Tom Kacich: Dillard aims to be electable
"It's time to put a commonsense conservative back in the governor's office. Never mistake my nice, affable style for someone who can't go helmet to helmet with the Chicago Democrats when I have to." — state Sen. Kirk Dillard, one of four Republican candidates for governor.
Maybe it's his constant references to former, politically moderate Gov. Jim Edgar (13 times during a 20-minute presentation last week in Rantoul). Maybe it's the TV commercial he did for then-presidental candidate Barack Obama in 2008. Maybe it's his defense of mostly unionized state employees ("I can't demonize state employees," he said. "It's an attitudinal thing. I've got to change the attitude of state government.")
Kirk Dillard has a reputation, perhaps undeserved, as a political moderate.
It was a bit of a shock last week to hear Dillard — who as recently as last February talked to a student group at the University of Illinois only about taxes and job creation and regulatory reform and higher education funding — bring up socially conservative topics like gay marriage (opposed), gun control (opposed), welfare spending (opposed), photos of LINK cards (for).
"I'm more socially conservative than Gov. Thompson or Gov. Edgar," Dillard, who worked for both of them, said quickly before moving on to another topic during an almost two-hour appearance at the Red Wheel restaurant.
He saw no need to belabor or stress the point. It was made; this guy is one of us.
"My vision of Illinois is not gun control. It's not gay marriage. It is to make us what I call the destination economy for people who create jobs. We must become the entrepreneurial capital," he said at another point.
(As an aside, however, Dillard said he would not try to repeal what soon will be Illinois' same-sex marriage law: "The current makeup of the Legislature, you'll never repeal gay marriage in Illinois. Once the court cases are done it's going to be the law of the land. You've just got to look forward.")
Still, Dillard often has a way of delivering a conservative message without sounding strident or off-putting. Asked about the tea party, he gave an indication of his method.
"I will meet with anybody. It doesn't mean I have to accept their ideas," he said. "Sometimes I don't always like the bludgeon and sledgehammer they deliver the message with. But when I look at their nine or 10 principles, I agree with most of them."
To be fair, in his Rantoul appearance Dillard talked about more than divisive social issues. He talked a lot about spending and regulation and ethics issues and the need for workers compensation reforms. He said he wants an office of "the repealer" to get rid of duplicative and burdensome regulations. He wants a constitutional amendment requiring the Legislature to pass a balanced budget. He wants more spent on education and less spent on Medicaid. He wants workers' compensation changes to stop the loss of jobs to Indiana and other states.
Dillard said he would shut down his campaign fund as soon as he was elected, and wouldn't seek campaign money "until I determine that I am worthy of re-election and I want to run for re-election," he said. "This state is in such a mess that I need to spend every minute focused on governing and not fundraising. I need to spend, literally and physically, all of my time governing and solving the state's problems, not fundraising."
And although he didn't compare himself to Chris Christie, Dillard made a revealing reference to the Republican governor of New Jersey.
"(Christie) said on TV last week that he and (failed Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli) are in the same place on all the social issues but the media views me as much more electable and moderate even though we have the same checklist of issues," Dillard said. "Governor Christie said it's all about the way you present yourself and listen."
Later, Dillard said he wasn't comparing himself to Christie, nor was he modeling himself after the popular Republican governor who heads an overwhelmingly Democratic state.
"I'm Kirk Dillard. But I do look at all kinds of governors' styles, past and present, throughout the United States, and pick and choose the best they have to offer based on my own personality," he said. "I'm a good listener. I'm a tolerant man. I take input from opposing viewpoints. I try to understand all points of view."
Dillard, like the other Republican candidates, is walking a fine line, trying to appeal to Republican voters now without turning off the independents and Democrats he'll need next year.
Controlling the tenor of the debate, even on controversial issues, worked for Chris Christie in New Jersey. Dillard hopes it works in Illinois.
Patricia Avery, president of the Champaign County NAACP chapter, disputes a contention in last Wednesday's column that the chapter received funding to put up its own version of a county board district map before the county's independent redistricting commission in 2011.
"That's not at all true," Avery said of the remarks made by former county board member Alan Nudo. "We submitted two maps, in fact, that we generated through the county (regional planning commission) software. We were not paid."
Nudo is among former county board members supporting a plan to have an independent commission draw legislative district maps in Illinois.
"We worked with the software that everyone else worked with, and we submitted a map that was compact, contiguous and met all the rules," said Avery, who also is a former county board member. "If they're going to be upset with the process they should be upset with the county board that approved the map."
Nudo, who was on the county board when it approved the NAACP-submitted map, said at the time that he opposed it and apologized to the county Farm Bureau, which had wanted a map that would have guaranteed four rural-dominated districts out of 11.
As it turned out, however, there are rural representatives in four of the 11 districts: in districts 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.