. Now the jobs move to where the highly educated kids are. All we have to do is produce highly educated high school kids and the jobs will return to Illinois. Seventy-five percent of kids who graduate any high school are so under-educated that they're not considered college ready. What business in America wants to locate in that population?
We can do better — we know how. Other states do. Places like Maryland or Massachusetts or Minnesota know how to do that. You pay for the schools at the state level with communal resources. We're all part of the same state. We all own the state's economy evenly, even if we don't live right around the great economic engines. It's still all of ours, and we need to share it. And we're prevented from doing it by a handful of people who make money on a property tax appeals business that don't want to abandon a system that's enriching them.
You want to know where the Trump voter comes from? The person who feels the American dream is no longer in existence? That the promise of this country has been broken, that opportunity is slipping out of their grasp, that their kids aren't going to make it? They're a product of Illinois high schools, where they're so under-educated that they can't keep up with the rapidly changing economy.
Q: You've hit on one of the big problems Illinois faces in attracting employers. The current governor has also argued it's high workers' comp rates and other systemic problems. How do you address those things?
A: More companies moved to Illinois to open an office for the first time at the Merchandise Mart Center in Chicago, which I ran, than any other location in the state. I know more about that than the governor does — than he'll ever know. I know what it takes to get companies to move here, and to expand when they arrive. When I was at the Merchandise Mart, I dealt with 5,000 companies. Not one of them ever asked me about workers' comp, right to work, tort reform, how we draw our maps, term limits. That conversation never occurred. Gov. Rauner is completely wrong on those issues. It's misdirection — classic misdirection. He's not a Republican, he's a Libertarian. He doesn't believe in government, he doesn't believe in communal enterprise. He's distracting us with that, just as he wears that phony disguise of a Carhartt jacket like he's some kind of pipefitter that just stepped off the construction job, so too did he disguise himself as a traditional Republican.
Q: If you're elected, will you live in the governor's mansion?
A: Yes, I will.