Former Republican state senator joins race to oust Pritzker, arguing he better understands voters’ struggles
Former state Sen. Paul Schimpf cloaked himself in the mantle or former President Ronald Reagan, but Democrats dismissed him as more in the mold of Donald Trump and former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
SPRINGFIELD — A veteran of the Marine Corps who spent four years in the state Senate and made an unsuccessful Republican bid for attorney general kicked off his campaign for governor on Monday, portraying himself as someone who better understands “the struggles that the people of Illinois face.”
The second Republican to enter the race to challenge Gov. J.B. Pritzker, former state Sen. Paul Schimpf sought to distance himself from the Democratic governor on both policy and life experience.
“I know what it feels like to wake up in the middle of the night wondering how my wife and I are going to pay for our kids’ education or what the next property tax increase is going to do to our family budget,” Schimpf said.
The Waterloo Republican cloaked himself in the mantle or former President Ronald Reagan, but Democrats dismissed him as more in the mold of Donald Trump and former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Schimpf made his announcement via videoconference, beginning a day of traveling the state with planned stops in Algonquin, Rock Island and Morris Monday and Decatur, Morris and his southern Illinois hometown of Waterloo Tuesday.
“My vision for Illinois involves a return to responsible government, safe communities and economic growth in a free market,” Schimpf said. “We need a governor who welcomes and insists upon legislative oversight of his administration.”
A U.S. Naval Academy graduate and Marine Corps veteran, Schimpf was an outspoken advocate for veterans in the Senate. In 2005, Schimpf served as the chief American adviser in the trial of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps.
Beginning in 2004, Schimpf was a judge advocate, or military attorney, at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, Calif.
He was elected to the state Senate in 2017, retiring in January ahead of his run for governor.
“More important than all those experiences, however, is the perspective that I will bring to the governor’s office,” he said. “For far too long, we have had literally governors who were either career politicians or wealthy corporate executives who couldn’t understand or empathize with the struggles that the people of Illinois face.”
He touched on a number of issues that have been lynchpins of Republican legislative dissent in recent years and weeks, arguing a governor should “give clear unambiguous support to the law enforcement community.”
He also addressed Illinois’ tax burden, quoting Ronald Reagan and stating Illinois needs a governor who “understands those day-to-day challenges that we all face” and who will “stand up to the entrenched special interest groups that have done so much damage to our state.”
While Schimpf tied himself to popular Republican icon Reagan, Illinois Democrats quickly sought to tie Schimpf to Trump and Rauner, a one-term governor who presided over a two-year budget impasse that saw the state’s backlog of unpaid bills balloon to over $16 billion.
Mary Morrissey, executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois, referred to Schimpf as a “Rauner/Trump acolyte” in a statement.
“Schimpf was a consistent vote for Bruce Rauner’s catastrophic agenda, even going along with his attempts to continue the historic budget crisis that resulted in Illinois going 736 days without a budget,” Morrissey said. “He supported Donald Trump’s re-election, even after the former President failed at his central task of keeping Americans safe by lying about the dangers of the coronavirus and instead promoting conspiracy theories.”
Schimpf’s biography touted his vote against the compromise budget that raised the state’s flat income tax and ended the two-year budget impasse in 2017.
Kristina Zahorik, president of the Illinois Democratic County Chairs’ Association, referred to Schimpf as “Rauner 2.0” and “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Schimpf, however, emphasized an “every man” image, distancing himself from the billionaire Pritzker and multi-millionaire Rauner.
He said he expects to do better than he did in his last statewide run in 2014, when he challenged former Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan and lost by nearly 800,000 votes, gaining 37.8% of the total ballots cast.
“I did not have enough financial resources to get my message out,” he said.
His political fund had $149,529 in the bank as of Feb. 15, according to campaign database Illinois Sunshine.
“I know that Gov. Pritzker has a lot of resources. I don’t expect to be able to match him dollar for dollar, but I do expect to be able to get my message out with a lot of hard work. I do expect to be able to win this race.”
Schimpf joins businessman Gary Rabine, who is chairman and founder of the paving, roofing and snow removal company Rabine Group, in announcing candidacies for governor.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.