Daniel Biss meet and greet, April 30, 2017

I had the chance to speak to state Senator Daniel Biss for a few minutes today. He’s a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor. (Thanks for the invite, Megan Kuhlenschmidt.)

Biss struck me as a smart, genuine progressive. More importantly, he seemed ready to admit that the problems we face are going to be complicated, painful, and expensive to solve. This wasn’t just rhetoric. It was core to his vision of how he would act if elected. Budget talk was, unsurprisingly, at the heart of the matter.

Biss’ pitch is that Illinois will have to stop being cynical about their politics — earned though that cynicism might be — in order to succeed. People will have to push their representatives to better work and real solutions. The General Assembly will feel that pressure; representatives will forced into action. Mike Madigan, a machine politician interested only in the now, will find it politically expedient to act, and a realistic, forward-looking budget will be passed.

Long-term, Biss argues, Illinois requires a progressive income tax that would have higher rates for citizens who are more wealthy. Shifting to a progressive income tax would provide the financial wherewithall to “focus first on what the next generation needs and invest in every community in Illinois.”

The people will prevail, and the politicians will be forced to do what the people want rather than feathering their nests and seeing their way through to the next election on obstinance and partisanship.

There’s a lot of Bernie Sanders and the magic of movement politics in that worldview. But overly optimistic beats the heck out of the political nihilism we see in Illinois and the nation.

Many have given up on the possibility of good government and left the field of play. Others outright hate government and are simply out to destroy it in a Randian fever dream. But we are not ungovernable, and we are not broke. The politics aren’t bad because the finances are bad. Instead, the finances are bad because the politics are bad. Solve one, and you solve the other.

We need higher expectations and higher aspirations of our politics and of ourselves as citizens.