Pritzker elected Illinois governor over GOP incumbent Rauner
CHICAGO -- Democrat J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire who campaigned on moving Illinois past the political bitterness of the past four years, was elected governor Tuesday over Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, declaring, "We make no small plans."
The 53-year-old heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, who largely self-financed a campaign to his first elective office, rode to victory on the unpopularity of an incumbent whose legacy will be his role in a record-long budget standoff with a Democratic-controlled Legislature.
Greeting supporters, Pritzker invoked the theme of a state rising above hardship and long odds, from rebuilding Chicago after the 1871 fire to catapulting home-state hero Barack Obama to become the first black president.
"That is Illinois, full of light that comes from the people who endure and overcome struggle," Pritzker said. "That light brought triumph tonight."
The triumph appeared complete. Democrats won every statewide race and were on their way to maintaining healthy majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate. It was an appropriate outcome, Pritzker said, for a party where immigrants and minorities and women help build a "bigger table."
"Who we are is how we overcome our biggest challenges," Pritzker said. "We ... recognize that there is grace and courage and pride in the struggle to rise. And ladies and gentlemen, rise we will. We make no small plans for the state of Illinois."
Rauner, a 61-year-old former private equity investor whose campaign bravado four years ago included the contention that a government shutdown might be in order to get Illinois back on track, became only the fourth Illinois governor since 1900 to win and serve just one four-year term before being ousted. Incumbents lost in 1912 and 1972, and a sitting governor was defeated in a 1976 primary.
Rauner conceded the race less than an hour after polls closed, sounding a clarion call of teamwork often missing from his heated tilts with Democrats in Springfield.
"Now we stand not as Republicans or Democrats, we stand as the people of Illinois," Rauner said. "Now we move forward together to come up with solutions to create a better future. I encourage all of us to put aside partisan politics, rancor and hard feelings. Now is the time to move forward."
It was a battle of wealthy titans spending their way through one of the costliest races for governor in U.S. history. In a 2010 race in California, $280 million was spent. Combined, the candidates had raised $259 million by late last week.
Pritzker raised $176 million. The $171 million he chipped in from his own pocket is the most ever by a U.S. gubernatorial candidate. Rauner raised $79 million and Republican state Sen. Sam McCann, the Conservative Party candidate who billed himself as a conservative alternative to Rauner, brought in $4.8 million.
A focal point of debate was taxes. Pritzker promises to overhaul the state's income-tax system to allow for a graduated tax rate that requires the wealthy to pay more. But he says that the specific rates would be a matter for negotiations with the Legislature.
Rauner, who promised to roll back the income tax increase that lawmakers adopted last year to fund the breakthrough budget, called Pritzker's plan a tax increase and asserted that Pritzker plans $11 billion in new spending.
Voters appeared to be out of patience. Dan Bitner of Springfield cast his early ballot on Monday for Pritzker.
"After four years, Rauner hasn't gotten much of anything done," Bitner said.
Both promised increased education spending and proposed billions of dollars for infrastructure work.
Chris Hansen of Elburn, west of Chicago, said he voted for Rauner because he's worried Pritzker will raise taxes to fix Illinois' financial problems.
"I can't afford any more taxes," said Hansen, who is parts manager at Heritage Harley Davidson in Lisle. "I honestly believe Rauner is the one guy who wants to bring businesses and jobs to Illinois, and God knows we need it."
Scandal chased both contenders. Rauner has been on the defensive for months over his handling of a 2015 outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at the state-run veterans' home in Quincy, which has led to the deaths of 14 residents, including a dozen that first summer. Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan opened a criminal probe into the Republican's management of the crisis .
Last month, the Cook County inspector general issued a report alleging that Pritzker and his family engaged in a "scheme to defraud" taxpayers by ripping toilets out of a Chicago mansion they were renovating to make it technically uninhabitable and save him $330,000 in property taxes. The report contends that those involved could have illegally misled authorities about the reason for removing the plumbing. Pritzker has paid the money back but denies wrongdoing.
O'Connor reported from Springfield.