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Ives' challenge forces Illinois Gov. Rauner to keep eyes on GOP primary

St. Louis Post Dispatch

Sunday, March 4, 2018  |  Article  |  By JOHN O'CONNOR AP Political Writer

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. • Some Illinois conservatives are fed up with their own party's governor.

The insurgent primary campaign of Republican state Rep. Jeanne Ives against GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner signals the right's weariness of a governor they say is all talk. And they complain the little action he's taken is a "betrayal" to Republican tenets. He's signed public financing of abortions, approved restricting police interactions with immigrants and supported an education-funding overhaul they say is a bailout for Chicago Public Schools.

The 61-year-old Rauner must topple Ives, a three-term House member, in the March 20 primary before he could take on one of six Democratic hopefuls, including presumed front-runner J.B. Pritzker, who is even wealthier than Rauner, a private-equity investor who has poured $50 million of his own money into the race.

"Gov. Rauner is unelectable in November," Ives, who lives in Wheaton, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Republicans need to take the fight to the Democrats and we can't do it with Gov. Rauner in charge, because he's not in charge. He has betrayed, literally, the core values of the Republican platform, from the public funding of abortions to creating a sanctuary state to crony bailouts."

A newcomer to political office when he took over as governor in 2015, Rauner, a Winnetka resident, promised fiscal discipline and no social-issue priorities. He stood on a "turnaround agenda" that called for 40 conservative, pro-business initiatives such as creating anti-union "right to work" zones, freezing local property taxes, limiting payouts for injuries under workers' compensation, allowing local governments to crimp union collective bargaining, and making major changes to the way liability lawsuits are tried.

But Rauner ran into a buzz-saw in Chicago Democrat Michael Madigan, House speaker for all but two of the past 35 years, who has derided the governor's plans as "an extreme, right-wing agenda." Madigan refused to budge on any of the Republican's proposals. Rauner demanded his changes before he would agree to an annual budget and what inevitably would be an income-tax increase promoted by Democrats who control the General Assembly. The stalemate lasted two years when there was no spending plan but plenty of spending, either required by court order, spot expenditures approved legislatively, or money spent by Rauner's administration without appropriation authority.

The result was billions of dollars in debt that each side blamed on the other. The showdown finally broke last summer when Democrats gathered enough Republican support to snub Rauner and override his veto of an increase in the income-tax rate from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent.

"This is a change election in Illinois because the fiscal state of Illinois is so bad, we need a leader who will resist all tax increases, control our spending and take on the corruption we see every day," the 53-year-old Ives said.

Rauner's advisers did not make him available for an interview.

Rauner has focused his campaign recently on removing Madigan, with mentions of term limits and a property-tax freeze as a way to change the political culture.

Ives ridiculed Rauner's all-out Madigan crusade in a face-to-face appearance before the Chicago Tribune editorial board last month, insisting that it's fruitless to wish away a political obstacle. She has publicized Rauner's now-infamous comment last fall that, "I'm not in charge," but is trying to take control from Madigan. She boasted that she has found ways to work with Madigan to achieve her goals. That resulted in advertisements from the Rauner camp declaring Ives "Mike Madigan's favorite Republican and Illinois' worst nightmare."

Ives is at a tremendous funding disadvantage, although her Tribune performance gained her conservative plaudits — and more than $2 million from businessman Dick Uihlein, a previous Rauner contributor. Ives launched the campaign's most contentious ad shortly after, a parody of one Rauner used to denigrate Madigan. Ives' version featured actors portraying a transgender woman, a woman who had a publicly financed abortion, and a sanctuary-state supporter thanking Rauner for backing their causes.

Ives, herself once a Rauner fan, wants to put a "1 percent hard cap on property taxes" as a percentage of home value in answer to Illinois' position as having the nation's highest property taxes. She pledges to repeal the income-tax increase and make spending cuts necessary to sustain it. She promises to repeal laws Rauner signed on abortion and immigrants. The one expands Medicaid and state-employee health insurance coverage to abortions and the other prohibits police detention of immigrants and limits their interaction with them absent a criminal warrant. Ives calls that a "sanctuary state" law, although "sanctuary" typically refers to laws or ordinances that protect immigrants of any status, including those in this country without documentation.

Rauner promises to "roll back" the tax hike as well, but after promising to slice it to 3 percent within two years, he unveiled a budget plan last month that would reduce it by one-quarter of 1 percent only after a pension-program revamp which could save $1 billion annually but likely would be caught up in courts for years.