CHICAGO — A Republican lawmaker trying to unseat Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is standing by a campaign ad that has been blasted as racist and homophobic, despite the state party chairman's call for her to stop airing it and apologize.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives, a social and fiscal conservative, said the ad that began airing this weekend illustrates the GOP governor's "chosen constituents based on the policy choices he made" and primary voters need to know about his record.
The ad features actors portraying, among others, a transgender woman, an African-American Chicago Teachers Union member and a woman wearing a pink hat associated with women's marches. Each of them thanks Rauner for his policies. The ad is a take on a Rauner campaign ad in which GOP governors from neighboring states thanked Illinois' Democratic House speaker for policies they say pushed people and jobs to their states.
The actor in Ives' ad who is playing the deep-voiced transgender woman, wearing a dress that reveals chest hair, says "Thank you for signing legislation that lets me use the girl's bathroom." The woman in the pink hat says, "Thank you for making all Illinois families pay for my abortions."
Advocacy groups and people from both political parties quickly condemned the ad as divisive and misleading.
A spokeswoman for Democratic governor candidate J.B. Pritzker said Ives was spreading "poison," while Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider said Ives should pull the ad and "immediately apologize to the Illinoisans who were negatively portrayed in a cowardly attempt to stoke political division."
"There is no place in the Illinois Republican Party for rhetoric that attacks our fellow Illinoisans based on their race, gender or humanity," Schneider said Saturday.
Ives' campaign dismissed Schneider's statement, calling the Illinois GOP an arm of Rauner's campaign because the organization is almost entirely funded by Rauner, a wealthy former private equity investor.
"Rauner betrayed Illinois conservatives. He and his paid-for mouthpieces don't like his betrayals being illustrated and his radical left-wing social agenda being exposed," campaign spokeswoman Kathleen Murphy said. "Rauner is the one who owes Illinois families in general and conservatives in particular an apology."
Rauner, during a stop in Normal, said Ives’ ad “absolutely does not” represent the views of the Republican Party. “I think that just shows how unelectable Rep. Ives really is. Rep. Ives has associated herself with questionable individuals who really don't represent the people of Illinois,” he said.
Rauner also wouldn’t say whether he would debate Ives. He said he plans to “be 100 percent focused on Mike Madigan and his cronies.”
Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, a Bloomington Republican who accompanied Rauner to Normal, on Thursday chided Ives on Twitter for her choice of a fundraiser speaker criticized for racist remarks. State Rep. Dan Brady and state Sen. Jason Barickman, both Bloomington Republicans, did not address the ad during the tour, but Brady’s primary opponent, real estate broker David Paul Blumenshine of Normal, told WGLT Radio that Ives should pull the ad.
Ives, a three-term legislator from the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, decided to challenge Rauner in the March 20 primary after he angered conservatives on issues such as the abortion bill. It allows taxpayer-funded abortions for people on Medicaid and people covered by state employee health insurance.
Rauner also approved a measure that allows transgender people to change the gender listed on their birth certificate with a declaration from a health care professional. It doesn't reference bathroom use.
Rauner is considered one of the most vulnerable Republican governors seeking re-election this year, as he tries to win a second term in a state that typically favors Democrats for statewide office.