CHAMPAIGN — Likely Republican gubernatorial contender Bruce Rauner said Wednesday that the University of Illinois would be a key element in his plan to revitalize Illinois' economy.
The Winnetka businessman, one of at least five Republicans considering running for governor next year, also said he was prepared to "play hardball" with special-interest groups if elected.
Rauner, a 57-year-old venture capitalist, made the remarks during a meeting with The News-Gazette editorial board.
"I'm a believer that the U of I should expand its reach and its profile and its visibility, raise more money. It's outrageous to me how the Springfield politicians are cutting money for education," Rauner said. "(The UI has) done wonderful things for Champaign-Urbana and I'm a believer that we should expand that and accelerate that in Champaign-Urbana, but I'd also like to see the U of I and its applied sciences and engineering impact other parts of the state: metro Chicago, Rockford, Decatur.
"With technology in manufacturing, technology in agriculture, technology in genetic sciences. The applied science and technology impact at the U of I, you could take it to a whole new level if we can get more tentacles, more connections, more joint ventures, more campuses, more laboratories."
Rauner, who graduated with a degree in economics from Dartmouth but said he had donated "hundreds of thousands" of dollars to the UI, said he wanted to "expand the resources of the U of I, allow them to recruit even better faculty because the faculty could live and work in various places where their spouse might want to live. We can do more flexible things. Champaign-Urbana is a wonderful community, but some folks want to be in a bigger city. Or some faculty say, 'My wife can't get a job in Champaign.' We've got to figure out some answers for that."
But he said he would not divert resources from the UI's Urbana campus to Chicago.
"Absolutely not," he said. "But if the U of I is in metro Chicago in a major way, the profile gets raised, the donor community gets tapped, the faculty and the student pool gets expanded and it's a win-win. The university wins. The state wins. The economy wins."
He called the university "a significant economic driver for growth and development in Illinois, and what I'd love to see happen is that we take it to a whole new level where it dramatically drives economic growth in Illinois, not just helps it a lot."
Rauner also said he was prepared to use the power of the governorship to take on "special interests."
"We are a state that has been taken over completely by special-interest groups that make their money from government. Unfortunately for us, they've taken over a big chunk of the Republican Party too," he said. "We don't like to talk about it, but it's true. And they own the Democratic Party. The folks who make their money from the government — AFSCME and SEIU and the teachers' unions and trial lawyers, you look at their financial muscle, who they've given donations to. They've got our taxpayers by the throats and they're squeezing. They've got our schoolchildren by the throats and they're squeezing them."
He declined to say specifically how he would take on interest groups.
"The governorship in Illinois is a very powerful governorship," he said. "You can do things with executive order here that many states can't do. You have an amendatory veto, line-item veto, you've got the ability to appoint to key positions that the Legislature wants to have influence in. If you're a creative negotiator and you've got a steel backbone and are willing to play hardball, you can get a lot of stuff done. We'll be stretching the power of the office. I'll be stretching the envelope aggressively."
On other matters, Rauner:
— Said he has been able to raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for his campaign, including substantial sums from out of state, because "Illinois is a bellwether for the country. We are sort of the nation's problems on steroids. If we can repair Illinois and get us growing again, I think we will set a tone that will impact the rest of the nation in a lot of ways."
In a campaign disclosure report filed earlier this week, Rauner disclosed 29 separate contributions of $1,000 or more, 17 of which were from outside of Illinois.
"There are a lot of people around the country who are going to watch this race, a lot of people who are going to get involved because this matters," he said.
— Would not oppose expanded casino gambling in Illinois, including a casino in Danville.
"I don't gamble. I think it's a corruption-oriented activity. I don't like it, as a broad statement," he said. "But the reality is gambling exists. A lot of people like it. It's all around us and if people want a casino, then people can decide if they want it or not."
— Declined to say he would oppose more tax breaks for businesses.
"My message to the business community is, 'Get involved. Stop sitting back on the sidelines and letting the bad guys cut their deals. Get involved in broad economic policies that are pro-business,'" he said. "But I can't sit here today and make a blanket statement that (I won't support tax breaks). The reality is that there is a lot of competition among states to woo certain businesses. You've got to be thoughtful and creative and compete. But we can't stay in the mode that Democrats are in to keep jacking up taxes and then run around to cut special deals."
— Said if he becomes the Republican nominee, his campaign would differ from Bill Brady's in 2010.
"I don't think Bill ran a particularly good campaign. Let's start with that. I think he ran a pretty lousy campaign and he spent virtually no time in metro Chicago," he said. "You're not going to win if you don't show your face. Nobody will outwork me in this campaign."