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War of words: Illinois GOP gubernatorial candidates get heated during ABC debate

Sen. Darren Bailey and Aurora mayor Richard Irvin face off in a televised GOP gubernatorial...
Sen. Darren Bailey and Aurora mayor Richard Irvin face off in a televised GOP gubernatorial debate on June 2, 2022.(ABC 7 Chicago)
Published: Jun. 2, 2022 at 10:30 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - Thursday was the first time all six Republicans hoping to challenge Gov. JB Pritzker in November participated in a televised debate together. With less than a month before the primary election, this might be one of the only times voters will see the GOP candidates go head-to-head about their priorities for Illinois.

Frontrunners Richard Irvin and Sen. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia) battled against former senator Paul Schimpf, businessman Gary Rabine, and attorney Max Solomon. Venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan participated virtually because he tested positive for COVID-19 before the debate.

Gun violence and school safety are top of mind for many following a week of mass shootings across the country. Rabine said schools should have armed officers and advanced concealed carry training for teachers to keep students safe.

“We need to value every life that is so valuable with our children today and keep them out of harm’s way 100 percent,” Rabine said. “Our airports are as safe as can be nowadays. Our schools need to be as safe.”

Each of the candidates also provided their ideas to address high taxes in Illinois. Sullivan noted he is the only candidate to sign a “taxpayer protection pledge” saying the state needs to stop overspending and cut back wherever possible.

“I’m going to reduce the budget by $10 billion by doing pension reform, by actually consolidating more units of government than any state in the nation,” Sullivan said.

Schimpf said Illinois needs to end predatory practices in governments. He argues the most predatory practice is charging taxes on other taxes.

“We are proposing a constitutional amendment that will put an end to that predatory practice,” Schimpf said. “We also have to do something about property taxes. Property taxes are a threat to people’s financial security.”

But the gloves finally came off for Bailey and Irvin who have many mailers and ads out attacking one another’s records. Irvin said he is a Republican who lifted himself up out of poverty, but Bailey argues there is too much evidence to show the Aurora mayor is a pay-to-play Democrat.

“I’m not interested in defeating you because you’re a Democrat,” Bailey said. “I’m interested in defeating you because you’re a corrupt Democrat.”

Irvin hit right back noting that Bailey had a mask mandate for immigrants working on his own farm. Bailey became popular amongst Republicans across the state when he sued Pritzker at the start of the pandemic over executive powers and “unilateral” rule while businesses and schools had to close to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He also frequently speaks out against mask and vaccine mandates.

Meanwhile, Irvin tried to distance himself from Pritzker by saying local governments and school districts should make policy decisions about COVID-19 safety moving forward.

“He made these executive orders and determined that he knew best for everybody,” Irvin said. “What I would do is include our leaders throughout the state. He locked everybody out. What I would do is let parents have a voice in their kids’ education and what’s going to happen with their kids wearing masks and getting vaccinated.”

The ABC 7 Chicago panel also asked the candidates if they would allow education about gender identity and sexual orientation in K-12 schools. Solomon said no teacher should be teaching K-12 students anything about sex, gender, or race.

“We can leave the inclusion to college,” Solomon said. “That’s why you send your kids to college. My administration, we are going to ban CRT (critical race theory) and CSE, comprehensive sex education.”

Candidates were also asked if they were able to work across the aisle with Democrats to get their policies passed in Springfield. Bailey claimed he has worked in a bipartisan manner as a state lawmaker and even believes some Democrats are afraid to defy Pritzker.

“There are many Democrats that think like we do around this circle,” Bailey said. “But unfortunately, they feel hindered that they won’t get re-elected if they subscribe to these policies of freedom, and lower taxes, and safe streets. When I have that pulpit and when I’m able to express that message, I think that we’ll have many come along.”

Irvin emphasized that he was elected as a Republican mayor in a Democratic stronghold. He said that there has been bipartisan work with Democrats on the Aurora city council and lawmakers in Springfield to bring resources back to his community. But he quickly contradicted that statement by focusing on having GOP control in Springfield.

“I’m going to use our resources, I’m going to use our infrastructure. I’m going to use our ground game, not just to help myself and my running mate, Rep. Avery Bourne, but to help every Republican up and down the ballot to make sure that we get rid of that supermajority that the Democrats have,” Irvin said.

He feels having Republicans controlling the General Assembly and the governor’s office can help push strong policy and get Illinois back on track.

Candidates were once again asked where they stand on abortion rights with the Supreme Court set to overturn Roe v. Wade. Irvin continued to dodge the question by only stating he is pro-life and will talk more about his stance once the Supreme Court decision is final. Each of the candidates agreed they want to restore the parental right of abortion law in Illinois. Although, some want to see Illinois become a state that completely bans abortion like several southern states.

“Conservatives have been fighting for decades for this moment of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Now the battle moves to the states,” Sullivan said. “We, in Illinois, have gotten used to being taxed to death. Well, now we’re being taxed to murder unborn children. That is wrong and I fight back against it.”

Sullivan and other candidates pushed for Irvin to give his stance on the right to abortions to better inform Republican voters. Although, the mayor declined to answer.

After the debate, a spokesperson for the Pritzker campaign said none of the GOP candidates are prepared to lead on issues that matter most to Illinois families. Natalie Edelstein said their performances show the modern GOP is too extreme for Illinois.

“From stripping women of their fundamental rights to rolling back comprehensive gun reform and blocking access to health care and education, these candidates proudly demonstrated just how far backwards they are willing to drag the state,” Edelstein said.

Early voting is already underway and the primary election will take place on June 28.

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