Gov. Bruce Rauner sat down for his only scheduled “debate” with primary challenger Jeanne Ives on Monday and was hit with a flurry of accusations on everything from abortion to trust to Ives’ argument that “the governor’s gotten nothing done.”
Rauner took the state representative’s barbs in stride, blowing many off as “baloney.”
The contentious joint appearance came before the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board. Ives appeared at the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board last week. And the governor plans to appear alone at the Sun-Times next week.
Ives supported Rauner when he first ran for governor in 2014, but on Monday she portrayed him as a failure.
“I understood very quickly that Gov. Rauner isn’t who he, who I thought he was. … I just saw him for what he was. He was ineffective, didn’t go and try to get things done that he could have gotten done … and then he doubled down on just ridiculing you if you were a social conservative.”
“Oh, come on,” Rauner interrupted.
“And financially hurting us,” Ives said.
“Come on,” Rauner replied again.
The lack of primary debates is not what Ives had sought. The Wheaton conservative has urged the governor to do more. But Rauner’s re-election campaign is focused squarely on two big targets: Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker and Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan. Pritzker, the billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist, has been running ads targeting Rauner since last year.
Ives argued that Rauner has failed in his battle against Madigan and Mayor Rahm Emanuel — who Ives described as the governor’s “wine-sipping buddy Rahm.”
But Rauner argued that a vote for Ives is essentially a vote for Madigan.
“Rep. Ives knows that I have battled corruption from Day One and made major strides,” Rauner told the Tribune Editorial Board. “And the bottom line is Speaker Madigan would like nothing more than Rep. Ives to be the primary victor and to have a run against Pritzker,” Rauner said.
“He would love nothing more because I am on the only person at this table that can beat Pritzker in November. And we will beat Pritzker in November because we are fighting for everyone. This is not about Republicans versus Democrats. This is about taking power away from Madigan, giving it back to the people of Illinois, and we will win.”
Rauner said “nobody has fought harder” against corruption, and “Madigan and his cronies. He, too, called Pritzker “Madigan’s hand-picked candidate” and “Madigan’s bag man for funding that whole corruption culture.”
Ives, a social and fiscal conservative, entered the race last fall while attacking Rauner’s signing of a bill that expanded taxpayer funding of abortions, and for another that limits local cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
“Republicans across the state don’t trust him. He’s betrayed everything that we stand for. He’s not elected. He will not be elected. … I’ve traveled the state. They’re mad that he made us a sanctuary state. They’re mad that he put in taxpayer funding of abortion. They’re mad that he won’t say our president’s name,” Ives said. “He will not be elected.”
Rauner fought back on the criticism of his signing of the abortion measure, arguing he’s always been focused on fiscal issues over social ones.
“I don’t focus on social issues. Social issues divide us. We need to be united,” Rauner said, while asking Ives to stop interrupting him. “We need to be united to fix our economic problems. That bill passed in the General Assembly, and I signed it because I support a woman’s right to decide.”
Ives brought out a greatest hits of attacks throughout the hour-long session. She accused Rauner of “lying” to Cardinal Blase Cupich over the abortion measure, to which Rauner could be heard saying, “that’s outrageous.”
“I publicly said that was being explored. And there was a lot of politics, a lot of pressure. In the end, I had to do what I believe is right, not do politics. And I signed that bill because I believe in a woman’s right’s to decide,” Rauner said.
Ives also accused the governor of abandoning conservatives and lacking any significant accomplishments during his first term.
“He hasn’t transformed Illinois right now. … He’s picking on Mike Madigan again, and it’s because he’s said he’s not in charge. Gov. Rauner said he’s not in charge, and he’s acted like he’s not in charge. And so this is the result. Nothing gets done. Now, it’s interesting he wants to pretend that this primary battle is just about Mike Madigan. But the truth is his base has left him, he will be Mark Kirk’ed out of office because nobody trusts him anymore,” Ives said.
Kirk, a moderate Republican, easily won a 2016 primary challenge, but was defeated in the November election by Democrat Tammy Duckworth.
Ives is seeking to create a divide among social conservatives, many of whom remain upset at the governor over his signing of House Bill 40, the abortion bill, and the Illinois Trust Act, the immigration bill.
Rauner brushed off Ives’ many criticisms, touting his work with an education funding bill, and his continued work to fight the “cronyism” of state politics.
“The education funding bill that we achieved was a bipartisan, historic achievement to approve education in the state of Illinois. … I fought to achieve that reform, led the effort and we achieved and it’s historic and it’s great. Is it perfect? No. But it’s great progress on a bipartisan basis,” Rauner said, adding students now have school choice and equal per pupil funding for charter schools.
He also argued why a second-term would be different.
“Not only will I be able to block gerrymandering from Madigan this time, but I led the effort to get two lawsuits heading to the U.S. Supreme Court. One’s there now, and one will be [there] a year from now. These two lawsuits will transform Illinois and other states that are run by corrupt groups that make their money from government,” Rauner said.
The governor was also asked why he’s continuing to target Madigan publicly, and whether that’s a good strategy. Rauner, calling Madigan a “crook,” said the only way to defeat him is to work through his caucus.
“I know him very well. He doesn’t care about policy. For him it’s all about power and money. He cares about political strategy. Everything he does is about political strategy. The way to work with him, through him is through his caucus. It’s through his members in the General Assembly who are underneath him,” Rauner said, adding he’ll push to get “reform-minded Democrats and reform-minded Republicans” to sign a pledge to not vote for Madigan as speaker and to put term limits on the ballot.
After the debate, Rauner’s campaign said “polling has shown” Rauner is beating Ives — “up by 50 points” — while also noting the millions of dollars the governor has on hand.
The campaign, too, said it’s in “general election mode and focused on defeating Pritzker and the Madigan Machine.”