It’s been nearly five months since Republican gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner and Gov. Pat Quinn last debated face-to-face.
On Tuesday, they sat close enough to knife each other – and the knives came out bloody.
In the side-by-side match up in a live-streamed Chicago Tribune Editorial Board session, the two men raised their voices, talked over one another and otherwise exchanged smoldering political accusations.
Rauner repeatedly likened Quinn to his imprisoned predecessor, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, while Quinn accused Rauner of building his wealth off the backs of the poor or disadvantaged and paying off various people to get personal benefits.
“The only difference between Pat and Rod is the hair,” Rauner said. “Those two are fundamentally the same when it comes to corruption, cronyism and patronage.”
Quinn, meanwhile, accused Rauner of paying off politicians to personally benefit himself, and dodging responsibility for lawsuits lodged against nursing home companies Rauner once owned.
“I think he’s made a fortune off of the misfortune of workers and everyday people,” Quinn said.
“My opponent gave a huge campaign donation to a candidate for governor in Pennsylvania … and in return got a huge investment for his pension fund. That is pay to play. He’s done this not only in Pennsylvania but elsewhere around the country.”
Rauner adamantly denied that and said he had only spoken to former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell about education. He turned the discussion back to Quinn, saying the governor failed to fire political workers who were placed in inappropriate, non-political positions within the Illinois Department of Transportation.
At one point, Quinn tried to shift responsibility to two of his former employees — Sean O’Shea and Jack Lavin — portraying them as the frontmen who made recommendations on hires from the governor’s office
And once again, Quinn turned the tables on Rauner, pointing to the indictment on fraud charges last month of two former employees of a subsidiary to a firm Rauner’s former private equity company helped found.
“With you, you hired someone … who perpetrated this large fraud on the people of our country and you take no responsibility,” Quinn said.
Each accused the other of not taking responsibility when things went bad on their watch.
Rauner accused Quinn of expanding patronage under his administration, describing the state’s Central Management Services agency as being a haven for political hires.
“He’s taken no action on it. Why? Because Central Management Services is a cesspool of cronyism and patronage,” Rauner said. “That’s where the machine, Springfield, Democratic patronage workers go. That organization, that bureaucracy is designed to maximize the number of people workin’ in it and the pay of the people workin’ in it. Pat Quinn won’t go after that because that’s the core of his campaign troops. … That’s incredibly wasteful.”
The meeting was the first since the two candidates squared off at a contentious Illinois Education Association forum in April. The home stretch of the campaign is expected to see a lighter debate schedule than typical for gubernatorial contests in Illinois. The next scheduled side-by-side exchange isn’t until an Oct. 9 League of Women Voters forum.
The two are locked in what’s expected to be a dead-heat race for Illinois governor. With the Nov. 4 election less than two months away, both campaigns have spent millions of dollars on TV ads and on building up their voting bases.
On Tuesday, Tribune editorial board members worked to pin down Rauner to offer specifics on how his proposal to slash the income tax, freeze property taxes yet increase school funding would add up. Rauner was asked whether he was asking voters to take his budget and educations plans on faith that he would find the money to fund them.
“We close corporate welfare loopholes, we reform our tax code, we cut wasteful spending, we put in regulatory changes to grow the economy,” Rauner said. “What you’ve got to know about me is I set a plan. …We’ve got to have the goals,” Rauner said. “Pat Quinn’s goals are to raise taxes. He is part of the same system that’s failed for decades. … he, Blagojevich and Madigan, that got us into this mess. I’m gonna get us out.”
Quinn jumped on Rauner’s budget plans, saying his proposal to cut income taxes equated to lower school funding.
“It’s all about arithmetic, Mr. Rauner, and you don’t know arithmetic,” Quinn spat. “You don’t want kids to learn arithmetic because you want to slash their budget in their schools.”
“When Pat Quinn wasn’t flip floppin’, he supported an even broader tax on sales services than even I’m recommending,” Rauner shot back. “He’s flip-flopping right now because it’s campaign election year, flip-flopping on the sales service tax.”
Rauner, who sought unsuccessfully to put a term limit question on the ballot, criticized Quinn for not championing the issue as governor.
“You’ve been in office six years, you could have pushed it as governor and driven results,” Rauner chided.
Quinn shot back that he had championed the issue in 1994 and accused Rauner of just discovering term limits when he was running for office.
“We got it on the ballot. We went to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court told us, they made it crystal clear what the rules are,” Quinn said. “This year, you completely ignored the Supreme Court rules, you got drop kicked out of court, now you’re blaming me. I was for term limits long before you!”