Gov. Bruce Rauner officially picked up a Republican primary challenger Monday, but the governor instead kept his focus on Democratic nemesis Mike Madigan — comparing the House speaker’s party to a “mafia protection racket” and arguing that it’s Madigan who’s actually “in charge” of the state.
“He’s been in charge for 35 years. The guy’s become a millionaire off of high property taxes in the state,” Rauner said of Madigan, while also accusing the speaker of “holding businesses in Chicago hostage.”
Rauner spoke just minutes after state Rep. Jeanne Ives told reporters at a separate briefing that she was heading to Springfield to file to run against Rauner, whom she accused of running as a “conservative reform governor” but turning out to be a “an Ivy League gender studies professor.”
But Rauner brushed off questions about his new primary rival, preferring to talk about Madigan.
The governor blamed the speaker for “rigging” the Democratic primary. There have been rumblings for months that Madigan has been drumming up behind-the-scenes support for his preferred candidate, J.B. Pritzker, although his spokesman had denied that.
“He has rigged the system. He controls it. It’s a mafia protection racket. And until he’s gone, we aren’t going to fix Illinois. We’re not going to have a good future,” the governor said.
If the speaker is “in charge,” has the governor been in charge since taking office in 2015?
“I wish I had. We would have had our problems fixed. Illinois would be on a great future. We’d have 20,000 more jobs in the state. We would have had lower property taxes in the state. We would have had term limits in the state if I was in charge. I am not in charge. I’m trying to get to be in charge,” Rauner said.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown called the governor’s “mafia” comparison “incoherent.”
“I don’t know how that could be rigged if you got many, many candidates running,” Brown said. “It would seem to be incoherent.”
And asked about the speaker being “in charge,” Brown questioned state contracts and Rauner’s role in them, including controversy over the state renting out a Springfield warehouse to store records from the Department of Human Services and a consulting contract the Rauner administration doled out regarding the state’s Medicaid overhaul.
“If he’s not in charge, we got to find out who gave out the kinky contract to the guys who lease the Barney’s furniture warehouse. And who gave out the kinky contract to McKinsey to do God knows what,” Brown said. “If he didn’t do it, there’s someone handing out and spending a lot of money. It’s kind of crazy.”
The “Blame Madigan” comments show that the Southwest Side Democrat will remain the focal point of Rauner’s re-election campaign.
When the governor was asked about Ives filing to run against him in the primary, Rauner brushed it off as part of a “process” — mentioning that former Gov. Jim Edgar had a primary challenger too.
“You get some fringe elements or whatever coming in,” Rauner said, declining to say whether he believes Ives is a “fringe” candidate
Ives announced her candidacy in the March primary on Sunday. The Wheaton Republican spoke to reporters in Chicago on Monday morning before driving to Springfield to officially file her petitions with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Ives is banking on the support of conservatives — some of whom are upset with Rauner for signing a measure that expands the taxpayer funding of abortions. Prior to signing House Bill 40, there were no serious challengers to the governor in the primary. Ives has portrayed the governor’s support of the bill as a betrayal of his party. And she’s not just focusing on that decision.
In her announcement in Wheaton on Sunday, Ives cited Rauner’s support for a bill she said made Illinois a “sanctuary state” for illegal immigrants and another bill making it easier for transgender people to change the sex designation on their birth certificates as more proof that he’s not following conservative principles.
“Bruce Rauner did not fight Mike Madigan. He signed into law the Chicago Democrats’ holy grails of public policy,” Ives said. “Rauner didn’t turn us around. He sold us out to Mike Madigan.”
“Our self respect as Republicans and commitment to conservative principles demand that he not win,” Ives said.
Ives, too, mentioned the governor gracing the cover of the National Review’s December issue with the dubious headline “The Worst Republican Governor in America.” She’s banking on a conservative backlash against the governor, and the March primary will be a true test of whether there’s enough opposition.
But Rauner laughed off that criticism on Monday, calling the National Review article a “political hit piece.”
“I pay no attention to this. People know that Madigan blocked a lot of the reforms,” Rauner said. “It’s not journalism. It’s a political hit piece. It’s part of the process.”
In making her campaign official, Ives — who was a vocal supporter of Rauner on the House floor for years — explained that she was “wrong” for backing him in the 2014 election.
“The tough-talking dude on a Harley with no social agenda turned out to [be] an empty Carhartt jacket. We were promised a conservative reform governor,” Ives said. “Instead we got an Ivy League gender studies professor. Benedict Rauner betrayed us at every turn.”
Ives has about $323,000 cash on hand in her campaign fund. She’ll have to combat Rauner’s astounding $65.7 million.
Asked on Monday about her fundraising goal, Ives said she didn’t have one: “As much as I can get,” adding she would welcome contributions from Lake Forest business magnate and mega Republican donor Richard Uihlein. Uihlein last week raised some eyebrows for contributing to a political action committee paying for ads in support of embattled GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore.
Uihlein personally donated $2.6 million to Rauner’s 2014 run for governor. Uihlein tossed in an additional $350,000 to a Rauner-allied group seeking to turn out the vote for Rauner by pushing a term-limits drive.
“If he gives it to me, you bet,” Ives said of Uihlein. “He’s a guy who likes liberty. I’m all about that.”
By the close of the filing period Monday, seven Democrats filed to run for governor: Pritzker, businessman Chris Kennedy, state Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston, Madison County schools Supt. Bob Daiber, anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman, Burr Ridge physician Robert Marshall and Terry Getz of Downstate Dupo.