Two weeks before the Illinois primary on March 18, the 2014 Republican gubernatorial candidates met for a heated hour-long forum at the Logan Center Performance Hall on Tuesday evening. Broadcast live on NBC 5, the event was open to students and the general public.
Candidates Bill Brady, Kirk Dillard, Bruce Rauner, and Dan Rutherford fielded questions from the moderator, NBC 5 Political Editor Carol Marin, as well as others submitted via social media. NBC 5, the Institute of Politics (IOP), and the Harris School of Public Policy jointly sponsored the event.
Marin moderated the debate in a roundtable conversation format, with questions covering topics such as state pensions, charter schools, replacing the ISAT (Illinois Standard Achievement Test), gun ownership, and state prisons.
Personal questions targeting specific candidates were also asked. For example, Marin questioned Rauner, a businessman, about calling Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, formerly the Chicago Public Schools CEO, to get his daughter into Walter Payton College Prep after she had been denied admittance.
“Why would any reasonable voter who does not have Arne Duncan’s phone number not think that this was just plain old, old-fashioned Chicago-style clout?” she asked.
“Because we did not ask for any special favors or any special treatments,” Rauner said, claiming that he just asked how the application process worked and did what any parent would do.
Marin also asked Dillard, a state senator, if he regrets comments he made of then-Senator Obama during an interview she conducted with him, in which Dillard referred to Obama as “someone he wanted to work with and make a friendship with, and we solidified it with major pieces of legislation in Springfield.” Dillard responded that he was the lead sponsor of an ethics bill that needed bipartisan support, and Obama was just his co-sponsor.
“Anytime a colleague stands up with me on something like ethics, I’m going to give him that...atta boy, you oughta do what you want,’” he said.
The public submitted questions via social media prior to the event. Event organizers then selected a few questions and invited the selected social media users to attend the event, where they read their questions to the candidates directly.
Fifth-year physics Ph.D. candidate Yangyang Cheng asked the candidates about how they would clean up top-level corruption in Springfield.
Rutherford, the Illinois state treasurer, blamed gerrymandering and proposed taking away incumbents’ ability to redraw electoral maps to favor their reelection chances, while Dillard suggested the reimposition of United States Attorney Patrick Collins’s report, which recommended limiting campaign donations. Collins was the lead prosecutor in former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s corruption trial and chaired a political reform commission appointed by current Gov. Pat Quinn. Rauner advocated for establishing eight-year term limits, bringing business leaders into state government, and refusing union bosses’ money. Brady, a state senator, on the other hand, combined both the term limits idea and the idea of limiting gerrymandering.
The candidates’ forum marked the first time the IOP has hosted such an event.
“For our students, it’s a unique chance to witness firsthand one of the great rites of democracy, free and open forum. We hope to establish the University of Chicago and IOP as a regular home for such events,” IOP Director David Axelrod (A.B. '76) said in a press release.