SPRINGFIELD -- Rich Whitney, the 2006 Green Party candidate for governor who got about 10 percent of the statewide vote in November, says problems that Democrats are having crafting a state budget this summer will help his party draw candidates and support in 2008 elections.

By BERNARD SCHOENBURG


POLITICAL WRITER


 


SPRINGFIELD -- Rich Whitney, the 2006 Green Party candidate for governor who got about 10 percent of the statewide vote in November, says problems that Democrats are having crafting a state budget this summer will help his party draw candidates and support in 2008 elections.


“In light of the recent breakdown in the functioning and lack of direction in our state government, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Democratic Party of Illinois for doing its part to help ensure that Green Party candidates will do well in the 2008 election cycle,” Whitney said at a Statehouse news conference.


“I don’t know that Rich was much of a factor in the last election,” responded Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, who also chairs the state Democratic Party. “And I think if that’s the kind of rhetoric he’s going to be using going forward, he won’t be much of a factor in the next election.”


Whitney said that the problem starts with Gov. Rod Blagojevich, “who wants the image of being a progressive.”  While  Whitney supports a single-payer universal insurance program, for example, he said the governor’s proposed “Illinois Covered” insurance initiative would increase private health insurance sales, “catering to the same special interests who are largely responsible for the health-care crisis in the first place.”


Whitley also said Blagojevich’s introduction of a gross-receipts tax on businesses was “fraught with problems,” while Whitney said a bill he has supported to increase income taxes and reduce property taxes is “a way out of the budget morass.”


Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said the governor has been “very clear” against an income tax increase because “he just doesn’t think raising taxes on working families is the right thing to do.”


“We’re very comfortable with Illinois Covered, and we’re very committed to it,” she added. “We’ve been working all session to build consensus on the bill. We think there’s nothing more fundamental than giving Illinoisans access to affordable and comprehensive health insurance.”


Because Whitney got more than 5 percent of the vote for governor in 2006, the Green Party is now considered an established party in the state, easing ballot-access rules for its candidates. Phil Huckelberry of Chicago, chair of the party’s government and elections committee, said that while the median number of nominating-petition signatures needed by a Green Party congressional candidate in Illinois in 2006 was more than 12,000, that median number for the 2008 election will be less than 100.


“Our ability to place candidates on the ballot has increased exponentially,” Huckelberry said. “Interest on the part of party members and people coming to the party to run for office is also increasing exponentially.”


Huckelberry and Whitney both noted that Democratic majorities in Congress haven’t stopped the war in Iraq or dealt with other problems — also helping people pick the Green Party.


Whitney, a Carbondale attorney, estimated that the party has about 1,000 dues-paying members in the state, about double the number before Whitney’s gubernatorial campaign.


Whitney said he does not plan to seek any office in 2008, but will help other candidates.


Whitney is a long-ago member of the Socialist Labor Party, but says now, “I’m a Green, not a socialist.”


“The best parts of the socialist tradition, like the best part of many traditions, find their way into the Green Party,” he said. “But we’re not a socialist party by any stretch of the imagination.”


 


Bernard Schoenburg can be reached at (217) 788-1540 or bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com.