DECATUR — Gubernatorial candidate Ameya Pawar has seen and heard all about division in the state, and country as a whole.
But for the Democratic alderman from Chicago and gubernatorial candidate, the time has come for people to unite for a common goal of progressive achievement.
“When you actually break it down, people understand that we all rise and fall together,” he said. “They also understand that the system is rigged against them by the middle class working against the working class versus the poor. The truth is the people who rig the system are the ones who benefit from the rigged system.”
Pawar and his running mate, Cairo Mayor Tyrone Coleman, took to the Decatur Civic Center on Thursday afternoon as part of a four-day, 14-city tour of the state Pawar and Coleman are taking in the next week. They're touting a "new deal" for Illinois, a reference to the government programs undertaken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression.
Pawar is one of a handful of Democrats that seek to win next March’s primary and have the chance to take on incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Other Democratic candidates include businessmen J.B. Pritzker and Chris Kennedy, state Sen. Daniel Biss, Madison County School Regional Superintendent Bod Daiber and Chicago community organizer Tio Hardiman.
Pawar said after the town hall that he knows it’s important to visit all parts of Illinois to meet people and show he is serious about the fight for a more progressive state.
“There is going to be some built-up image about who I am and what I represent given Chicago’s politics,” he said. “But when you get into a room together and we talk about the new deal, we talk about our state’s history and our common humanity, it’s hard to assign a caricature about me. I have the same values as most people do, and vice versa.
“Showing up and organizing is the hard work that Democrats haven’t done in a long time, and that’s why we’re taking our time traveling around the state.”
Pawar said he would support capital projects, such as improved infrastructure or facilities such as a new trauma center that could benefit an entire region.
To fund those projects, Pawar said it would be necessary to change the state’s current flat tax to a bracketed tax system in which those who earn more money would pay a higher percentage of taxes. Illinois is one of only eight states with a flat income tax.
The change would require a constitutional referendum, though Pawar suggested that it could be accomplished by state lawmakers as long as certain exemptions are in place. He said a progressive income tax would act as a tax cut for those in the middle class and lower.
“It’s just the wealthy that have been able to skate by without paying their fair share,” Pawar said.
While he acknowledged many policy similarities between the Democratic candidates, Pawar said he’s focused more on the unity aspect and less on finding people to blame for economic woes.
“We’re talking about race and class ... and how Rauner and (President Donald) Trump are dividing us,” Pawar said. “And until we unite around each other and our state, they’re going to keep dividing us and driving wedges between us so we don’t ever force a more progressive vision.”