ALGONQUIN – Illinois gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy spoke about his goals for the state as the primary election looms ahead, focusing on how K-12 educational funding is the biggest problem in Illinois.
The town hall meet-and-greet was held Sunday at the Algonquin Area Public Library District’s Main Library and was hosted by Indivisible Northwest Illinois.
Kennedy is seeking the Democratic nomination in the spring, along with billionaire venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker, Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston, southern Illinois Superintendent and only downstate candidate Bob Daiber and Chicago community organizer Tio Hardiman.
Kennedy said the biggest problem he sees in Illinois is the educational outcomes in K-12 students and an attack on higher education, adding that it is rooted in a corrupt property tax system.
He said schools are underfunded because they are paid for with property taxes instead of using a graduated progressive income tax, which is what the state needs.
“Today, the jobs are moving to where highly educated young people are,” Kennedy said. “Chicago is doing well right now, with headquarters moving there because Chicago is the largest college town in America, but they are not our college kids. Illinois had the largest outmigration of any state in America. That entire millennial generation is leaving Illinois.”
In Chicago, there were 30 high schools with an average ACT score of 14, and those kids will have a hard time participating in the modern American economy, Kennedy said.
Kennedy said he believes the notion of the American dream ended in the 1980s, and he said the threat of people’s pensions descends us “into the jungle.”
“I think Gov. [Bruce] Rauner is a libertarian and is trying to bankrupt the state in a sense to shrink government’s ability to do anything other than to pay off the unpaid bills he has ratcheted up,” Kennedy said. “That is the nature of the fight we are enduring now, not the fight if it’s possible to pay off the pension obligations.”
Regarding health care, Kennedy said insurance lobbyists are very powerful, and the only people more powerful are large employers.
“Their voice really matters in this fight, and nobody has attempted to bring these large voices together and collude against insurance providers to create among themselves a single-payer system that works for all,” Kennedy said.
With 917 hate groups in the country and 32 in Illinois, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Kennedy said the number of hate groups are increasing and their membership is strong.
“It is a very real threat, and there is no great coordination from law enforcement, so what happens at the city, county, state and other forms of policing like university police is not coordinated when it comes to hate crimes and groups,” Kennedy said.
He said he believes the state police needs to monitor the groups more closely to contain them.
Kennedy is a businessman and the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy. He is the co-founder and chairman of Top Box Foods, a hunger-relief nonprofit, and was the president of Merchandise Mart in Chicago. He served as the chairman for the University of Illinois system’s Board of Trustees from 2009 to 2015.
Regarding climate change, Kennedy said he would support Illinois adopting the principles of the Paris climate accord.
While running the Merchandise Mart, he said, the building was the world’s largest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified building.
He said the state should inventory its buildings and lead by example, as well as better regulate and provide more incentives to people who focus on environmental use.
When asked about protecting Dreamers under current threats of ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Kennedy said he does not want the nation of immigrants to become the country of orphans. If a person lives in the U.S., he or she needs a path to citizenship, Kennedy said.
“We need to make it clear to our federal representatives that if they are not supportive of reform for DACA, then we are going to remove them from office,” Kennedy said. “We’ll put their careers at risk if they will put the citizenship of fellow Americans at risk.”
Richard Johnson, education facilitator for Indivisible Northwest Illinois, said he believes Kennedy is a strong candidate with honesty and integrity.
“Without a strong educational system, you cannot build the next generations of leaders, entrepreneurs, business owners,” Johnson said. “That is truly the biggest travesty that faces Illinois right now in terms of the injustice of funding systems and charter schools creeping in, which might have had a noble intention of filling the gap but have an uneven distribution among populations.”
Residents in the 6th, 8th and 14th U.S. Congressional Districts organized the Indivisible NWIL group, which is one of thousands that have been formed across the nation. The group’s goals are to peacefully resist President Donald Trump’s agenda and highlight congressional members in the three local districts.
The group previously hosted town hall meetings for candidates Biss, Pritzker and Daiber. Eveej Malone, chairwoman and spokeswoman for the organization, said it plans to reach out to Gov. Bruce Rauner and Hardiman to host town hall meetings in 2018.