Kirk Dillard


The long version of my column from this week’s Ottawa Delivered:

In what probably was the most surprising result from last week’s general election, Gov. Pat Quinn (D-Chicago) narrowly defeated state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) for a full four-year gubernatorial term.

If you weren’t surprised by Quinn’s win, consider that he is a governor with a low approval rating, a Democrat who swam against a Republican wave of victories, and, most importantly, he was upfront with voters about his intention to raise the state income tax to help pay for education funding – in an election cycle dominated by tea party talk of less spending and lower taxes.

But is Quinn’s surprise victory a mandate for a tax increase, as he claimed after Brady conceded the race?

I say it doesn’t because Quinn barely won the most votes – only about 20,000 more than Brady – and didn’t get a majority of them. But I also think – hold the stones, please – we shouldn’t expect him not to try passing the 1-percent state income tax hike. After all, Quinn won the election, so we should expect him to at least attempt enacting the proposals he made before Election Day.

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, master of the Springfield political arena and essential controller of state spending, suggested Tuesday he is in favor of Quinn’s proposed tax increase. Contrary to Quinn, though, Madigan refused to say anything about the issue until after he was safely re-elected.

Again, kudos to Quinn for being honest about his intention to raise taxes and still being able to pull off the gubernatorial victory. I wonder, however, whether Quinn would be feeling so mighty right now had state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) defeated Brady in the Republican primary. I suspect Dillard, who served as former Gov. Jim Edgar’s chief of staff, would’ve defeated Quinn because he probably would’ve come up with a proposed solution for the state’s budgetary mess. I don’t know whether Dillard’s solution would’ve been a good one, but any solution beats no solution, which basically is what Brady gave voters. And that probably would’ve been enough to nudge Dillard past Quinn.

This is all speculation, of course, and the bottom line is Quinn is our governor for four more years, and whether or not you voted for him personally, we all should hope he moves Illinois in the right direction. Otherwise, by the time he is up for re-election again, our state will be really screwed.

Earlier this month I covered the inaugural Reagan Legacy Scholarship Dinner for Ottawa Delivered. The event, held at Pitstick Pavilion near Ottawa, featured a $500 scholarship being awarded to an Ottawa Township High School senior and a lot of fond Republican memories of our nation’s 40th president being shared by those in attendance.

As tends to be the case at such events, I got to interview several political candidates who don’t regularly stump in this part of the state. The following is a column I wrote about my encounter with two Republican candidates for Illinois governor, originally published online and in print Nov. 12.

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Last weekend’s inaugural Reagan Legacy Scholarship Dinner proved fruitful for me as a political reporter. Since Ottawa isn’t Chicago, Springfield or another Illinois city comparable in size, we usually don’t get a lot of visits from statewide-office seekers until crunch time right before a close election.

The dinner, which originally was to feature GOP rising star U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Peoria) as its main speaker (the health-care reform debate kept him in Washington, D.C., that day), was attended by two of the seven men vying for the Republican nomination for governor: state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) and DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom (R-Naperville). I talked with both of them separately before dinner began.

I found Dillard easily, considering he was wearing a big button with his name on it. (And by big, I mean the size of my fist.) He exuded confidence when asked how his campaign is going.

“I feel perfectly positioned at this point of the campaign,” Dillard said.

Two days earlier, the seven GOP candidates for governor – which also include state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), former state GOP chairman Andy McKenna (R-Chicago), former state Attorney General Jim Ryan (R-Elmhurst), political commentator Dan Proft (R-Wheaton) and government transparency advocate Adam Andrzejewski (R-Hinsdale) – all debated together for the first time. While complimenting the tone of the debate, Dillard couldn’t resist poking at a couple of his opponents.

“It was polite and professional and it was nice to see Andy McKenna and Jim Ryan get out of the Rose Garden and come out of hibernation,” Dillard said. “Most of the candidates have been campaigning statewide, not just at the Hilton in Chicago.”

A state senator since 1994, Dillard served as former Gov. Jim Edgar’s chief of staff, former Gov. Jim Thompson’s director of legislative affairs, and a judge for the Illinois Court of Claims. He believes his experience and his track record of clean ethics make him the frontrunner in the race. The main point he emphasizes is his desire to make Illinois a “destination economy” through what he promises would be “the most aggressive job-recruitment program in this state’s history.”

As soon as my interview with Dillard concluded, Schillerstrom’s assistant suddenly appeared to ask if I’d like to talk to his boss. Reporters who are seen talking to one candidate typically draw others like moths to light. Not that I’m complaining, but it’s funny how that works, isn’t it?

Anyway, my first impression of Schillerstrom was his booming voice (which was later amplified when he used a microphone to address the crowd). Like Dillard, he expressed confidence in his campaign.

“I think it’s going very well,” Schillerstrom said. “My message is really resonating with the people of Illinois.”

That message, he said, emphasizes the importance of stabilizing the state’s economy while practicing fiscal responsibility. He said that under his leadership, DuPage County cut property taxes in seven of the last 10 years. Noting that DuPage County has more residents than six states, Schillerstrom said his job as county chairman is akin to being governor of a small state.

“We can take that approach to Springfield,” Schillerstrom said. “I’m not from Springfield. I’m not from that culture. I don’t think like they do. I believe in balancing our budget every year. If we don’t have it, we don’t spend it.”

The opportunity for face-to-face interviews with these statewide candidates was, to quote another former governor, “golden.” I hope more candidates from both sides of the political aisle visit Ottawa soon so I get the chance to interview them in person, too.

There is a lot of news in Illinois politics today — most notably, Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s decision to run for re-election to her current post rather than for governor or U.S. senator.

Madigan has done a good job as the state’s attorney general, and she deserves a shot at the governor’s mansion or a U.S. Senate seat someday. But for now, I’m glad she’s staying put. I think Pat Quinn, who became governor Jan. 29 after Rod Blagojevich was removed from office, deserves a chance to run for re-election without having to worry about Madigan, a fellow Democrat, stabbing him in the back.

Also consider that Madigan’s father, House Speaker Michael Madigan, is leading the battle against Quinn’s income tax hike and state budget proposals. Michael Madigan annually fought tooth-and-nail with Blagojevich when it was time to set a state budget. Part of the problem then was Blagojevich, but part of it also was perceived to be Madigan setting the governor up for a fall so his daughter could swoop in and save the state as the next governor. Now that Blagojevich is out of the way, Michael Madigan appears to be doing the same thing to Quinn. Lisa Madigan deserves better circumstances under which to run for governor — not at a moment in time when it looks like she might get the job just because Daddy Dearest pulled the right strings for her.

As for the U.S. Senate, I think Lisa Madigan is showing her political savvy by not entering what is expected to be a crowded field to replace Roland Burris. With so many candidates (including U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, who jumped into the fray today), that race will be an expensive one to run start to finish. For that matter, so will the gubernatorial race. (Five Republicans already have announced their intentions to run against Quinn — state Sen. Bill Brady, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, state Sen. Matt Murphy, DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom and political commentator Dan Proft.)

Lisa Madigan turns 43 later this month, so she has youth on her side. God willing, she has plenty of time left to run for higher office. In the meantime, she can continue to serve Illinois in the capacity she has since her 2002 election as attorney general. She is one of the few elected officials we can hold our heads up high about in Illinois. If she keeps giving us good reason to hold her in high esteem, her star will keep rising. Her time for higher office will come.