Chicago - Apr. 19, 2018
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Illinois 2018 Primary Campaign Notebook 3: Who Is Biss? Pensions, Passes & Pussy Riot

Look, he has the Pussy Riot endorsement. That's almost good enough for me. Almost.

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First, what was Carlos Ramirez-Rosa all about? Really? And I don't mean that because he's socialist, I mean that because he's a 29-year-old first-term Chicago alderman.

And then this. I know it seems like ages ago, but it's worth remembering and reflecting upon.

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Biss has a legitimate shot at winning the nomination Tuesday.

That's a far cry from when Chicago magazine asked a few months ago if he had considered dropping out due to low polling numbers. (At that point, Pritzker had spent $7 million; he's now spent $70 million and he's in the exact same place in the polls. Maybe he should've been the one to drop out!)

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Then there was the math thing. I came away from this thinking maybe he wasn't a great mathematician but hardly upset. Should I have been? Really?

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Then there was the CTA card thing. You know what? His explanation makes sense. He confused weekly passes with monthly passes. It adds up. The media's overheated response doesn't.

And yet, there's the Tribune's closing profile leading with it!

"Daniel Biss, a former assistant mathematics professor at the University of Chicago, has touted his experience with numbers as a key reason Democratic voters should nominate him for governor. So when the Evanston state senator was asked the price of a monthly CTA pass during a recent debate, he made some quick calculations.

"Let's see, my Metra pass has now come pretty close to $50 a month. So a monthly CTA pass I would guess is probably around $35," Biss said.

"The actual cost is $105 - a miscalculation that pulled at the very threads of the brand Biss has spent the last year carefully cultivating. He's running as the "middle-class candidate" against a billionaire heir and entrepreneur who's writing big campaign checks and a millionaire developer born into an American political dynasty."

What the Tribune didn't tell its readers? That's not the monthly cost of a Metra pass, either, and he owns one! That's the weekly cost.

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I've been a regular CTA user for 25 years and I have no idea how much a monthly pass costs. I've never bought one. I'm a pretty intense reader of the news, including news about fare hikes, and I still don't know. I also live in Chicago, not Evanston. It's silly. Ask the Tribune's editor how much a monthly pass is!

Beyond that, you know who's out-of-touch? Reporters! When Pritzker, in that same debate, said the cost of a week of child care was $150 to $400, my Twitter timeline filled up with journos howling about how much more expensive their care was than that. But statistics showed that Pritzker was right. I subsequently learned that the majority of those using child care, on salaries far lower than that of our local newspaper folk, use less than gold-plated services.

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P.S.:

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It's almost as if the media is working extra hard to write critically of Biss. I'd be satisfied with a serious vetting of his legislative record, but the stuff they're getting him on is ridiculous.

For another example, from an AP fact-check:

STATE SEN. DANIEL BISS: "Our financial sector has grown and grown and grown and the rest of the economy has shrunk and the rest of us are being overtaxed because we haven't figured out how to tax the financial sector," Biss said. "To say that we can't tax the financial sector is to say that we will continue overtaxing middle-class families and that I will never accept."

THE FACTS: Taxing financial transactions would be difficult to enforce in Chicago, the world's biggest center of trading in agricultural and financial futures and options.

Is it really a fact that a financial transaction tax would be difficult to enforce?

Biss wants to impose a new tax on the buying and selling of commodities and financial contracts traded on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and other exchanges, which he says could generate $10 billion to $12 billion annually. Kennedy and Pritzker say it isn't feasible.

Trading experts say imposing it would drive the hyper-competitive markets out of Illinois, something traders could do easily because most of the transactions are done electronically and the markets are global.

Of course "trading experts" say that. And maybe it's true - and maybe it's not! If it's true that the markets could operate anywhere because it's all electronic these days, why are they still here now? Wouldn't it be cheaper for, say, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to relocate to, say, Mississippi?

That point is underscored by what happened in 2011, when the CME Group Inc., which operates the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and other businesses, threatened to move from Illinois and got a tax break from the Legislature. Biss voted for the tax break as a state representative, which was estimated to have saved the exchanges about $85 million a year.

This is an argument taken up by Pritzker - and one that has, at least purportedly, mystified Biss, who points out that these are two separate issues. I think Biss is right!

First: "Biss says he supported the measure because, as part of the deal, the Legislature that same day approved a second measure that provided about $110 million in tax breaks for families, including an increase in Illinois' earned income tax credit."

Okay, so his argument there is that he accepted a compromise, I suppose. Personally, I don't like using, say, "tax breaks for families" to give cover to a corporate giveaway. I wouldn't have made that vote.

But when Kennedy complained in the last WTTW debate that Biss was being a hypocrite because he wanted to install a new tax to claw back what he supported giving away, well, that sounds savvy to me! Not only that, one can believe that one tax is unfair to a business and vote to give that business a break while believing that another tax on that business is appropriate to levy.

The coverage also ignores the fact that a financial transactions tax isn't some crazy idea that Biss thought up himself but an idea that has been around for a long time now, and has a fair amount of support.

Finally, what's crazier than a financial transactions tax is taking it off the table before starting, instead of bringing the exchanges to the table and exploring what can be done to create a fairer system for everyone.

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Even if you think Biss is hypocrite on the financial transactions tax, that's nothing compared to the hypocrisy of Pritzker and Kennedy on an issue of far more import: the (non-)release of their tax returns.

This video pretty much says it all:

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Biss is the policy wonk in the race.

From the Sun-Times' endorsement of Pritzker:

"We want to express our respect for the five other candidates, and we believe that one other in particular - state Sen. Dan Biss - could be a creative and effective governor. His command of the intricacies of public policy is unmatched."

If you sense a "but" coming, you're right . . .

"But, ultimately, Pritzker's achievements in both the private and public sectors overshadow Biss' more limited legislative achievements."

Really? Why not just tell us the truth instead of trying to rationalize a public policy argument.

"And, frankly, Pritzker offers Democrats their best chance to defeat Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner - or Rep. Jeanne Ives, Rauner's opponent - in the November general election. He has the funding (billionaires usually do), the organizational support and the responsibly progressive agenda."

Close, but no cigar. Let me fix your real argument for you.

"And, frankly, Pritzker offers Democrats their best chance to defeat Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner - or Rep. Jeanne Ives, Rauner's opponent - in the November general election. He has the funding (billionaires usually do), the organizational support and the responsibly progressive agenda.

Just say it. Own your choice. "Right now, getting Bruce Rauner out of office is more important than policy differences, expertise or any of the other traditional arguments we'd make when offering an endorsement. We can't afford to take any chances, and Pritzker's money offers us the most security in reaching our top goal: denying Rauner a second term." Just say it. It's not necessarily an unjust position. But don't cloak it in bullshit.

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I'm not even as bullish on Biss as that editorial is - I have far less confidence that he could be an effective and creative governor. I just hate the disingenuousness.

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On pensions: Then. Now.

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"I would say that my position has always been, 'There's the Pritzker-Madigan wing of the Democratic Party, there's the progressive independent wing of the Democratic Party,' " Biss said in an interview with the Tribune. "I've always been in the progressive independent wing, which means I've always been willing to work with any Democrat to advance the party's goals, including Democrats from my wing and the Democrats from the Madigan-Pritzker wing. And I've always been aggressive in intraparty fights to stand up for my vision of a grassroots Democratic Party."

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"After Biss launched his bid for governor, his mother contributed $100,000 to his campaign fund. His brother, a pianist, kicked in $20,000. "

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"What I say to folks is that a lot of politicians think they are the smartest person in the room, but Daniel is, in fact, the smartest person in the room," Northbrook Democrat Elaine Nekritz told the Tribune. "But he also listens well, cares to learn the details of policy, and those are qualities that are not always so obvious in other elected officials around the state."

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"Biss has called on Madigan to resign as state party chairman following questions about how the speaker handled harassment allegations against two of his top political operatives. Biss has criticized Pritzker for failing to demand that Madigan step down.

"Pritzker has noted that Biss voted for Madigan as speaker when Biss was in the House, and ran the Leading Illinois For Tomorrow super PAC, which was funded by Madigan and other top Democrats. The group ran ads seeking to tie Rauner and Illinois Republicans to Donald Trump. Other contributors included Pritzker, who gave $350,000, and Kennedy, who gave $50,000.

"Biss said he did not talk with Madigan about the super PAC effort, noting that doing so would be a violation of federal election laws. He bristles at the suggestion that working on the same side as Madigan in the past suggests 'there's a contradiction there.'

"'Not only is there not a contradiction, there's no sense in being a progressive independent Democrat if you're not also a Democrat, if you're not also willing to work with Democrats in support of the party's goals. There's not even a smidgen of tension. On the contrary, you've got to do the one if you're going to do the other,' Biss said.

"'My job is to win elections for Democrats in November, to win elections for progressive and independent Democrats in primaries, and advance those visions simultaneously and to work with everybody to advance an agenda that I think is good for the state of Illinois.'"

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Look, I don't even like Biss! But when I reviewed the coverage of the campaign for this post, I was struck by how often I thought he was treated unfairly by the media. Maybe that's the result of trying to be equally critical of each candidate - despite the fact that Kennedy and especially Pritzker have fare more to scrooten, to use a term coined by Richard M. Daley.

Or maybe it's the media's instinct to knock down anyone who expresses and kind of earnestness.

I just know that Biss's head-exploding exasperation during that last WTTW debate as two plutocrats who have refused to release their tax returns accused him of being the cynical poser we don't really know seemed awfully genuine to me.

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Biss's endorsements.

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See also:

* Illinois 2018 Primary Campaign Notebook 1: MAGA, Mendacity & Moby Mike.

* Illinois 2018 Primary Campaign Notebook 2: Chris Kennedy's Confusing Campaign.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on March 19, 2018


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