DECATUR — The state lawmaker looking to challenge Gov. Bruce Rauner in next year’s primary election said the first-term Republican has alienated his base, opening the door for her candidacy and a conservative revolution in Illinois.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, highlighted her career as a tax-cutting, pro-business and pro-life conservative Tuesday night during a forum for local Republican candidates at the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel. The event was hosted by the group Restore Our Constitution.
Ives announced in late October that she would begin circulating petitions to challenge Rauner on the March 20 primary ballot. She must submit a minimum of 5,000 signatures by Dec. 4 to be placed on the ballot.
She has previously said her efforts to challenge the incumbent from her own party were sparked by Rauner’s signing of House Bill 40, which provides government funding of abortions for state workers and women on Medicaid, and his signing of the school funding reform bill, which included additional dollars to aid the Chicago Public School District.
“He, at this time, has his record, and I have mine in Springfield as well,” said Ives, who has served in the House since 2013. “I’ve stood up and I’ve opposed tax increases, I’ve proposed spending reform, I’ve stood up for businesses … I literally have been standing up for taxpayers with every single vote and every single speech. And now it’s time for someone to take control in Springfield.”
To an outside observer, several factors may be working against Ives.
She had $23,488 on hand in her election fund as of Tuesday, according to the Illinois Sunshine Database. By comparison, Rauner had more than $65 million in his re-election fund.
Name recognition will be a hurdle as well. A Capital Fax/We Ask America poll conducted Oct. 25 to 29 found that 83 percent of likely Republican voters have not heard of Ives.
In the same poll, 61 percent of 1,064 likely Republican voters had a favorable impression of Rauner. Just 24 percent had an unfavorable opinion.
But speaking at the forum, Ives said Rauner’s record has made him vulnerable to Republican voters who see him as a failed governor who sided with Chicago Democrats over his conservative base on abortion and education.
“He’s going to have to spend a lot of money to convince people he’s something he’s not,” Ives said. “We only have to spend enough money to get our message out and let people know who we are.”
Rauner has not directly commented on Ives’ effort to challenge him in the primary.
Ives scoffed when told of Rauner’s comments, saying after the forum that Rauner’s economic policies during his tenure have hurt taxpayers. She pointed to Rauner’s approval of a bill that created $235 million in annual ratepayer subsidies to keep open Exelon Corp.’s nuclear power plants in Clinton and the Quad-Cities, as well as HB40 and the school funding reform bill.
“The man who said he had no social agenda only had a social agenda,” she said. “By the way, that’s all he’s got across, aside from bailing out Chicago schools on the backs of taxpayers statewide. His focus on economics is false; he’s only focused on social issues.”
Among those who said they were impressed with Ives was Jody Fronk, a regular attendee at events hosted by Restore Our Constitution, who signed the petition to get Ives on the ballot shortly after she finished her speech.
Fronk said he has been impressed with Ives since he first saw her at Illinois Family Institute’s annual fundraiser earlier this year, and her idea to overturn HB40 and other actions by Rauner added to Fronk’s admiration.
“So far, everything I’ve heard Jeanne say, I’m all for,” Fronk said. “In fact, I’ll probably have no problem stumping for her, going door-to-door for her when the time comes.”
For all the compliments he paid Ives, Fronk could not have been more disappointed in Rauner, a candidate Fronk supported in the 2014 election. Describing the sitting governor as a “traitor” to his supporters, Fronk said he would likely not vote for any gubernatorial candidate if Rauner were to be the Republican choice come next November.
“In four years, Bruce Rauner has failed to do any of the stuff he promised,” Fronk said. “I would likely be a ‘no’ vote on that (November) ballot, that’s how upset I am about how much of a turncoat that (Rauner) has been … and I don’t believe I am alone in that.”
Ives represents the 42nd House District, which includes all or part of Wheaton, Warrenville, West Chicago, Carol Stream, Winfield, Lisle and Naperville. A three-term member of the Illinois House, she served in the Army after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served as an ROTC instructor at Wheaton College.
The event was also a chance to hear from other candidates, including Dan Caulkins, Todd Henricks and Randy Keith, the three Republicans running to replace outgoing state Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, in the 101st House District and Seth McMillan, the Christian County GOP chairman seeking to challenge state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, in the 48th Senate District. Also attending were Macon County sheriff candidate Jim Root, Macon County clerk candidates Samantha Murray and Josh Tanner, and Circuit Judge candidates Sami Anderson and Randy Rosenbaum.
Ives’ message was also a welcome one for Pam Johnson, a member of Restore Our Constitution who moderated Tuesday night’s event. Though she stressed her group has invited Rauner to past events and has not endorsed any candidates, Johnson said afterward that Ives was a “straight shooter” and a refreshing change from typical political rhetoric.
“I think people here are so disappointed in our representation,” Johnson said. “People here are really looking for political change.”
Several candidates are vying for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination: Daniel Biss, a state senator and math professor; Bob Daiber, Madison Coounty regional superintendent of schools; Tio Hardiman, former director of CeaseFire Illinois; Chris Kennedy, a businessman and nephew of President John F. Kennedy; Alex Paterakis, small business owner; and J.B. Pritzker, an entrepreneur and heir to Hyatt hotels.