MAIN STREET CLOSED, IN BOTH DIRECTIONS, BETWEEN UNIVERSITY AND ELMWOOD
GOP Candidates Square Off In Forum
The candidates have spoken.
The four men seeking the Republican nomination in this year's race for Illinois governor faced off in a debate on Thursday at the WTVP studios in Peoria.
State Senators Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, along with State Treasurer Dan Rutherford and businessman Bruce Rauner, are hoping for a chance to go head-to-head with the Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn this fall.
In what was, for the most part, an innocuous forum, three little words unveiled growing tensions between two of the candidates.
"Drip, drip, drip," said Sen. Dillard over and over again, describing the slow stream of news stories coming out against Rauner's business practices.
"His company is tied to nursing home deaths because of the way Bruce Rauner and his friends have invested in these homes, putting together a board of directors that didn't have anyone with any health related experience whatsoever," said Dillard, adding that "people have died" as a result of Rauner's "my way or the highway" management style.
Rauner didn't seem too worried about the accusations. Rather, he tried to use them as evidence that he is the man to shake up Springfield.
"I'm a threat to the status quo in this state. So there'll be stories. But you know what? None of them will stick," Rauner said.
Aside from that brewing rivalry, the candidates stuck to promoting their views and what they would bring the governor's office.
Following a cue from his campaign ads flooding TV channels right now, Rauner said his biggest asset is that, unlike the three other candidates, he's not a politician by trade.
"I like my opponents. They're good guys, they're nice, they're mostly pretty affable. But, you know, they've been down there [in Springfield] for decades. They're part of the problem," he said.
Sen. Dillard said current leadership simply spends too much time focusing on Chicago, and again took an opportunity to attack Rauner.
"Bruce Rauner and his friends have systematically sucked $1 billion out of downstate and suburban schools," Dillard said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Brady said the state is in desperate need of a fiscally conservative leader to lead Illinois out of what he described as a "horrific financial situation."
"But I also think we need someone who's compassionate, like George Bush was," Brady said, adding that he believes he can fit that bill.
Rutherford said his platform is not about veering one way or the other, politically speaking. He said his ability to cross the aisle makes him the best candidate, describing himself as a "reasonable Republican."
"Not with horns and a tail. It's important for those Republicans to say, 'Wow. Here's a guy who can really, really, do it.' Because I think Republicans are looking for a guy who can win this thing," Rutherford said.
One of the main focuses of each candidate's campaign is fixing the dire financial straits Illinois finds itself in now. In what is arguably the biggest issue the state faces, each of the four talked about their approaches to a solution.
Rutherford said a full review of state programs and agencies is the first step in finding an answer to Illinois' serious financial woes.
"Like I did in the Treasurer's office. I cut the budget of the State Treasurer's office by 2%, the next fiscal year 3%, and then 5% for a total of 10%. I've got the experience to do that," he said.
Rauner said he'd take a hard look at pension reform.
"I will advocate moving our government employees into a defined contribution plan for their future work, not changing their prior work. That could dramatically change the spending levels in the state," Rauner said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Dillard thought a constitutional amendment is what the state needs.
"We need a constitutional amendment that says the legislature must balance its budget, audited by the Auditor General, or they don't get paid," he explained.
Sen. Brady said the solution to the fiscal crisis, whatever it may be, will take a person willing to make tough decisions -- something he says he's had experience doing.
"Pension reform was number one. It wasn't easy to tell people who paid into the system that we were going to cut the way their pension grows. But it will save the taxpayers $190 billion and protect the interest of the pensioners while giving us $1.2 billion to meet the needs of the state in the very first year," he said.
As far as other issues the state faces, the candidates' views did not seem to vary widely.
On the topic of schools, Sen. Dillard again noted that the state focuses too much on Chicago, and not enough on more rural areas. Rauner says the gap between wealthy and poor districts needs to be closed in the school funding formula. Sen. Brady says he'd like to cut the state board of education, and instead let local communities control what goes on in districts. Rutherford also expressed an interest in giving local districts more control over tax dollars.
For medical marijuana, none of the candidates seemed interested in expanding the state's new pilot program to include recreational use. Although each of them said the issue was a "distraction" from other, more important issues.
Voters will pick one of the four in a primary election on Mar. 18. The winner goes on to face Gov. Quinn on Nov. 4.
Click here to watch WTVP's broadcast of the forum.