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Di Leo: GOP gubernatorial primary candidates vie for suburban voters


021222 all four candidates (2)

Bailey, Solomon, Schimpf, Rabine


By John F. Di Leo - 

A Republican town hall was held in Naperville, and Illinois Review was there…

On Saturday, February 12, Freedom Initiative Now hosted a GOP Gubernatorial Town Hall, featuring four of the announced Republican candidates for Governor of Illinois, with a couple hundred activists in attendance at the Embassy Suites in Naperville.

State Senator Darren Bailey, former State Senator Paul Schimpf, businessman Gary Rabine, and attorney Max Solomon were seated on the dais.  Three other candidates believed to be in the running – Chris Roper (who at some point had accepted), Jesse Sullivan and Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin – were not in attendance.

Co-hosts Nick Richmond and Kelly Dittmann kept their introduction to a minimum, asked three appropriate, general series of questions, then closed with a couple of final questions from the audience.  The format wasn’t perfect, but it was impressively, scrupulously fair.

Perhaps that was one of the most remarkable aspects, for those of us who usually watch national forums and debates, but rarely have the opportunity to see other such forums.  Two of the most notorious problems with the presidential and vice presidential debates in recent decades, even in primaries, are the fighting between the candidates, and the clear partisanship of the moderators.

There’s a formal national organization – the Commission on Presidential Debates – allegedly established to present fair and useful debates, a claim that would be laughable if it weren’t such a serious issue, and such a severe violation of the public trust, every four years.  That commission has presented debates so biased against Republicans, the RNC is finally threatening to refuse to participate in the future.

021222 the dais

(left to right, moderators Nick Richmond and Kelly Dittman, and candidates Sen. Darren Bailey, Gary Rabine, Sen. Paul Schimpf, and Max Solomon)

A Fair Format

By contrast, picture this scene from last Saturday afternoon.  The four candidates who participated were seated in alphabetical order: Bailey, Rabine, Schimpf, Solomon.  From the opening introductory statements to the final questions, they took turns in speaking, always in that order from left to right.  Bailey started the first round, Rabine the second, Schimpf the third, and so on, throughout the afternoon.

Several times, the moderators forgot who should be next, and began to hand the microphone to the wrong candidate; each time, the candidates cheerfully ensured that the right order was preserved.

These are very different candidates. 

  • Darren Bailey is a downstate farmer, and was a longtime school board president, then served in the Illinois State House and State Senate, and founded a local private school, Full Armor Christian Academy.
  • US Naval Academy graduate Paul Schimpf served the Marines as an attorney, including postings in Washington DC and Iraq. Since retiring from the Marines, he ran for Illinois Attorney General (the only one of this group to have run statewide before), worked in private practice as a lawyer in southern Illinois, and served a term as an Illinois State Senator.
  • Businessman Gary Rabine has never held office before. His impressive resume includes building his family driveway and parking lot paving business to cover a nationwide reach, and he has been an active co-founder of several major organizations, including the Job Creators Network and Turning Point USA.
  • Max Solomon is the comparative newcomer of the group (from a Republican perspective, anyway), an immigrant from Lagos, Nigeria who settled in Chicagoland for college and law school. Now an attorney and college instructor, he unsuccessfully sought nomination to state legislative offices as a Democrat in 2014, 2016 and 2018, before being nominated as a Republican to seek a state house seat in that same solidly Democratic district in 2020.

Despite their differences in backgrounds, all four were cordial to each other in this town hall format, clearly allied in their recognition that the enemy – not just of this field but of the State of Illinois itself – is incumbent Governor J.B. Pritzker.

In answer to question after question, the candidates gave credit to each other where appropriate and agreed on the big picture.  Again and again, they all stressed that everything needs to change in Springfield, that it’s not just one or two big policy errors, but the entire reign of the entrenched Democrat party leadership that must be replaced, root and branch.

021222 sullivan irvin

The Empty Chairs

Like many primaries, this Illinois gubernatorial primary includes a long list of announced candidates, some of whom will likely drop out by the last day of filing… or who may file, but then withdraw on the last day to do so, if the polls aren’t in their favor.   A couple on that long list, for all we know, may not even be circulating petitions.

Two glaring absences, however, did raise eyebrows.  

Businessman Jesse Sullivan is a political novice, completely unknown and financially backed primarily by California tech billionaires.  His own resume looks like an attempt to copy the Bruce Rauner appeal as a financial wizard, but even that falls flat, as his numbers are tiny by comparison, primarily based on cryptocurrencies and third world business activity.  Claiming the ability to “run Illinois like a business,” he has no visible connection to the Illinois business community at all.

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, on the other hand, is an experienced Illinois politician, having served as an attorney for both Cook County and Kane County, and as an Aurora alderman for ten years.  He is now in his second term as mayor of Aurora.  While these local positions are non-partisan, he says that he has identified as a Republican throughout his political career, though he took Democrat ballots in the majority of primary elections on record.

Both of these very different candidates – Sullivan and Irvin – are running well-funded media campaigns, with expensive commercials and social media saturations unusual for Illinois Republicans.  The attendees clearly would have liked to see how these two unknowns stack up, when asked questions about the issues before a roomful of people who know conservative policy.

While there was plenty to watch in evaluating the four who attended, the fact that Sullivan and Irvin were missing reinforced the common assumption that these aren’t really the movement conservatives that Illinois so desperately needs to both win the election and lead the state out of its deplorable condition.

The Issues at Hand

Covid-19 and Vaccines

Hanging over everyone’s head – the biggest issue on everyone’s mind for the past two years – was of course Covid-19 and the various illegal mandates that have showered down from Governor Pritzker since the China virus appeared.

Two of the four candidates – Senator Bailey and Mr. Rabine – have in fact directly sued the governor’s office on different aspects of his illegal orders, winning both cases.  Much of the discussion regarding these matters therefore concerned the greater challenges of Illinois government: the fact that the entire government in Springfield is lawless, in many ways.  Governor Pritzker has not let up, continuing to issue illegal order after illegal order, despite court injunctions, on the theory that even though he has no actual power to enforce them, ignorant consumers of the mainstream media’s reports will follow them anyway, wrongly assuming his illegitimate mandates to be binding law.


Conversations about education were similarly focused on the virus;  while opposition to such destructive policy as Critical Race Theory was uniform among the candidates, the usual biennial debate on levels and methods of school funding took second place to frustration – by audience as well as the speakers – at the way so many in the Illinois education establishment have used Covid-19 as an opportunity to shut down education, to lock children out of school and rob them of their education, their extracurriculars, and their interpersonal relationships for two full years now.

Senator Schimpf stressed that “it will take decades to know how much damage was done to our children.”  And he warned that we need to learn a key lesson from this episode: Many in the education establishment “are Democratic operatives first, and teachers second.”

On this theme, Mr. Rabine stressed that in Illinois, despite violations of law, constitution and even judicial decrees, politicians never pay a price for their lawbreaking; he called for the next administration to be brave enough to prosecute the politicians who violate judges’ orders, and to prosecute the illegal removal of parents from their children’s education.

Senator Bailey reminded the audience of the power of the governor’s office, how so much of the bad policy we suffer today is caused by state boards of education appointed by Governor Pritzker.  Too often, he said, too much of Illinois education policy is determined by “a partnership between the teachers’ union and Planned Parenthood.” And this must end.

A twelve year school board president himself, Senator Bailey stressed the way that so many Illinois school boards hide behind their superintendents and advising attorneys… and he reminded us all of our obligation to get involved, by running for school board, and firing and replacing these often malevolent characters.


The candidates addressed the issue of crime, stressing that even his fellow Democrats have taken J.B. Pritzker to task for being MIA on the crime issue.  Mr. Rabine stressed the need to fund more police, citing statistics showing that, considering their differences in population, Chicago’s murder rate is several times that of even New York City.

Max Solomon, coming directly from Cook County, had a number of striking lines on the subject. “When you subordinate law enforcement to law encroachment, you embolden crime.”


Pension reform is always among the most painful of issues to discuss in Illinois, because our situation is likely the worst in the country.   As Senator Schimpf said, “We must remember that our pension problems are caused by the fact that our corrupt politicians stole from the pension fund.” 

“Stole” is the right word. Again and again over the past thirty years, state budgets have consciously underfunded their constitutionally mandated pension contributions, leaving an impossible hole.

Max Solomon calls for “CPR – Constitutional Pension Reform”… and he spoke of an upcoming opportunity to clarify or alter our state’s Constitutional obligation when the mandatory reconsideration of the question arises in 2028.

Senator Bailey spoke of his ongoing conversations with the stakeholders – the troopers, the teachers, the state employees, etc. – in trying to find common ground so that we can meet our legal obligations to current and former employees, while setting ourselves on a track for future solvency by putting new hires on the private sector’s 401K style approach.

Big Government

A common theme was the fact that Illinois has strayed much too far from our Founding Fathers’ goal of small government at every level.   This is why we’re losing residents, losing jobs, losing taxpayers, losing civic leaders, on a daily basis in Illinois. People flee because they are being crushed by the weight of regulations and the commensurate high tax burden.

All four candidates spoke of the need to switch to zero base budgeting, to have any prayer of getting our fiscal house in order.

Senator Bailey had the numbers at hand, reminding us that no matter how much our state’s revenue grows, the Democrats in power always find a way to exceed it.  And he stressed that it’s not just our income tax; he quoted such statistics as how our workmen’s comp insurance is 2.5 times that of our neighboring states… these are the issues that make it so hard to attract and build employers here.

Mr. Rabine shared anecdotes from the Trump White House, where his campaign advisor Stephen Moore had argued against federal bailouts of the states during the original Covid-19 shutdowns.  Mr. Moore predicted that blue states would legislate laziness to qualify for such bailouts and puff up their balance sheets to look better, if such moneys were available; sure enough, they were, and they did.  J.B. Pritzker grabbed at that federal cash, and has used it to shore up our bankrupt state coffers.

Senator Schimpf focused on the big picture: from his time in Springfield, he said, “I recognize that government power is not a good thing.”   The candidates nodded in agreement; this is the dividing line between today’s Democrats and today’s Republicans.  The Left will never stop growing government if given the chance; the Right must step up and work to whittle the leviathan back down to size.

The Purpose of a Primary

We hold primaries to determine, not what our issues should be (hopefully we already know that), but who will be the strongest candidate to ride out into the field in the fall.

Illinois has a much later primary than usual, this year; it will be held in the summer, on June 28. The list of candidates may well change by then.

This was just one of many opportunities to meet the candidates, the audience was generally reassured that these at least could make the party proud if chosen as the standard-bearer.

What are a primary voter’s concerns?  Who can govern, who agrees with us on the big picture?  Who has the experience to stand up to the powers that be and make headway in the swamp known as Springfield?

And the hardest question: Who can win?

This isn’t an easy call this time. The nominee will be running against a hereditary billionaire incumbent who has the press on his side.  Opposing him won’t be easy.  It will take money, media, grass roots, work, charisma, and luck.

On the other hand, J.B. Pritzker has been heavy handed, to say the least.  Like so many other governors, he has acted on his own, making enemies of his own party as well as his rivals’ party, and making enemies of voters as well.

Every business that suffered losses or bankruptcy should know that Governor Pritzker bears some of the responsibility.  Everyone who lost his or her job because of these illegal shutdowns and mandates must know that Pritzker’s decrees are to blame. And every parent who has watched his children suffer the effects of these measures – far longer than our surrounding states did – must know the politician who is responsible.

This will be a good year for Republican challengers, from coast to coast.  It’s no guarantee, but whoever wins this nomination will be in a better position than any other recent challenger for the governor’s mansion in Illinois.

There’s good reason to get involved, to pay attention, and to keep watching as this campaign season marches on.  If the Republican electorate chooses wisely, we have a good shot at finally getting Illinois back on track next year.

It can’t come too soon.

Copyright 2022 John F Di Leo

Photo credit:  All Photos by Mark Weyermuller

John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based trade compliance trainer and transportation manager, writer and actor. A one-time county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, he has been writing regularly for Illinois Review since 2009.

 A collection of John’s Illinois Review articles about vote fraud, The Tales of Little Pavel, and his 2021 political satires about current events, Evening Soup with Basement Joe, Volumes One and Two, are available, in either paperback or eBook, only on Amazon.

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021222 Mark and John

(left to right: photographer Mark Weyermuller and author John F. Di Leo)


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  1. It’s obvious Bailey is head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to knowing the issues and standing publicly against the present Illinois Uniparty that has given us Irwin and Sullivan and Rauner as “opposition” to the Democrats. I am particularly disappointed in Rabine in picking somebody with the obvious political and personal baggage of Aaron Del Mar as his Lite Guv and that Uber Rino, former Illinois “Republican” Chairman Pat Brady is his advisor. Other than Mary Miller, Darren Bailey is the most impressive Illinois politician I have ever met in over 40 years of Illinois politics.

  2. To your point, Grant, I’ve been baffled by Rabine’s choice of a running mate too.
    He has such supporters as Charlie Kirk and Stephen Moore – conservative leaders of truly national stature – and then he picks a township committeeman as his running mate? It doesn’t make sense.

  3. JDF,it makes a lot of sense! He has the downstate director who I spoke to personally,I asked if Gary would sign Pro-Life Legislation if it came to his desk I was answered “Don’t you see the need to be AMBITIOUS?” RABINE ties himself to Trump. What was TRUMP EVER ambiguous about?? Why would he pick fluncky Aaron Delmar? To can support of Cook County which you gotta win to have a chance at Illinois. The Cook County Republican Party, along with the rest of the Illinois GOP hasn’t done anything for anybody. Thank you for the heads up about Pat Brady! I did not know the ACLU MAN WAS TIED TO THE RABINE CAMPAIGN! That is scandalous! But what I found is that many many Mark Kirk former campaign staff are now Gary Rabine Staff. They have pushed him to the LEFT from the get go! RABINE was a big donor and supporter of Bruce “sanctuary state” Rauner. Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old boss!

  4. How can there be an Republican Town Hall without this question being ask…What is your plan to reduce the size and cost of Illinois’ nation leading 8,923 units of local government, starting with the 1,433 outdated township governments which most states do NOT have as well as 17 of Illinois counties? Rabine’s pic for Lieutenant Governor Aaron Del Mar is the Palatine Road Commissioner, what’s that all about??? Double-Dipper???

  5. Folks, we need to be fair in our concerns.
    Slamming a candidate for hiring pros who have worked for moderates before is not fair. Good Republican campaign workers have experience working for both conservatives and moderates, not just one or the other.
    I worry more about a candidate with significant leftist donors, or with his own leftist history.
    Regarding lieutenant governor choices, however, that should be more telling.
    Darren Bailey chose Stephanie Trussell, who lacks elective office but has been a metro chicago radio talk show host for a long time. She’s well known to the base in the chicago metro, at least, as well known as a state legislator would be.
    Paul Schimpf chose Carolyn Schofield, a past crystal lake city council member and current McHenry County board member….
    Both Bailey and Schimpf are from far southern Illinois, and chose running mates with a following in the north, so these are normal lt gov choices, as the process is usually done.
    What’s odd about Rabine here is that he lacks elected office experience, and comes from the northwest suburbs, and chose a running mate also from the northwest suburbs whose only elective office is as a township road commissioner (and by the way, NO, that’s not double dipping. Holding a party office and a township office is normal, and not weird or improper at all. I’m not a shill for Del Mar… but trust me, this is normal)… I’m just personally baffled that Rabine couldn’t get a more credentialed running mate, who brought more to the table.

  6. Christopher Roper dropped out.
    Is there video from this event? There was another forum several months ago that was recorded and it was posted to YouTube. I’m wondering if anybody recorded and posted this one.
    Illinois Family Action is supposed to be having a debate for U.S. Senate and Governor at a church in Arlington Heights on Thursday.