It’s election season here in the United States and in Illinois we are seeing a race for the Governor’s office. Republican Judy Barr Topinka and Green Party candidate Rich Whitney are battling to unseat incumbent Democrat Rod Blagojevich.
It is an interesting race given the troubles Republicans are having nationally, Blagojevich’s ethics problems, and the fact that Whitney is polling well for a third party candidate.
The latest poll [Oct. 15] by the non-partisan Rasmussen Reports shows Blagojevich 44%, Topinka 36%, and Whitney 9%. Since that poll was taken, however, one of Blagojevich’s associates pleaded guilty to using his state appointment to take kickbacks from firms with an interest in getting state business and his wife earned six-figures in a real estate deal involving friends who have received no-bid contracts from the state.
One would expect these latest revelations to further erode Blagojevich’s slim lead over Topinka. He seems to be trying to lay low as he backed out from a previously-scheduled debate with his challengers.
One of the things that has been sorely missing from the campaign has been a discussion of actual public policy challenges facing the state. The Chicago Tribune has done some good reporting in this regard and had all three candidates answer important questions in relative detail.
One of the major problems facing the northeastern part of the state has been the lack of planning for metropolitan growth. Roads are inadequate to handle demand and public transit is non-existent. In theory, state government has quite a bit of authority to address growth and regional infrastructure. The Tribune asked each candidate about their transportation plans which are central to regional policy.
The headline of Tribune transportation reporter Jon Hilkevitch’s article–“All candidates lack plans for roads, transit”–pretty much tells the story.,
Governor Blagojevich claims that he has been unable to get Republicans in the legislature to agree to a bond-issue that would raise $2.3 billion for roads and $425 million for transit. Passage of the bond issue would allow for the state to be eligible for more than $3 billion in federal matching funds.
Topinka wants to put a casino in Chicago to help fund road improvements. This seems to be her answer to every policy problem, as her casino plan is also supposed to fund schools, offer property tax relief, and supplant part of the state gas tax! Many observers think that the expansion of gambling in the state is a tough sell. Daley has unsuccessfully tried in the past to get state authorization for a Chicago casino and the fact that there are already multiple casinos in the state would make it a huge political fight. Plus, the amount of money she is suggesting could be raised from a Chicago casino is questionable. Daley claimed two years ago that revenues would be between $200-$700 million. Topinka’s proposals require at least $4 billion!
Whitney has said that he is dedicated to developing mass transit options
both in the Chicago area, as well as improving rail service downstate. It is unclear how he would pay for it, however.
In the next week or so I will run down the candidates’ positions on a variety of environmental issues.