PEORIA-Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bruce Rauner on Thursday gave his first press conference since declaring his candidacy a day before. The 57-year old venture capitalist from Deerfield, Ill. continued to call out union leaders, while also criticizing Gov. Pat Quinn's ability to work with the Legislature and pass pension reform.
Rauner answered questions about solving the state's pension woes, his political intentions, Chicago crime and concealed carry, but he darted a question about his position on same-sex marriage. The following is a transcript of most of the questions posed to Rauner and his answers in the 10-minute Q&A.
Q: As a political outsider, how do you plan on working with the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate in light of the gridlock in the last couple of weeks?
A: "Well, I'm a big believer in communication and close communication with everyone in a decision-making position. I look forward to working very closely with Speaker Madigan, President Cullerton, the legislative leaders throughout. We have many problems to solve, and I'll try to take a collaborative approach.
"That said, the key folks who also need to be in the room - this is the critical issue - are the government union heads themselves. They're the ones calling the shots. People like Cinda Klickna from the teachers union, Dan Montgomery from the teachers union...They're folks who - they're the ones who need to be in the room. They're the ones who are controlling much of the political process with their funds. And they're the ones who we need to negotiate with.
"The good news is, the governorship in Illinois is very powerful, and I can sit in a room with those government union heads and negotiate. And we've got the power in the governorship with executive 'order-ability,' ability to control the spending, ability to conduct the contract negotiations. We can drive changes that can lead to different results than what's gone on in the Legislature. A lot of this work has to be, in the end, voted by the Legislature. But the decisions need to get done and led by the governor in conjunction with those union heads. And that's what I'll drive."
Q: How will you use your absence from politics as a strength?
A: "I can come in with fresh ideas. Fresh ways of problem solving. A fresh perspective on dealing with our issues. I think the same old techniques that have failed us for the last 15, 20 years and more - those aren't working. And the career politicians, the folks who are in Springfield, who are really there and have been there for decades and are really a core part of the problem - they're not going to get us out of our mess. They're part of the issue.
"As an outsider with a fresh perspective, financial independence and someone who, frankly, doesn't care about re-election, I cant be intimidated or threatened or bribed or influenced. Whether I'm re-elected or not is not something I'm going to worry about."
Q: Gov. Pat Quinn has been criticized as being disengaged with the Legislature. How will you work with lawmakers?
A: "I would say Gov. Quinn has done an atrocious job of working with the Legislature. The governorship, again, is powerful, and the governor can lead the negotations and drive results because the governor has leverage points in negotiation that Quinn has never tried to take advantage of.
"Unfortunately for us, [former] Gov. [Rod] Blagojevich knew about the power of the office and used it to do some very destructive things. I could use the power of the governorship to do very great things, to restore our economy and our schools and our tax code. And I'm on a mission to do that. The Legislature needs to be led. Shown with respect, but needs to be led. And the governor's office is very powerful to exert that leadership."
Q: Why go straight for the governor's office, considering you are a political newcomer?
A: "Two things - I'm really not interested in a political career. So, I don't want to spend 20 or 30 years in Springfield. I think eight years is perfect amount, number one. But number two, we are in a crisis. If I work my way up over the next 15 or 20 years and then deal with it, we'll pass the tipping point of no return. And we have to take action now in the next few years and transform the government. I know exactly how to do that. I've got a specific plan to do that, and if we wait too long the problem will be too massive.
"And I do believe coming in fresh as an outsider at the top, assembling the best talent in America and the best talent in Illinois, we can drive transformative results. I can bring insiders and advisors. It's not, there's not like secrets in Springfield on how to get things done. I have legislators helping me. I have government folks who know how to get things done in government helping me, advising me. But I, as a fresh outside perspective with innovative thinking - I think the blending of those two will really get major things done down in Springfield."
Q: How do you plan on tackling the pension crisis?
A: "The pension mess is a disaster. And that is primarily an issue between the governor and the union bosses. The head of SEIU, the head of AFSCME, the teachers unions. It's between the governor and them, primarily."
Q: Is it fixable?
A: "It's absolutely fixable.
"What we have to do, we have to protect the good, hardworking government retirees. Those folks who have been working for years to have try and retire on 30, 40, $50,000 a year - they need to be protected and they deserve a good retirement. Unfortunately the system has been defrauded in a major way. There are folks who have been spiked in. There are folks who are triple-dipping. There are politicians who have worked their way in when they weren't even supposed to be in the pension. We have to clean up that abuse so we can protect the honest hardworking retirees.
"To do that we have to do two things. One, we have to end and cap the existing pension structure and protect it so it's there. The folks who paid into it and the obkligations that are in it need to be protected, and we need to fund into that as we can afford over time. But we need to end the current pension structure and protect it.
"We need to put a new pension structure in from this day going forward for our existing workers and our new workers. And we should offer them a range of choices so they can choose for themselves what sort of retirement they'd like to have. We should offer a defined-contribution plan like a 401(k). We should offer a blended plan like they've done in Rhode Island when they reformed their pensions. We should also offer, I think, a defined-benefit plan, but it should have very different characteristics and be much more affordable than the existing defined-benefit plan that we've got today."
***At this point in the interview (seven minutes into the Q&A), a Rauner spokesperson told reporters they had time for two more questions.
Q: When do you plan on filing your tax returns?
A: "We'll have to check the time - somewhere uh, during the race. I think more in the fall probably."
Q: What do you consider some of Chicago's biggest problems to be and how would you go after them?
A: "Well, as governor I won't run Chicago's issues. Their education system is completely broken. And my wife and I have been very involved in trying to improve the school system there. And I think the failure of the schools there and the high uemployemnt in Chicago and the high unemployment around Illinois has helped lead to their massive crime problem. And that's one of the biggest challenges they've got too is that crime problem. So we've got to bring down unemployment, offer job opportunities and then really improve education."
Q: Do you think a concealed-carry bill could help or hurt the crime problem?
A: "I don't think it's very related at all. Chicago's had some of the most restrictive gun regulations in America. Then it was handguns were illegal, and they had some of the worst crime. Crime is related to other issues."
Q: How does your background, your career, qualify you to advance policy in the way of business development and job creation?
"Yeah, that's a great question. I've helped build dozens of businesses. I know what businesses need. I know what they seek, and I've helped recruit businesses to Illinois. I've also watched and encouraged businesses not to leave Illinois. But I've watched as they have..."
"I've heard story after story about that. They're driving our policies. The politicians here in Illinois are driving businesses away, and that's our future. That's our careers for our young people, and we don't have a good future unless we reverse that, we become much more pro-business."
Q: So your pension plan doesn't include any plans to increase taxes?
A: "We need to reduce the tax burden."
***At this point in the interview (about 10 minutes into the Q&A), a Rauner spokesperson tried concluding the interview, but Rauner was pressed on one final issue. Rauner did not answer the question as he left the interview.
Q: Where do you stand on gay marriage? Should Illinois legalize gay marriage?
A: "I guess we're done."
***After the interview, a Rauner spokesperson said Rauner believes a statewide voter referendum should be held before the Legislature should pass a same-sex marriage bill. Asked if Rauner would push a same-sex marriage bill if voters supported it, the spokesperson said Rauner feels it's not an issue he should involve himself with.