Daniel Biss, a state senator and former University of Chicago mathematician, announced his run for governor Monday. Credit: Biss for Illinois

Dan Biss, the state senator from Evanston, officially announced his candidacy for governor Monday with an unique twist—he criticized Illinois house speaker Michael Madigan.

Not harshly. Not even by name. More like—obliquely.

“We have a political system where billionaires and machine politicians are the ones who are listened to,” Biss said in his announcement. “That’s the system we have to change.”

Hey, it’s a start.

The first part of Biss’s statment is an obvious reference to Governor Bruce Rauner, the billionaire Republican all Democrats love to hate.

The second part refers to Madigan, the all-powerful speaker that Democrats don’t dare to hate. At least, not publicly.

Thus, Biss distinguishes himself from other Democratic gubernatorial candidates—Chris Kennedy, Alderman Ameya Pawar, and downstate school official Bob Daiber—who haven’t criticized Madigan. Even obliquely.

It also sort of puts him in line with Rauner, who rarely lets a day pass without blasting Madigan as the man responsible for all that’s wrong with the state.

The funny thing is, Biss already distinguishes himself from the other candidates without the swipe at Madigan as a former University of Chicago mathematics professor. I’ve known Illinois politicians who were good at stacking their money, but none of them were mathematicians.

So presumably Biss is the candidate to at least comprehend the enormity of the debt the state faces. We’ll hear what he has to say about what to do about it.

Not surprisingly, as soon as Biss announced, the state Republican Party, bankrolled by Rauner, issued a press release warning voters: “Don’t let his exterior fool you, [Biss] is a Mike Madigan accomplice who would give the governor’s office back to the Chicago Machine.”

Though, if you ask me, we’d be better off with the Chicago machine running the state as opposed to the nutcases currently in charge. At least the machine passed a budget. I know—the bar’s low.

In general, I have conflicted feelings about Madigan-bashing by Democrats. I must confess that I’ve done it—hell, I did it just the other day. But I get uncomfortable when Democrats start openly fighting among each other. It generally means that Republicans are gaining.

In this regard, I tend to view Madigan as “the goalie”—the only thing keeping Rauner from ransacking the state by giving huge tax breaks to the rich, cutting social programs for the poor, outlawing unions, and hastening the destruction of civilization as we know it.

Also, I remember the last time a liberal, gubernatorial Democratic candidate advanced his career by bashing the machine.

This was back in primary of 1972, when a lawyer named Daniel Walker—who’d made his name heading the committee investigating the riots at the 1968 Democratic convention—ran as an anti-machine crusader.

Oh my God, I realize this is ancient history.

Walker linked his opponent, Paul Simon, to LBJ, the war in Vietnam, Mayor Richard J. Daley—you name it.

At the time I was a 15-year-old student at Evanston Township High School, utterly obsessed with politics. And I liked Paul Simon. Not sure why—maybe it was the bow ties.

I told my mom—”Don’t fall for it, ma!”

Alas, she and my father voted for Walker, as did most of the liberal Democrats in Evanston.

Walker beat Simon, and eventually became one of the most ineffective governors in Illinois history. In 1976, Walker lost in the Democrat primary, so old man Daley got his revenge.

Michael Howlett, the Democrat who beat Walker in that primary, got clobbered in the general election by James Thompson. And that was it for Democratic governors in this state—until Rod Blagojevich won in 2002. Let’s not talk about Blago.

Of course, Paul Simon went on to become a great U.S. senator and—irony of ironies—one of my mom’s all-time-favorite politicians.

I spent at least a decade or so giving her grief for voting for Walker. Then the statute of limitations ran out and I dropped the subject.

Of course, the current Rauner Republicans barely resemble the Thompson Republicans of yesteryear. Those guys were relative moderates who tolerated unions and had no problems negotiating with the Madigans of the world.

Here’s hoping Biss is an improvement over Walker. We can’t afford to have both parties regressing.