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Businessman Bruce Rauner blasts union bosses as he jumps into governor’s race


Updated: June 5, 2013 9:11PM

Using tough talk for union bosses, but sidestepping the gay marriage question, wealthy businessman Bruce Rauner officially announced his candidacy for governor on Wednesday via video and through a series of media interviews.

The Republican from Winnetka sought to control the announcement by forgoing a news conference where he would be subjected to a mass question and answer session.

Instead, he released a carefully edited video that celebrated Rauner’s work as a businessman and appeared choreographed to appeal to downstate Illinoisans with references to his work on a farm and firing a rifle as a child.

In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, a Rauner aide cut off the questioning, citing scheduling issues when a reporter attempted to pin down Rauner on whether he personally supports same-sex marriage. It was a question Rauner ultimately would not answer, likely recognizing the necessity of the far right’s support during a Republican primary. The explosive issue ultimately ousted Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady because he supported gay marriage.

“My view is irrelevant,” Rauner said. “Why does that matter? There are many issues that folks can disagree about. It’s OK. I would like the Republican family as the big family. We can disagree. We can have some fights, that’s OK. And stay unified on the most critical issues.”

He said the issue should be left up to voters in a referendum.

Rauner, 57, who has more than $1.8 million in his campaign fund, will face a primary against Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who officially announced his candidacy on Sunday. Rauner, a former investor in a Chicago Sun-Times media company, has contributed healthy amounts of cash to both Republicans and Democrats over the years and has allied himself with Rahm Emanuel, favoring charter schools and defending the mayor’s controversial closure of dozens of public schools.

At a time when Springfield is in disarray and economic chaos ensues, Rauner has the benefit of painting himself as a Springfield outsider.

Rauner struck an Emanuel-esque tone on Wednesday, making clear he would not be afraid to battle unions in the fight to overhaul public pensions.

He also dismissed Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton and the power often associated with the two. Rauner pointed instead to the leaders of top employee unions — stressing he’s not anti-union, but wants union leaders to do more to solve the problem.

“You don’t see them talked about. They are arguably the most powerful politicians in Springfield,” Rauner told the Sun-Times. “They own the Democratic party in Springfield…It’s a corrupt, pay-to-play political system that’s broken. It’s pay-to-play politics at its worse. Until we take that on, we will never reform Springfield.”

Anders Lindall, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 31, said in response to Rauner’s attack on unions: “If billionaire Bruce Rauner thinks bullying attacks on middle-class working people, their families and seniors is good politics, he’s even further out of touch with Illinois values than his extreme policies suggest.”

For his part, Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who has more than $750,000 in campaign funds, said he isn’t a career politician nor is he beholden to anyone.

He has something no one else has to offer, he says:

“I’m the only Republican looking to run for governor who has actually won a statewide race,” said Rutherford, who beat Robin Kelly, now a U.S. Congresswoman, in the 2010 treasurer race.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) as well as State Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) have also announced their interest in the Republican primary.

The announcement comes on the heels of gross inaction in Springfield by Democrats, who control both chambers of the state legislature as well as the governor’s mansion. Democrats are still scrambling to come up with a deal to reform public pensions after the state’s bond rating was downgraded.

Over the last three months, Rauner has made 65 stops around the state for a “listening tour.” His campaign is planning another dozen stops in upcoming weeks. On Thursday, Rauner is expected to visit Caterpillar in Peoria.

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