A former Republican state legislator and veteran of two past GOP gubernatorial administrations said Wednesday he’s weighing a bid to join the field of candidates vying for the chance to unseat Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
Kirk Dillard, who is currently the chairman of the Regional Transportation Agency’s board of directors, said in a statement Wednesday people “whom I respect and whose opinions I value reached out to me” and asked him to consider running to “restore political balance to Illinois and make it safe and function well again.
“They also believe I am a Republican who can win a general election as the ‘Sun Times’ once opined,” Dillard’s statement continued. “I owe it to them, the people of Illinois and to my family to carefully listen. Currently, I am laser focused on getting the northeastern Illinois transportation system through a pandemic.”
Dillard served as chief of staff to former Gov. Jim Edgar and legislative affairs director for former Gov. James R. Thompson. The Hinsdale Republican also served in the state Senate from 1993 until he resigned in 2014.
The former DuPage County Republican Party chairman ran for governor in 2010 and 2014. In his first run, the Sun-Times endorsed Dillard in the GOP primary and incumbent Pat Quinn in the Democratic primary. In 2014, the newspaper made no gubernatorial endorsement in the GOP primary.
In that later run, Dillard lost to Bruce Rauner by three percentage points in the GOP primary. Rauner beat incumbent Quinn in the general election that year, but lost four years later to Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker.
Those already in the field offered mixed responses to Dillard’s potential entry.
Former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, who launched his gubernatorial bid in February, said he would welcome Dillard’s entry into the field. The former senator from Waterloo said he considers Dillard “a friend and a good public servant.”
“I think having multiple candidates in the Republican primary is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Schimpf said. “It sends a message that a lot of people believe Pritzker is beatable, and if you have numerous, robust campaigns more people are going to get the message that J.B. Pritzker is a catastrophic failure and doesn’t deserve to be reelected.”
Asked if he’s concerned that another Republican entering the race could mean fewer dollars, and votes, coming his way, Schimpf said he’s “not afraid” of the competition.
Suburban businessman Gary Rabine, who is also running for governor, said in a statement Dillard was “a fine State Senator, and he has served our state with distinction, but he has already run for Governor multiple times.
“With all due respect, what Illinois needs is not yet another member of the political class running our state,” Rabine’s statement continued. “We know what the failed policies of the political class has done to this state and voters are tired of it.
“We need a true outsider. We need someone who understands how to solve problems and someone who has extensive private sector experience. I am the only outsider in this race and the entrance of Senator Dillard in the race would not change that. Illinois needs a new direction and that will not happen with career politicians at the helm.”
A spokesman for state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, said in a statement the state’s residents are “are hungry for someone who will stand up for working families and fight for them.”
Bailey launched his bid for the governor’s mansion in February.
“The political establishment will have their choice and the regular people will have theirs,” Joe DeBose, Bailey’s spokesman, said. “If [Dillard] decides to join the race, I have a feeling the result will be the same as the last two times he ran.
“Our campaign is building a movement to fight for working people and I believe with their help, Senator Bailey will win and give them the strong voice they need in Springfield.”