Case in point was last Wednesday's Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Forum at the Union League Club. Five GOP contenders were on hand for an occassionally testy "conversation" that lasted a little more than an hour: Adam Andrzejewski, Bill Brady, Kirk Dillard, Dan Proft, and Bob Schillerstrom. Chris Robling of the Union League Club served capably as moderator.
Andrzewski, former owner of a family publishing business and founder of a good government organization, ForTheGoodOfIllinois, celebrated his lack of Springfield experience parallel to the not-of-Washington jingle so typical of national politics. A self-styled "real Republican reformer," Andrzewski alluded to the work of Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, and pledged similar efforts to tackle political corruption in Illinois through fiscal transparency.
Brady, a member of the Illinois General Assembly since 1993, promised to bring back business leadership to Springfield. He owns and operates Brady Homes. Brady would roll back the tax and fee increases imposed by Blagojevich, and offer tax incentives to bring back jobs to Illinois. In the realm of reform, he also favors term limits, campaign contribution limits, and computerized redistricting.
Dillard, a former judge and Chief of Staff to popular Governor Jim Edgar, is a sitting state senator and thus boasts a resume with experience in all three branches of state government. He acknowledged that Illinois is a state in crisis, citing its 48th place ranking in economic development and multibillion dollar budget deficit. Dillard is wont to celebrate his political experience, offering a laundy list of legislative accomplishments including ethics reform and truth-in-sentencing guidelines. He pledged to close his campaign fund upon election, and also to make Illinois a "destination economy."
Dan Proft, a PR professional and political commentator, surfaced as the anti-Dillard. He said that this race is not about one's resume, but instead the will to take the fight to the Chicago Democrats who control the levers of political power statewide. Proft promises a "clear, contrast reform vision," including fundamental reforms of the state pension plan, K-12 funding (statewide school choice), and Medicaid. He sees the state in "cardiac arrest," and returned to his slogan that the "system isn't broken; it's fixed." Proft pledged to form nontraditional coalitions around single issues, doing an end-around the tired ways of Springfield.
Schillerstrom, chair of the DuPage County Board, also clung to the experience mantle. He holds great hope for the state, yet recognizes that its government has regularly failed the people and their institutions. Schillerstrom said that we need to look no further than the Springfield culture, where its elected inhabitants spend more than they take in. He pointed to his eleven years of executive expertise where he ran a government larger than six states, paying bills on time, balancing the budget, and seeking efficiencies in governmental operations.
In a mostly civil exchange, only a couple of the barbs flung found traction. They were thrown by the two darkhorses, Andrzejewski and Proft, the former critical of Brady's tax plan, which he claimed offered benefits only at the margin, and the latter's rhetorical question to Dillard about the effectiveness of the ethics law he sponsored ("How is that working?").
When asked to name their role models, the candidates paraded the usual Lincoln and Reagan responses, but Proft claimed John Paul II, and Andrejewski Casmir Pulaski. All of the candidates save Schillerstrom articulated pro-life abortion positions, and Dillard offered a qualifier in favor of stem cell research.
Notably missing from the affair were former state party chairman Andy McKenna, who will officially announce his candidacy on Tuesday, and former attorney general and 2002 gubernatorial nominee Jim Ryan, who remains in the exploratory phase of his campaign. However, the five candidates assembled left those in the audience with plenty of food for thought and eager to see the two Democratic contenders, Governor Pat Quinn and Comptroller Dan Hynes, stage the same routine on November 18.