GOP gubernatorial candidates spar on who's the real Republican

The six Republicans running for governor in the June 28 primary exchanged sharp elbows on topics ranging from COVID-19 to faux conservatism at a Wednesday Daily Herald editorial board forum.

The candidates are state Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, McHenry County businessman Gary Rabine, former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo, Max Solomon of Hazel Crest and venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan from rural Petersburg.

On the pandemic, “I wouldn't impose executive orders affecting people's lives and their businesses,” Irvin said. He added that Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker's restrictions during COVID-19 surges would be “messing up the state's economy for years to come.

“I would give local control to local leaders who know our communities best,” Irvin said.

Bailey, however, went after Irvin's actions during the pandemic.

“The mayor of Aurora decided to celebrate Dr. Ezike and call her a hero,” Bailey said, referring to Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike, who stepped down in March. State lawmakers “never got answers to anything” about COVID-19 from the IDPH, Bailey said, accusing Irvin of applauding Pritkzer's mask mandate.

In turn, Irvin called Bailey “a hypocrite,” explaining that Bailey's farm required migrant workers to wear face masks.

Bailey retorted that he uses a federal program to obtain seasonal workers, which requires adhering to health protocols. But “come down to Bailey Family Farm. I'll let you talk to any one of our employees and ask them how many times they wore a mask or needed to social distance.”

Sullivan, who has built a platform on being an outsider, took shots at his rivals, saying, “I'm a true conservative that can lead.”

To fix the state's economy, “it really takes somebody who has experience in business, not another professional politician who says ‘maybe sue the governor' or has hollow talking points,” Sullivan said.

Former one-term GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, who was defeated by Pritzker in 2018, loomed large in the debate that included candidates' definitions of what it means to be a Republican politician.

Schimpf said one of his goals is property tax reform. But to change the law, “having experience as a state legislator is important,” he said.

“I understand Illinois government, and you need somebody that has some understanding so you can make positive change. Bruce Rauner tried to say that he was an outsider coming in, and look how well that worked out for us. Not well at all.”

Former Republican President Donald Trump was not a major talking point at the forum, although paving company owner Rabine said, “I'd like to compare my outsider executive experience more to President Donald Trump.”

“My goal is to make Illinois like Florida — without the hurricanes, though. We've got a better environment than Florida, in my opinion, and we need to show it better,” Rabine said. “We can't show it unless we reduce our regulatory environment to the average in the country.”

When it comes to the general election in November, Irvin — who has received about $45 million from Ken Griffin, CEO of hedge fund Citadel — asserted, “We are the only campaign that has the resources and the ground game not just to support myself and (running mate) Avery Bourne, but we'll be looking to support Republicans up and down the ballot.”

Irvin's organization has targeted Bailey and Sullivan with negative advertising. Schimpf, however, warned of potential consequences.

“Unless you have a unified Illinois Republican Party behind you — both the conservative base and the suburban moderates — you simply cannot win,” he said. “If you're running a flamethrower campaign going after other Republicans, you're not going to be able to put the party back together.”

Solomon, who described himself as a “Christian, conservative Republican,” said “the GOP in Illinois has basically given up on Illinois,” and it's time to shake the party up.

“I live in Cook County. I've gone around homes and knocked on doors, and one of the first things people tell me when I identify as Republican, is ‘Wow. Where have you been? We don't have a lot like you,' and they're talking about race,” said Solomon, who is Black.

“We've got to be sure that African Americans understand that it's OK to be a conservative and a Republican.”

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