SPRINGFIELD — Illinois voters who aren’t quite sure what to make of the current election season aren’t alone.
They have good company in former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, who’s no stranger to political campaigns, having been first elected to the Illinois House in 1976 before going on to win four statewide races for secretary of state and governor.
But whether it’s the race for the White House or races for the Statehouse, there are factors at play this year that haven’t been seen in anyone’s lifetime, Edgar said Tuesday during a luncheon discussion in Springfield hosted by the nonpartisan Better Government Association. The event, which also featured Christopher Kennedy, a former chairman of the University of Illinois board of trustees who’s been mentioned as a potential 2018 Democratic candidate for governor, was titled “Elections 2016: Candidates, Chaos and Consequences.”
“I wish we could have this after the election; I would sound much more intelligent about how the election was going to go,” Edgar said, drawing a laugh from the crowd in a downtown hotel banquet room.
On the presidential level, Republican candidate Donald Trump, who Edgar said won’t receive his vote, has thrown out the rules of political decorum in his campaign against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the former governor said.
In Illinois, Edgar added, current Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has changed the political landscape by pumping more than $20 million into the state GOP. And that total is likely to grow, with contribution limits now lifted in the comptroller’s race thanks to a $260,000 loan from the husband of Rauner appointee Leslie Munger to her campaign.
Munger faces Democratic Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza.
“Gov. Rauner has provided more money than I’ve ever dreamed would be in Illinois politics,” Edgar said. “Now the Democrats, (Illinois House Speaker Michael) Madigan’s always been pretty good with raising money. Nothing compared to what Rauner’s injecting into this election. And what impact that’s going to have, I don’t think we know yet.”
Edgar said the money his party is spending to defeat downstate Democrats might not be money well-spent, noting that Republicans have tried for years, unsuccessfully, to use Madigan’s unpopularity against them.
With voters more likely to cast straight party ballots than in the past, Edgar and Kennedy agreed having Trump at the top of the ticket could hurt Republicans’ chances of winning the support of suburban Chicago women, whose votes would be crucial to the GOP picking up legislative seats in that area.
If voters do split their tickets, however, Rauner’s money may provide a boost to Republican candidates for state House and Senate seats in the suburbs, where Rauner is more popular than he is downstate, Edgar said.
“It’s going to be kind of Rauner’s money versus Rauner’s record,” he said.
Without a full state budget in place nearly two years into Rauner’s term, neither Edgar nor Kennedy had much positive to say about his record.
As he has for the past year, Edgar criticized Rauner for not making balancing the state budget his top priority and instead tying budget discussions to changes in workers’ compensation laws, term limits for elected officials, redistricting reform and other items on his “turnaround agenda.”
“The most important thing facing the state of Illinois is to get a balanced budget,” Edgar said. “Everything else pales compared to that.”
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment. In response to similar comments in the past, Rauner has said he’s focused on the future and reforming the state, not critiques from former officeholders.