CHAMPAIGN — On Monday night, three Republicans made their case why they should get the chance to take on incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn in the November general election.
As Kirk Dillard, Dan Rutherford and Bill Brady squared off in a debate at the I Hotel and Conference Center in Champaign, they offered their visions on everything from improving the business climate to the state’s minimum wage, helping Illinois schools and the legalization of recreational marijuana.
A fourth candidate, Bruce Rauner, declined multiple invitations to take part in the debate, which was sponsored by the Nextar Broadcasting Group, Inc. (WCIA-TV locally) and the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce.
Dillard, a former chief of staff for Gov. Jim Edgar, said he worked with Edgar to balance the budget and bring Illinois’ unemployment rate below the national average.
“This election is about electability and experience,” Dillard said. “All three of us agree it is time to send Pat Quinn packing. It is time to make this state work again.”
Rutherford, the current state treasurer, said the last three weeks have been tough for him due to allegations of misconduct by a former employee.
“I had allegations brought up that are absolutely false, and I tell you what: It’s all politics,” Rutherford said. “You put yourself running for governor, who has been in public office for 22 years without one allegation brought up. But five weeks before the election, this sort of stuff comes up. I’m ready to talk about some substantive issues.”
Brady, who narrowly lost to Quinn four years ago, said it is time to get a downstater back in the governor’s office.
“We need somebody who understands the needs of the state, and we also need someone who is electable,” Brady said. “I will bring initiatives to bring jobs back to Illinois.”
Dillard said he plans to make Illinois what he calls a “destination economy to make jobs.”
“I’m going to begin the day after I am elected governor,” he said. “We are going to overhaul Illinois’ outdated and overregulated tax system and regulatory system.”
Rutherford said he would direct everyone who works for state agencies to use the agency to help create jobs and retain jobs.
He said he would make the lieutenant governor’s office the office for job creation and retention.
“I am going to be the chief marketing officer,” he said. “So when you get a governor like Chris Christie come flying in or Rick Perry from Texas come parachuting in to try to take jobs away, I’m going to be the guy working and marketing and promoting the state of Illinois.”
Brady said he would work to bring business and consumer confidence back to the state.
“I am someone who promises to deliver on tax cuts,” Brady said. “I’m the only candidate, Republican or Democrat, who has made that promise. We can’t have a government that takes money out of the pockets of businesses. We are going to rebuild our economy and rebuild consumer confidence.”
Dillard said he wants to keep the minimum wage where it is.
“We need to focus on good paying jobs; nobody should be relying on minimum wage.”
Rutherford said he neither supports raising nor reducing the minimum wage at this time.
“A minimum wage increase is a mandate for your government telling small businesses to increase your costs,” Rutherford said. “As governor of Illinois, minimum wage is not a target for me. I want to have people to have good paying jobs so minimum wage is not even a discussion.”
Brady said he opposes cutting or raising the minimum wage.
“You can’t do that. There are a lot of families out there trying to make a living, and cutting the minimum wage by a dollar an hour is unacceptable. But we can’t raise the minimum wage either. We have to realize our minimum wage is already higher than neighboring states.”
Dillard said his father was a public school teacher, and he wants to make Illinois a “best of class state” in which education provides for the needs of the future workforce.
“When I worked as chief of staff for Gov. Edgar, we doubled the rate of inflation for new money for schools in this state,” he said. “Education is my priority.”
Rutherford said the limited resources the state has “needs to be put on the table to look for a good return on investment” when it comes to education.
“As your governor, one of the areas of education funding that will be a major priority for me is pre-K,” he said. “I see that is a very good return on investment.”
Brady said he would prioritize funding for education in Illinois.
“We need to get rid of grants and categoricals and all that stuff and simplify things so the dollars follow the student,” he said. “I want to eliminate the State Board of Education. It sucks millions of dollars away from the classroom.”
All three candidates said they oppose legalizing recreational use of marijuana to raise tax revenues.
“How low can your state sink when you have to smoke pot to increase your state revenues?” Dillard said.
“I don’t support changing legislation on social mores simply because of money,” Rutherford said. “If that was the case, we would legalize dog fighting, cock fighting, prostitution, whatever it may be just to get more money.”
“We can’t use marijuana as a revenue source,” Brady said.