PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday March 5th, 2014, 11:35am

Illinois GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Debate Social Issues

The four Illinois GOP gubernatorial hopefuls faced questions about a number of social issues at a Tuesday night debate, ranging from the death penalty and women’s reproductive rights to helping ex-offenders reintegrate into society. Progress Illinois provides some highlights from the forum.

The four Illinois GOP gubernatorial hopefuls faced questions about a number of social issues at a Tuesday night debate, ranging from the death penalty and women’s reproductive rights to helping ex-offenders reintegrate into society.

Republican candidates for Illinois governor State Sens. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) and Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) also used the forum, held two weeks ahead of the primary election, to take jabs at frontrunner Bruce Rauner, a venture capitalist from Winnetka who said he wants to change the “corrupt culture” in Springfield by imposing term limits on state lawmakers.

Rauner, a first-time political candidate who reiterated that his rivals are “career politicians”, noted that his effort to place a state constitutional amendment about term limits on the November ballot has already collected 275,000 out of the 300,000 required signatures.

But Brady, who is making a third run for the governor's mansion, discounted Rauner’s claim about wanting to clean up Springfield.

“It amazes me that he talks about that, and he belittles every public servant we have in Springfield, and then when you look at the litany of articles about his past dealings, you find that he’s tied to more felons who are in jail than, I think, Rod Blagojevich,” Brady said at the forum, hosted by WMAQ-TV, the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics and the Harris School of Public Policy.

And Dillard said Rauner is the "king of all pay-to-play politics in the history of Illinois." He made those remarks to reporters after the debate, adding that Rauner is “the worst kind of insider,” pointing to the venture capitalist’s ties to former Springfield insider Stuart Levine, who is currently in prison on corruption charges.

Dillard also blasted Rauner for his effort to clout his daughter into the exclusive Walter Payton College Prep High School as well as his $300,000 donation to former Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell during the politician's campaign. Following Rendell's election, Rauner’s former private equity firm GTCR, which was managing pension funds for the state of Pennsylvania at the time, made an extra $4 million in profit after the state “doubled its stake in GTCR funds,” as first reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“He is the ultimate insider. The guy doing the buying. And that’s the worst kind of influence you can have,” Dillard said.

GTCR, which Rauner headed until 2012, has also been at the center of various abuse and neglect cases at nursing homes owned by the firm. Ahead of Tuesday’s forum, members of the Alliance for Retired Americans demonstrated outside of the Logan Center for the Arts, where the event was being held, to call attention to Rauner’s ties to the nursing home business.

Meanwhile, Rauner pushed back against his rivals during the debate, saying he is the only GOP candidate in the race for governor who has not taken money from “government union bosses.”

“The reason I’m being attacked by all three of my opponents, and [Gov.] Pat Quinn is spending $8 million now with his cronies attacking me in this race, accusing me of all kinds of false things, [is] because we’re winning,” Rauner added.

The venture capitalist is definitely winning when it comes to campaign funds. Rauner has so far donated $6 million in personal money to his campaign war chest, hitting a new record for the use of personal cash in an Illinois race for governor.

Getting to the issues, State Treasurer Dan Rutherford of Chenoa and the three other candidates vying for the GOP nomination for Illinois governor all said they are against a graduated income tax. And they are all in favor of reinstating the death penalty in the state, but only for the most serious of crimes when there is no doubt of guilt.

Back to the theme of “cleaning up Springfield,” both Brady and Rutherford agreed that they would like to see redistricting reform in the state so that political maps are drawn more fairly and are not gerrymandered to protect incumbents.

The candidates were asked if they would ever consider state legislation that would limit a woman’s ability to get an abortion.

Dillard, who is anti-abortion, responded “not from where it’s at now.” Rutherford, who is also against abortion, said he would have to review any such legislation before making a decision on the matter. And Rauner, who called abortion a “tragedy”, said he believes the government should not be involved in deciding whether or not women have access to the procedure.

“I don’t have a social agenda,” Rauner added. “I have a economic and education agenda. We’re going to lead a revolution in our state.”

For Brady's part, he noted that Quinn and "his allies" attacked him repeatedly over his anti-abortion position during his last bid for governor.

“I focus like a laser on economic opportunities, but they said, ‘Bill Brady will eliminate a woman’s right to choose,’ and I can’t do that as governor,” Brady said. “Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. On the other hand, I will do what I can to protect innocent human life.”

Meanwhile, Rauner was one of the candidates asked about whether he thinks the Affordable Care Act is working in Illinois.

“Unfortunately, I think Obamacare is going to end up dwarfing our pension problem as financial disaster for the state,” Rauner responded. “It’s causing undue burden on our taxpayers it’s causing unemployment to rise. It’s causing part-time work to go up, full-time work to go down … We’ve got to step back key elements of it.”

The topic of charter schools was also discussed. Brady said charters, which are independently run but receive public money, “bring about competition” and choice. 

Although Rutherford said charters have a place in the state’s educational system, he said public dollars should not be used to fund them. Dillard agreed with Rutherford, adding, “when you have a charter school that’s not performing, you ought to shut it down.”

Rauner, who is a vocal proponent of charters, said the schools provide options for parents.

“Charter schools are public schools,” he stressed. “They deserve to have public support as competitive alternatives to standard schools, and we can hold them accountable by looking at objective test scores.”

Regarding helping ex-offenders re-enter into society, Rutherford said incarcerated individuals should be able to read and have some form of vocational training and education before they leave the prison system.

He added that it is “imperative that we work with those who are incarcerated to help them have beyond a sixth-grade education level, that they have the capacity to read, because the recidivism rate is too high,” Rutherford said. “If you are a felon walking out that door at Pontiac or one these other [correctional centers] and you can’t read and you’ve got a sixth-grade education, you’re coming back.”

Additionally, Rutherford was questioned about the taxpayer-funded report he commissioned, which looked into the sexual harassment allegations made against him by a former treasurer’s office employee. Asked if the report should be released to the public, Rutherford said ‘no’ because there is a federal lawsuit pending that has been filed against him by the former employee. Among other allegations, the former employee has accused Rutherford in the lawsuit of going into his bedroom and grabbing his genitals during a 2011 overnight office retreat that was held at the state treasurer's home in Pontiac.

“The report is not going to be released,” Rutherford stressed at the forum.

At one point, the candidates were asked if they would invite a same-sex couple to spend the night at the governor’s mansion, if they were elected.

In response, Rutherford jokingly said “in their own room,” which was met with laughter from the audience. (In addition to the federal sexual harassment lawsuit that has dogged Rutherford's campaign, the state treasurer has previously said that he has slept in the same room with his executive assistance on many occasions as a way to save on campaign costs).

The four GOP candidates are set to square off again Wednesday night at a debate sponsored by the Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV. 

In the Democratic gubernatorial primary race, Quinn, who is running for re-election, is being challenged by anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman.

Image: University of Chicago

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