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GOP gov candidates — minus Rauner — make chess moves at forum: Mark Brown

llinois state Treasurer Dan Rutherford  |  M. Spencer Green/AP

llinois state Treasurer Dan Rutherford | M. Spencer Green/AP

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VIDEO: High school students question GOP gov candidates at Channel 11 forum
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Updated: February 22, 2014 6:33AM

Bruce Rauner skipped a pretty interesting candidate forum Monday with his three Republican rivals for governor—Bill Brady, Kirk Dillard and Dan Rutherford — during which high school students asked the questions.

Rauner is planning to skip many more such get-togethers between now and the March primary, which is his right as a candidate and arguably even smart campaign strategy, given his advantage in reaching voters directly with his television commercials.

Still, if he was going to be selective about which events to attend, I think a candidate who is billing himself as being all about the schoolchildren might have made time to hear from some of the most engaged students the Chicago area has to offer.

The forum was hosted by WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight” program with an audience composed entirely of students from the Mikva Challenge program, which you have seen me praise in this space many times previously for its work engaging young people in civic affairs.

With Rauner citing a scheduling conflict, the students gave the other three candidates a pretty good workout on the issues and even came up with an imaginative curveball or two.

All the candidates seemed to open the door to reinstating the death penalty in Illinois, and all slammed it shut to the possibility of softening the state’s marijuana laws if they were governor.

They all say they want the state’s temporary income tax increase to expire on schedule at the end of the year, but Rutherford seems to want to leave himself some wiggle room.

“I don’t want it to stay, but there may need to be some discussion of revenue on the table,” Rutherford said. “But I will tell you as your governor, young man, I will not sign any new revenue into law without there being a comprehensive resolution to the financial situation of the state of Illinois.”

I expect we’ll hear more about that later.

My favorite question was one of those aforementioned curveballs, posed by a Maine East senior: Which chess piece best represents how you will govern if elected?

Dillard had the misfortune of answering first and meandered around a moment before “Chicago Tonight” host Phil Ponce made him choose.

“I will be the king in a governing way, using the pawns and everyone else for input, I mean, not using them as pawns, but making sure their voices are heard,” decided Dillard, who earlier in the campaign had chided Rauner for his kingly ways.

Rutherford chose next.

“The bishop,” he said, “and the reason the bishop is, I think the rook goes straight down. He’s got tunnel vision. I think the bishop has got an opportunity to navigate and negotiate and to be able to be on both sides to work to consensus.”

Brady, who says he’s a chess player, agreed with me that it was an excellent question.

“I choose the knight,” Brady said. “I think we’re going to have to have some flexibility, and we’re going to need a governor who can manipulate his way through the chessboard in a very deliberate way to get the job done.”

Earlier, Brady came up with his own curveball.

Asked what he would do to address the environmental threat of the Asian carp reaching Lake Michigan, Brady found something new to blame on Gov. Pat Quinn.

“I guess the lieutenant governor is in charge of Illinois’ riverways and waterways, and we’ve got Pat Quinn to blame partly for the problem we have. He didn’t seem to focus on it,” referring to Quinn’s prior post.

I’m not sure that will hold water.

The challenge for Brady, Dillard and Rutherford right now is to emerge as the legitimate challenger to Rauner as much as a legitimate challenger to Quinn.

With Rauner absent, there was very little “Beat up Brucey,” as Rauner described the criticisms from his opponents in a debate last week.

Three Mikva students who stayed behind to speak with me — Marisol Diaz of Hancock, Sharaka Berry of Westinghouse and Joel Spiegel of Stevenson — said it was Rauner’s loss to have missed out on hearing about what interested them, as well as missing out on a chance to win their votes.

A new Illinois law allows 17-year-olds to vote in the primary as long as they will turn 18 by the general election in November.

The candidate who they all agreed stood out: Rutherford.

“He didn’t shy away from the questions,” Spiegel said.

Then again, they all conceded they plan to vote in the Democratic primary.


Twitter: @markbrown

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