GOP governor rivals stay on message at debate

Updated 1/14/2010 5:19 AM

The seven Republican candidates for governor concentrated more on message than on mussing one another's hair in an hourlong debate at WLS-TV Channel 7 tonight.

All insisted that, if elected, they would hold the line on taxes and roll back any tax increase pushed through by Gov. Quinn this year.


Yet how they would do so and the leadership styles they projected were different.

Elmhurst's Jim Ryan depicted himself as an "independent", out of government for eight years, but with the skills from his earlier political career to lead. Naperville's Bob Schillerstrom touted his career reining in runaway government as chairman of the DuPage County Board, saying, "I've done it." Chicago's Andy McKenna brandished his record fighting Democrats as head of the state Republican Party.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale mentioned his ties to former Governor Jim Edgar - on almost every answer to a question. Although a state senator as well, Bloomington's Bill Brady kept emphasizing that he's a "conservative downstate businessman" who knows how to make government serve the economy. Chicago conservative commentator Dan Proft projected himself as ready to engage in a "street fight" against Democrats to effect radical change. And Hinsdale's Adam Andrzejewski boasted of being a political outsider and "policy heavyweight" with genuinely new ideas.

All agreed that the state is in a "crisis", with Ryan calling it a "defining moment" and that ethical reforms are necessary. Andrzejewski demanded transparency with all state spending posted online, and Schillerstrom said he'd done that in DuPage. Most agreed they would accept federal stimulus money unless it came with "strings attached."

There was little of the sniping, charges and countercharges that have typified other debates and forums among the group.

The most rankled they got was when McKenna was asked about his privileged upbringing. Dillard said he was the lone non-millionaire in the bunch, although Andrzejewski begged to differ, saying, "Kirk lives in Hinsdale just like me in a million-dollar house." Dillard insisted he was middle-class and that his home wasn't worth that much. All said they could identify with working men and women.

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"Yeah, like everybody else, I was born a poor black child, too," Proft concluded.

Otherwise, rhetoric was downplayed in favor of tough talk, although Schillerstrom indulged in a little of both by promising his new campaign slogan of a "Schiller storm."

McKenna said he'd "draw a line in the sand" to make state government live within its means, and Proft said he would not only hold the line on taxes, but cut them.

The sharpest divisions came between experienced and inexperienced politicians. "Governing is not an entry-level position," Dillard said.

"I don't have Illinois political experience," Andrzejewski countered. "That's what I'm running against."

"This is my first run for office," Proft admitted, "but it's not my first rodeo."

Ryan, McKenna and even Brady tried to have it both ways by depicting themselves as outsiders with an insider's political acumen.


In closing statements, Dillard reminded Republicans that they need to choose a winner in the Feb. 2 primary who is electable in November. Schillerstrom jumped on that, insisting it was him. "I'm a proven fiscal conservative," he added, "who is a social moderate, pro-choice. ... I am the candidate best able to bring Republicans back."

Yet Proft sounded the fiercest charge, calling Illinois Republicans "a party beset by fear" in recent years and concluding that he was out to "instill fear in Cook County Democrats for a change."

The debate was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Better Government Association.