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Q&A with Ives: 'Fringe' Issues, Gun Control, And Why Everything Begins With Pensions

Ryan Denham
State Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Republican candidate for governor.

Candidates for governor are crisscrossing the state in the final hours before Tuesday's primary election.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner faces a primary challenge from state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton. Ives stopped by GLT's studios on Friday for a 25-minute discussion about her candidacy.

Here are excerpts from that conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length.

GLT: Let’s start with the enormous financial pressures on the state. Another tough budget cycle coming up, fresh off the two-year stalemate that ended last summer. What would be your approach to resolving these foundational fiscal problems facing the state?

Ives: Fiscal reform in the state of Illinois begins with pension reform. I say that sitting in a college town. That may be difficult for people to hear. But we cannot continue to spend 25 percent of our general revenues on pensions. It’s crowding out everything else that our state has to do to operate.

It’s alarming that when you look across our pension obligation, it eats up about 23 percent of our income. The average in other states is 3 percent. When I say that pensions are a problem in the state of Illinois, we’re an extreme outlier to the rest of the states. It’s crowding out what we need to do for the developmentally disabled, what we need to do for infrastructure, what we need to do to support education. Until we solve our pension problems, we’ll never solve everything.

The first step is to stop digging the hole. To do that, you should start with a 401K-style plan for all new hires.

You’ve said you want to rescind the income tax increase passed in Springfield over Rauner’s veto. How do you do that, given how much additional revenue that brings in, and still get Illinois to a balanced budget?

I’m being a realist here. I understand I can’t just wave a magic wand and say finally we’re going to repeal the 32 percent permanent income tax increase that really Rauner got boxed into doing because he never proposed a balanced budget, and then had a feud with (Speaker Mike Madigan) for almost three years over the budget, which allowed our backbills to balloon, $10 billion more, so it was $16 billion and he had no place to maneuver. He kind of let Republicans slide. He didn’t try and stop that tax increase. So now he’s pretending he didn’t want it. But the truth is, his budget uses every dime of that.

First of all, we’re going to take care of our backbills. It’s nearly immoral, really, to hold this much in current account payments when vendors have provided services to the state and we’re not paying them in a timely manner. Just in the first seven months of this fiscal year, we’ve spent over $330 million just on interest payments on the backbills we haven’t paid on time. That’s an outrage. We spend nearly that amount of money on MAP (Monetary Award Program) grants in a given year.

We’ve got to budget to have that tax increase go away. That’s our goal. To show over time, hopefully after the first two years of paying down our backbills, after we’ve done forensic audits at our agencies, after we’ve taken out every grant line that’s not producing anything, and we’ve restructured whole agencies, after we’ve done all that hopefully we will find the way we can prove to the legislature they can take back that tax increase. I can’t wave a magic wand either.

Rauner signed House Bill 40 last fall, making abortion eligible for coverage under Medicaid in Illinois and under the state’s employee health insurance plan. You called it a failure of leadership and a trigger for why you ran against him. With all of the other issues facing Illinois, are you concerned that outcome of this Republican primary fight might be a Democrat ends up winning in November?

What we do know is that if Rauner is elected March 20, he will lose in November. He’s lost his base.

And it’s not just over the pro-life issue. It’s over the sanctuary state bill that he signed. It’s over the fact that he won’t even recognize our president—our Republican president—or work with him. It’s over his bailout of Chicago Public Schools at the expense of taxpayers statewide.

It’s these crony-type bills that he’s signed where he couldn’t lead on policy and get a good deal for taxpayers—we’re also upset about that. This is not a one issue challenge to Gov. Rauner. He has wholesale failed to perform on the fiscal front, and betrayed us on the social front. That’s his record.

We just saw student protests around the state advocating for stricter gun control in the wake of the Florida shooting. What did you think of those walkouts?

I thought they should’ve been done on private time. There’s no reason to disrupt a school day, especially in a public school setting. This is taxpayer dime, taxpayer time. These kids need to be in school. And if they want to protest, they can do it afterward.

Credit Jeanne Ives Campaign / Twitter
Jeanne Ives during her interview with GLT's Ryan Denham.

Many people felt pressured into walking out of school. My campaign chairman, Chris Cleveland, filed a complaint against Chicago Public Schools, because they had even middle-school administrators leading marches out of those schools. These are 10- to 14-year-olds who don’t know what they’re walking out of school about. They shouldn’t feel pressured into doing something of a political nature that they’re not comfortable with.

It’s wrong for public institutions to lead that type of protest over a single issue.

(Editor’s note: The student organizers interviewed last week by GLT said it was their personal passion for the issue that led them to walk out, not pressure from their teachers or school administrators.)

What new legislation would you support at the federal or state level to curb mass shootings?

What we need to do is look at what Indiana is doing. They have one particular school where they’ve hardened that school. They have special doors that are very secure. You can’t get into them. Special glass. Panic buttons for teachers inside where they can relay to first responders—are they safe or not safe, is there a medical emergency. They’ve got places where they can seal off hallways so you can track the shooter in that situation. They’ve got visual aids—cameras everywhere, so first responders can attack where they need to. That’s an option. I don’t know that every school needs to do that.

This is a district by district issue. Not all districts have these problems. We don’t listen enough to the local level. But I’m open to suggestions.

Several bills are moving through the Illinois General Assembly right now related to limiting access to guns. Do you support any of those?

I did vote for banning bump stocks. We’ve had a ban on automatic weapons since 1934. Any device that would make it like an automatic weapon therefore should be banned.

But the other bills were not going to solve anything that happened in Florida. They didn’t address mental health. They didn’t address the lack of disciplinary measures being taken on this student while he was at the school. Nor were mental health (officials) alerted to his issues. There were at least 37 contacts with local law enforcement, and nothing happened. You had two credible threats brought to the FBI, and they failed to take action. You had a wholesale failure of government watching out for students. And what could’ve been a very preventable incident.

There was no bill in Springfield that addressed government accountability on those issues.

You had one face-to-face debate with Rauner since this campaign began. You received praise by many Republicans for your performance at that debate. John Kass from the Tribune said you proved you were “more serious policy wonk than social conservative warrior.” Do you find that’s a distinction you find yourself having to make with voters, or the media?

All the time. They want to focus on fringe issues to the majority of Illinoisans and not focus on the finances. It’s a shallow way of deflect from the serious problems that are facing us fiscally.

If you look at all the bills I’ve filed for the past six years, they predominantly—if not 90 percent of them—deal with fiscal issues, government accountability, transparency, pension reform, school debt reform, property tax reform. All of that, and it’s ignored, ignored, ignored, for fringe issues that apparently they think voters get emotional over. It’s ridiculous.

How does that square with the “Thank You” ad you ran in February, depicting cartoonish versions of a trans person and women’s right activist? The ad featured those people, and others, tongue-in-cheek thanking Rauner—part of your central argument that Rauner has not been sufficiently conservative.

First of all, that ad was not just about one issue. That ad was also about (the bailout of Exelon). A $2.2 billion net profitable company the year before. Now taxpayers are subsidizing to the tune of $2.35 billion. Take that in context, we send about 25 percent of the energy we produce in Illinois to other states. So what are you doing now? You’re subsidizing lower electricity rates outside our state. That’s not a fringe issue. That’s an economic issue.

How about the sanctuary state bill? The person (in the ad) was depicted as Antifa. I’d encourage people to sit with Eric Brady, whose wife was killed by a criminal illegal alien. Or Brian McCann, whose brother was killed by a criminal illegal alien and justice has not been served. Because law enforcement did not hold them. That’s a rule of law issue. That’s not a fringe issue.

Taxpayer funding of abortion is also an economic issue in a state that is bankrupt. Planned Parenthood has opened up one brand-new clinic and plans to open four more. They see the taxpayers of Illinois as a profit center. And considering that our Medicaid eligibility is like as sieve, I guarantee you there will be out-of-state folks coming here for abortions that taxpayers will end up paying for.

These are not fringe issues. These are economic issues as well.

What did you think of the Democratic Governors Association’s new ad, the one that calls you “too conservative” for Illinois? It’s a not-so-sneaky play to maybe make you appear more attractive to Republican primary voters.

That’s great. They’re either getting ready for me to win March 20 and trying to soften up the battlefield. Or they’re trying to pick me as their opponent. Whatever, that’s fine.

I disagree with the ad completely. I think that, at least the people know where I stand on these issues. They know where I stand and I’ve never hid from it. But then we move on, and we need to talk about economics. And there’s nobody in this state that’s going to lead the tax revolt that has to happen in 2018 if we’re going to survive. Nobody is going to do it but me.

Full segment from GLT's interview.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.