GOP gubernatorial forum zeroes in on hot-button public health, education issues
Republican candidates seeking Illinois' governorship focused on public health mandates and the school system in one of the few debates held before June’s primary.
Chairman Jim Rule of the Tazewell County Republican Central Committee started the debate at Five Points Washington with a round of huzzahs, introducing the five attending candidates for governor as: “No RINOs in these five.”
"RINOs" refers to “Republican in name only” That was how Rule and the candidates in attendance characterized candidate Richard Irvin, mayor of Aurora, who didn’t attend Monday night's event.
A spokesperson for Irvin's campaign Tuesday said he had a prior commitment which prevented him from attending Monday's event in Tazewell County, but is looking forward to participating in future debates. It's unclear which additional forums will be held ahead of the June primary.
In his opening remarks, state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Louisville, said Irvin was hiding in his basement instead of debating him. The state senator also touted the last few years as his fight against Gov. JB Pritzker’s mask mandate, claiming he was the only person to not comply with the requirement in the General Assembly and was escorted out.
“I’ve been standing up and pushing back and trying to educate parents from day one to take back your schools,” Bailey said toward the end of his opening statement. “When we allow the government to get out of control, we lose our freedoms. We have a God-given gift here with the greatest nation on the face of this earth.”
In Illinois, 3.13 million people have contracted the highly-transmissible coronavirus in the state’s 102 counties; so far, 37,867 residents have died. Cases are still averaging 3,136 a day with an 78% increase of positive cases from two weeks ago.
Former State Sen. Paul Schimpf, businessmen Gary Rabine and Jesse Sullivan and attorney Max Solomon each stated how conservative, Christian, and capitalist they were to the audience at Five Points in Washington.
Some of the candidates spent time enticing the crowd to run for their school boards and change the curriculum based on the parent’s say. Before the debate, Rule said he was taught to put problems in God’s hands, but this time citizens need to stand up.
“We do that, don't we? We put things in God’s hands for him to help us with, but God needs us…to be soldiers. He needs us to fight the battles here,” Rule said. “We need to put the fears aside and find the time to engage in the battle. So join your local GOP organizations…”
Sullivan, answering a question about education, says the frontlines of the battle are happening in our schools.
“I hate to say it, but right now we’re losing, we are losing that battle. I mean look at what is happening right now…look at what’s happening…you cannot say a prayer during school, but you can talk about sexuality and gender identity to our young children,” said Sullivan. “This is wrong and this should not be happening.”
The candidate who mentioned a return to limited government said he would clear house of the Illinois State Board of Education and promote competition to bolster schools. Solomon said, if elected, his right hand after taking the oath of office would fall immediately to enact change to Illinois’ schools.
“(Hand) coming down to ban CRT (critical race theory) and….not only CRT, but evil use to hide away in subliminal messages, not anymore. They’re coming after our kids. Now only CRT, but sex education. The whole curriculum has got to go,” Solomon said. Critical race theory is an academic theory among civil rights scholars on America’s relationship with race; it is not a lesson plan taught in Illinois' public schools.
Rabine said the battles have moved from college campuses and high schools to grade schools.
“I will not stop until this graphic sex education is out of every library and every school in Illinois. If you talk to sheriffs, I’ve got many sheriffs behind me in this race and my friends are sheriffs in the state…any will tell you this book, this sexual education book in our libraries across the state would be looked upon as child porn three years ago,” Rabine said to some applause.
It is not clear what book Rabine was referring to, but last year Pritzker signed a law establishing new standards for sex education. The curriculum is not yet established as the ISBE has until August 2022 to develop it. Sex education in schools focus on consent, puberty, sexual health and interpersonal violence and parents can opt their kids out.
Other issues discussed included candidate support for voiding Firearm Owners Identification, state pension reform, and reversing the elimination of cash bail, a part of the SAFE-T Act that has yet to be enacted.
The primary election is June 28, and the general election is Nov. 8.