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Kadner: Voters ready for Republican governor?

Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner exits polling place after voting Tuesday March 18 2014 WinnetkIll. Rauner faces State Sen.

Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner exits the polling place after voting on Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Winnetka, Ill. Rauner faces State Sen. Bill Brady, State Sen. Kirk Dillard and State Treasurer Dan Rutherford in the primary election. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)

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Updated: April 20, 2014 6:21AM



I was recently talking to a longtime Democratic politician who said, “I think it’s time to give a Republican a chance to run things in this state.”

My guess is there are a lot of voters in Illinois who are thinking the same thing after more than a decade of Democratic control of the governor’s mansion, the Senate and the House.

In 2010, Gov. Pat Quinn defeated Republican Bill Brady by only 32,000 votes, with Brady winning the popular vote in 98 of the state’s 102 counties.

Of course, that was in the immediate aftermath of the Rod Blagojevich scandal (the former governor began serving a 14-year prison term in 2012).

The challenge for Bruce Rauner, the victor in Tuesday’s GOP gubernatorial election, will be to keep from alienating large groups of voters — such as women, minority groups and independents — while keeping his Republican base happy.

That’s not going to be easy.

“Abortion is a tragedy,” Rauner has said, “but it should be an issue left to a woman, with her physician, her family and a minister, not the government.”

So does that mean he opposes Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in this country, or supports it?

I’m not sure. But if Rauner can continue being elusive on key social issues that have undermined Republican candidates in recent elections, he might be able to upset Quinn.

During the primary campaign, Rauner tried to steer conversations away from divisive subjects such as abortion and gay marriage, while focusing on what he perceived as his strengths — bringing jobs and businesses to Illinois, lowering taxes and passing a constitutional referendum on term limits in November.

He claims that his No. 1 priority “for dollars” is education.

But Illinois ranks last in the nation in terms of state support for public education, is billions of dollars in debt and will lose billions of dollars in revenue when the temporary income tax hike starts to expire next year.

Rauner has said he would allow the tax increase to disappear, so exactly where is he going to get the money to finance public education?

A supporter of charter schools, Rauner has said he wants to reward good teachers and get rid of the bad ones, and that means going to war with the teachers’ unions.

Many Illinois residents, who think that teachers are overpaid and don’t deserve their pensions, may agree. But if suburban voters start asking questions about what Rauner’s plan means for them and their children, it could spell trouble.

If state education funding declines, that will likely mean higher property tax bills for suburban homeowners who already pay for nearly 70 percent (sometimes more) of the cost of running their local schools.

And while charter schools may be a popular option in Chicago, most suburban parents chose to live in their towns because of the quality of the public schools.

Those are the people whom Rauner is going to have to convince if he’s going to get elected in November because he’s not going to get much of the vote in Chicago, where the Democratic organization remains dominant, government remains a key employer and unions are strong.

There are other issues pertinent to the Southland that should also be of interest to voters.

Quinn has become the leading advocate for the Illiana Expressway, a proposed toll road that would connect Interstate 55 near Wilmington with I-65 in Indiana. And he has also claimed ownership of the South Suburban Airport near Peotone, a project long championed by former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

While public support for those projects really has never been measured, both could have a major economic impact on the Southland, where unemployment and home foreclosure rates continue to outpace other areas of the metro area and state.

Rauner told the Daily Herald that “any new airports must have enough demand to be self-sustaining and not reduce economic activity at other airports in the region.”

As for the Illiana Expressway, he told the newspaper it’s an “important economic development engine for Will County and the surrounding area. But we must make sure that any potential public-private partnership deal doesn’t leave taxpayers holding the bag.”

The man is masterful at giving answers that sound like he’s saying something important but leave any perceptive person wondering where he really stands.

Of course, that’s what successful politicians usually do. But Rauner claims he’s different from all the other guys who have sought elective office in Illinois.

He’s rich. Really, really, rich.

And Rauner, through the TV commercials he has run, has implied that means he’s independent, honest and a true reformer.

Of course, his fellow Republicans poked holes in that theory by pointing out that Rauner used his money and political clout to get his his daughter into Chicago’s Walter elite Payton College Prep School.

In addition, Rauner has close personal ties to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former chief of staff. That connection was thought to have hurt him with hard-core Republicans but might actually work to his advantage in the general election.

“Rauner’s a businessman,” said the Democrat I mentioned at the outset of this column. “He knows that you have to work with all sorts of people to get things done, and he’ll work with (House Speaker) Michael Madigan or anyone else he has to when he gets to Springfield.”

Many people have told me they’re already tired of Rauner’s ever-present image on TV, but there’s likely to be a lot more of that as November nears.

Rauner spent millions of his personal wealth on the primary campaign and has pledged to spend millions more to win in November. That’s a spending advantage that few Republicans have had in recent years.

But saying you’re ready to vote for a Republican governor and actually voting for one can be two different things.



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