Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, center, responds to questions about the support he is getting from Democrats and Independents as his wife Diana, a Democrat, left, and Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, right, listen during a news conferenc
(Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
May 05, 2014

Diana Rauner Distances Herself From Budget Requests

Gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner is a Republican, but his wife says she is not. As Rauner's campaign continues to criticize Gov. Quinn's stance on taxes, Rauner's wife has a stake in the cause.

Just after the March primary election, Illinois was introduced to Diana Rauner, Bruce Rauner's wife. She introduced herself as "a lifelong Democrat."

She is also the CEO of Ounce of Prevention, a Chicago-based non-profit that uses state grant money to help promote early childhood education.

Ounce of Prevention is seeking increased funding, stemming from keeping tax revenues where they are ... something Bruce Rauner is against. He wants rates rolled back.

Recent Ounce of Prevention statements applauding Gov. Quinn's budget proposals have left off Diana's name. Instead, they quote policy analyst Eliot Regenstein.

But Megan Meyer, spokeswoman for Ounce, said that's got less to do with the campaign, and more to do with policy focus.

"We tap into the different areas based on the expertise needed," she said. "So, Diana will play a role, Eliot Regenstein plays a role. So everyone in the Ounce plays a role and we focus them in their expertise."

Bruce Rauner's campaign has yet to explain how how he'd increase education funding if the state is taking in less in taxes.


Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner presents his term limit petition in Springfield on Wednesday.
(Brian Mackey/IPR)
May 05, 2014

Still Waiting For Comprehensive Budget Plan From Rauner

The two men vying for governor disagree on a lot of issues, most notably what to do about Illinois' budget. Still, it's hard to compare the two, because one plan doesn't seem to exist.

It was nearly a month ago, at an event for Sangamon County Republicans that the party's nominee, Bruce Rauner, said "we'll be coming out with a comprehensive plan, that will be recommending about what we should change in our regulations and in our tax code and in our spending structure, in the, in … relatively near future."

So far, though, that hasn't happened.

Rauner has consistently said that Illinois should reduce its current income tax rate. His opponent, Gov. Pat Quinn, has the opposite stance.

Quinn said Illinois needs to make the higher rate permanent, or else face drastic cuts to important state programs.

The Quinn campaign said the governor is being forthright while Rauner's making dangerous campaign promises; while the Rauner campaign and other Republicans say Quinn is just trying to scare voters.


April 29, 2014

Illinois Lawmakers Block GOP Term Limits Proposal

State lawmakers have blocked Republican legislation that would have allowed voters to limit statewide executive officers to two terms of office. 

A Senate subcommittee voted 1-2 Tuesday on the proposed constitutional amendment. The two lawmakers who voted against the measure were Democrats.

Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont says the plan wasn't a Republican attempt to grab control from Democrats. She says it would allow for fresh ideas. 

The measure served its purpose politically. Republicans now can say that Democrats aren't in favor of term limits ahead of the November election. 

An amendment limiting legislative terms could still appear on the ballot. Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner says his group will turn in the required signatures Wednesday. 


Democratic Sen. Mike Frerichs (l) and Republican Rep. Tom Cross (r) are running against each other to be next treasurer of Illinois.
(Sean Powers/WILL)
April 29, 2014

Treasurer Candidates Spar Over Eliminating The Job They Want

Illinois lawmakers have long debated whether to combine the offices of comptroller and treasurer. Both candidates for treasurer are competing to one-up each other over whether the office should even exist.

The offices of treasurer and comptroller were separated years ago in order to reduce opportunities for corruption – so the person managing the state’s investments isn’t also the one writing checks.

Both candidates for treasurer say they support combining those jobs – saving millions of dollars a year.

However, Rep. Tom Cross (R-Oswego) said his Democratic opponent, Sen. Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign), recently changed his mind on the question.

Frerichs told a Chicago radio show he thought having the two separate offices could prevent fraud, but he said that’s not a change in position. 

“What I said that I think he misconstrued—or his team that they probably misconstrued—is that we need to make sure that we have proper internal control in place, and checks and balances," Frerichs said. 

Asked why Cross is running for an office he thinks should be consolidated, his campaign manager says as long as the separate offices exist, Cross would “invest taxpayer dollars wisely and safely.”


House Speaker and Illinois Democratic Party chair Michael Madigan speaks at a meeting of the Democratic State Central Committee on Tuesday, April 22, 2014.
(Amanda Vinicky/IPR)
April 23, 2014

Legislator Protests Madigan As Party Chair, Won't Say Why

The man who has led the Democratic Party of Illinois for the past sixteen years will hold onto that title, but he did face a rare display of opposition.

Party leaders met in Springfield Tuesday to re-elect House Speaker Michael Madigan as their chair.

There are those who view Speaker Madigan as an icon of all that's wrong with Illinois politics, and then there are those who seem to see him as a Democratic demigod.

"He's larger than life to me, in terms of who he is and how he leads the state," said Chicago Alderwoman Michelle Harris. "And because of that we have a strong, Democratic state. We're the strongest in the nation because of his leadership."

Harris was the fourth member of the Democratic State Central Committee to "second" his nomination as the party's chairman, ahich made his election a no-brainer, despite one defection.

Sen. Michael Noland (D-Elgin) stood to cast the sole "no" vote. He would not say why, just that he has long had concerns, political in nature.

"It is nothing personal," Noland said. "Absolutely nothing personal."

Madigan offered little comment in reaction, saying he'll continue the policies that have made Democrats dominant in state politics.


March 28, 2014

Green Party Candidates Seek Place on November Ballot

Illinois Republicans and Democrats chose their party's nominees last week. Third-party candidates are working to join them on the November ballot.

Before they can even think about winning a statewide election, independent candidates and those from third parties have to make it on the ballot, which requires collecting at least 25,000 valid signatures, by mid-June.

Green Party candidates are beginning their petition drive.

"I have been so annoyed, or angry even, with the way that state government has been running ... we need another alternative. And the Green Party provides that," said the Green's nominee for governor, attorney Scott Summers, who is from Harvard.

Summers is against Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal to extend the temporary income tax, calling his plans regressive. And he says the Republican nominee, private equity investor Bruce Rauner, could use some humility; he opposes Rauner's term limits initiative.

Summers said he favors a progressive income tax, in which tax rates increase with income.

The Green Party was briefly an "established" party in Illinois -- on the same level as Democrats and Republicans -- after its gubernatorial candidate got more than 10-percent of the statewide vote in 2006. But it lost that status after the party failed to get 5-percent of the vote in the next election cycle.

The Constitution Party also has a statewide slate that's collecting petition signatures. The party's website said its purpose is to restore "Constitutionally mandated and enumerated functions and boundaries," and that its nominee for governor is Springfield resident Michael Oberline.


Al Kurtz during a press conference on Nov. 18, 2013 with Gov. Pat Quinn in Gifford, Ill.
(Sean Powers/WILL)
March 21, 2014

Champaign Co. Board Chair Al Kurtz Reflects On Election Loss

Champaign County Board Chairman Alan Kurtz (D-Champaign) is leaving office at the end of the year.

Not by choice --- but because he lost his nomination bid for re-election to his District Seven seat in Tuesday’s Democratic primary to former county board chairman Pius Weibel. Kurtz’ own party endorsed Weibel over Kurtz, after Kurtz leveraged mostly Republican support to win the county board chairmanship in 2012, defeating the party’s choice, Mike Richards. Kurtz talked about the election and his eight years on the Champaign County Board with Illinois Public Media’s Jim Meadows.

Alan Kurtz was first appointed to the Champaign County Board in 2008, and won elections in 2010 and 2012. Kurtz plans to serve out his term until a new county board is seated in December. For his final months in office, he says his priorities will include a new I-57/I-74 interchange, protection of the Mahomet Aquifer from a proposal to store hazardous PCB’s at the Clinton Landfill, renovations to the county jail, and implementation of the county’s new re-entry program for recently released prison inmates. Kurtz discusses those issues.


Colorado Republican Rep. Cory Gardner officially announces his candidacy for the U.S. Senate at Denver Lumber Co. on March 1. Gardner will run against Democratic incumbent Mark Udall.
(Chris Schneider/AP)
March 21, 2014

With Wind At Its Back, GOP Expands 2014 Senate Map

Republicans seem to have all the momentum lately when it comes to the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.

GOP chances were already looking brighter because of the drag on Democrats from the Affordable Care Act and President Obama's low approval ratings. Then came two developments that suddenly expanded the playing field: Former GOP Sen. Scott Brown recently announced his intent to run against New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, and GOP Rep. Cory Gardner jumped in against Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.

That makes 12 states with competitive races, according to the Cook Political Report's latest update.

Democratic incumbents currently hold 10 of those seats; three of them are retiring. Republicans need to win a net of just six seats to become the Senate majority.

While their chances of doing that are clearly rising, political consultant Steve McMahon of Purple Strategies cautions against underestimating the advantages of the Democratic incumbents who will be on the ballot in November.

"The states that they are running in are states they have run in before, that they understand well and have been elected to, some repeatedly," said McMahon. "They're the kind of Democrats that match the state well."

As incumbents, they can point to all they've done for their states and they usually can raise the money they need, McMahon said. And he gives Republicans credit for producing a solid field of candidates.

"They've done a great job of recruiting this year. They've run many of the nut jobs out," McMahon said. "But they still do have primaries and primaries weaken candidates."

The president's weakness in the polls, the Affordable Care Act and widespread anxieties about the economy aren't the only factors working in favor of the GOP. Republicans also have a big advantage on voter intensity.

"We always look at the question, how interested are you in the upcoming elections on a 1 to 10 scale, with a 9 to 10 being the most interested," said Neil Newhouse of Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican research firm, who pointed to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll his firm did with Hart Research Associates.

"In a presidential election, it doesn't mean as much because everybody votes. In a midterm election, where you're looking at 40 percent turnout, it does make a difference. ... Among voters who rate their interest a 9 or 10, Republicans have a 15-point advantage, 53 [percent] to 38 [percent]. So you have Republicans now gaining the same kind of intensity they had in 2010. It's like our guys are campaigning downhill as opposed to the Democrats."

2010, of course, was the year of the historic midterm landslide in which Republicans captured 63 seats — and House control. They gained six Senate seats that November. And that was after Brown won a January special election for the Massachusetts seat long occupied by Democrat Edward Kennedy.

If this year's Republican intensity results in a 2010-style wave, there could be some surprising races, Newhouse said. Virginia and Oregon, for example, might seem like real long shots for Republicans at the moment but they might be within reach in that kind of year, he said.

With an expanded playing field and the real prospect of a flip in Senate control, both parties and their outside-group allies are likely to spend a record amount during this year's midterms.

Independent expenditures for the 2014 election cycle through March 20 have already reached $39.2 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.


Gov. Pat Quinn delivers the State of the State Address to a joint session of the General Assembly at the Illinois State Capitol on Jan. 29.
(Seth Perlman/AP)
March 17, 2014

In Illinois, A Governor's Luck Gets Tested Again

The numbers look bad for Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.

Illinois has remained in lousy shape throughout Quinn's five years in office.

The state's jobless rate is the worst in the Midwest and among the highest in the country. Quinn pushed through a sizable tax increase early in his term, yet Illinois's finances remain among the shakiest in the nation, with its overall budget gap continuing to increase.

"We were one of only two states in the entire country where the unemployment rate got worse last year," says Andrew Welhouse, communications director for the state Republican Party. "Illinois is getting worse, as all of our neighbors are getting better."

For all these reasons, Quinn's approval ratings are underwater and polls indicate he trails Bruce Rauner, a multimillionaire venture capitalist expected to win Tuesday's Republican primary.

Yet few people in Illinois are ready to rule out Quinn, who took the reins in 2009, after fellow Democrat Rod Blagojevich was impeached for trying to sell President Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder.

Last fall, Hillary Clinton joked that Quinn belonged in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "luckiest politician" in the world — an acknowledgment of the governor's good fortune in avoiding a tough primary election fight.

"People have written Mr. Quinn's epitaph too early too many times before," says Gregg Durham, a pollster with We Ask America, a firm based in Springfield. "He always seems to bounce back."

Republican gubernatorial primary candidates from left, state Sen. Bill Brady, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, state Sen. Kirk Dillard and businessman Bruce Rauner prepare for their March 13 debate. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

 

Running Against A Newcomer

Democrats are eager to paint Rauner as the second coming of Mitt Romney, only worse — an arrogant rich guy seeking to buy his way into top political office.

"There is hardly a more flawed candidate running for office in the country today," claims Quinn consultant Mark Mellman. "He's done Romney-like dismemberment of companies to his own benefit."

Rauner handed the Quinn campaign a gift recently when he said the minimum wage should be reduced by a dollar an hour. Rauner quickly backpedaled, saying he would favor a wage increase under certain circumstances.

But Democrats intend to pounce on Rauner on wage and equality issues, as well as the management of his own companies.

"He's got to establish that he's more than just a rich guy who wants to buy his way into the governorship, and that's how Democrats will portray him," says John Mark Hansen, a political scientist at the University of Chicago.

Outpacing The Field

Rauner has spent at least $6 million of his own money on the race, raising even more from other donors. He has vastly outspent his three rivals, including state Sen. Bill Brady and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, for the Republican nomination.

Rauner's leading opponent, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, lost the nomination by less than 200 votes four years ago. It appears he will come up short again.

Dillard had received backing and financial support from a number of public-employee unions. But they pulled their money out of the race last week, a clear indication they thought he couldn't catch Rauner.

The unions are unhappy with Quinn for having pushed through a pension bill last year that raises retirement ages and reduces cost of living increases. But they prefer him to Rauner, who talks openly of his disdain for "union bosses."

"Rauner scares them so much that they're swallowing hard and realizing that Pat Quinn is a better deal for them than Rauner would be," says David Yepsen, who directs a public policy institute at Southern Illinois University.

Mending Fences

Quinn has some work to do in rallying Democrats to his cause. Illinois is a blue state — no Republican has been elected governor since 1998 — but like Democrats across the country, he has to worry about a midterm fall-off in turnout.

Four years ago, Quinn's margin of victory was less than 1 percentage point. He lost all but four of the state's 102 counties, racking up his winning margin in the populous Chicago area.

What's more, a recent poll indicated that a third of Illinois Democrats aren't certain they will vote for him this fall.

"That's a devastating number," says Durham, who conducted the poll.

Rauner, meanwhile, has proven himself to be a disciplined candidate. He has essentially no public record, but with the exception of his minimum wage comment has stayed strictly on message and pounded his GOP opponents with well-timed attacks.

"Rauner has shown two things that most of the rich guys who run haven't, which is kind of a killer instinct in terms of his campaign approach and great opposition research," says Dennis Culloton, a public relations consultant and former GOP gubernatorial aide.

Rauner will have to mend fences himself, with a majority of Republican primary voters likely to vote against him. They haven't all warmed to his moderate-to-liberal stances on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Luck Is Residue Of Work

Quinn, meanwhile, managed to avoid a bruising primary challenge that he might well have lost. And his pension law, while not a panacea, gives him a powerful argument about being able to push through difficult changes in a legislature that will remain dominated by Democrats.

Quinn sought to cut off pay for legislators until they passed the bill, which angered them but played well with the public.

"He's begun to solve the pension crisis that has bedeviled the state," says Mellman, Quinn's campaign consultant. "He had to knock some heads together to do it, but he's starting to bring the state back."

People in Illinois know that, when it comes to the campaign, Quinn will not be outworked — and he's a master at attracting free media.

"It's the toughest race Quinn will ever see," Culloton says. "By the same token, this is a guy who doesn't need millions of dollars to run a campaign. He needs a push mower, a little bit of protein and a flashlight, and he's good to go. This is a guy who can live off the land."

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