SPRINGFIELD – Along with fried foods, carnival rides and an 800-pound cow made of butter, the Illinois State Fair is known for its political theater.
For the Statehouse press corps, it means we clear our schedules for at least two days in mid-August each year to take in the candidate stump speeches, hand shaking and one-liners.
On that last front, the quips ranged from the knee-slapper to the brow-raiser.
One comment that falls into the latter category came from Republican attorney general candidate Thomas DeVore, the lawyer who gained statewide notoriety by suing Gov. JB Pritzker to challenge his executive order authority during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During his stump speech at Republican Day Thursday, DeVore took aim at Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, a favorite target of many on the Republican ticket for her prosecutorial leniency in certain circumstances.
“You make me attorney general, and if Kim Foxx won’t prosecute ‘em, I will,” DeVore told the crowd. “And she better get to prosecuting or we’ll figure out a way to prosecute her.”
It’s the type of comment Democratic Attorney General Kwame Raoul alluded to when he contended the AG’s race “matters more than any time in American history.”
Crime was also on gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey’s mind when the downstate farmer said for at least the third time in recent months that he believes Chicago is a “hellhole.”
He doubled down when asked by reporters if he thinks most Chicagoans believe the same.
“Actually, I believe they do,” he said. “Because it’s unsafe. But it’s going to change.”
Pritzker, meanwhile, characterized the Bailey-led GOP as having been taken over by the “lunatic fringe.”
“They’ll say anything, do anything, destroy anything to get elected,” Pritzker said in his Dem Day speech Wednesday.
While Bailey also criticized Pritzker’s “soft hands” as compared to his work-worn “hands of a farmer” in a compelling contrast, the hellhole comment is the type of messaging that has made many in the GOP hesitant to even mention Bailey’s name.
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, told members of the media he’d support the Republican ticket but wouldn’t go as far as name-dropping Bailey for an endorsement.
Durkin said he’s optimistic the record-high 106 Republican candidates for the state House can make a dent in Democratic supermajorities, especially if candidates focus on economic conditions.
“The cost of living, inflation,” he told me in an interview. “Those are the things on people’s minds, and they’ve had enough.”
Durkin also had one of the more memorable one-liners in characterizing the Democratic festivities at the Bank of Springfield Center, sometimes referred to by its initials, BOS.
“The only thing they should have done is removed the ‘O’ from the BOS because it was more of a BS center, because I could smell it all the way on I-55 when I was driving into town,” he said.
While Durkin used the phrase “limousine liberals” to describe the majority party, “Democrats deliver” was the tagline put forth by the opposite side as they spoke of climate legislation, minimum wage increases, a tax relief plan and other legislative accomplishments.
Senate Majority Leader Don Harmon, of Oak Park, contrasted the two parties with alliteration as well.
“It has become clear to anyone paying any attention to Washington or Springfield that there’s a party that whines and there’s a party that works,” he said. “Our party, the Democratic Party, is the party that works.”
For Emanuel “Chris” Welch, the state’s House speaker from Hillside, the rallying cry was “we won’t go back,” as he alluded heavily to the tumultuous tenure of Republican ex-Gov. Bruce Rauner, of Evanston.
Of the 106 GOP candidates for the House, Welch said, many of them were recruited by “Bruce Rauner’s buddies,” the Illinois Policy Institute think tank.
Comptroller Susana Mendoza went back to the Rauner well as well, reminiscing of her days as a foil to the impasse-allowing ex-governor who was in power as the state’s bill backlog rose to about $16 billion. Bills due now number about $2.2 billion, which means they’re paid within a few weeks of being received by the comptroller.
“That guy earned eight consecutive credit downgrades during the best economic bull market in our lifetime,” she said. “It is hard to be that bad.”
While Mendoza pointed out Illinois has had six credit upgrades in Pritzker’s term, her opponent, McHenry County Auditor Shannon Teresi, focused on some of Mendoza’s political ties.
“She got her career start in Danny Solis’ ward organization. He has been indicted,” Teresi said. “She got married in Ed Burke’s home by Ed Burke’s wife (Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke), and Ed Burke has been indicted. She gave the nominating speech for Mike Madigan to become Speaker of the House and he is indicted.”
Bloomington GOP Rep. Dan Brady, meanwhile, had a strong one-liner of his own when he promised to make his speech “as short as the lines will be in driver services facilities when I’m elected secretary of state.”
The assistant minority leader in the General Assembly also gleefully told reporters he had shown his line-shortening savvy at the GOP Day picnic, separating the long free BBQ line into two.
“On day one, we make sure we start cutting those lines just like we moved people through two lines here for lunch at the Republican picnic today,” he said. “And I’m not even secretary of state yet.”
Brady’s Democratic opponent in the race to replace retiring SOS Jesse White – a man praised by both candidates – is Alexi Giannoulias, the state’s former treasurer. He sought to tie Brady to the top of the GOP ticket and former President Donald Trump.
“Make no mistake, Darren Bailey, Dan Brady and others are part of Donald Trump’s new Republican Party,” Giannoulias said. “The same party that wants to eliminate abortion rights, put assault weapons on the streets, undermined our elections and restrict who can cast a ballot.”
Brady said he voted for Trump in 2020, but the only people who ask him about that are in the news media. The public would rather focus on cutting down wait times and improving driver services, he said.
“That’s what I’m talking about, and that’s what people are talking to me about,” he said.
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