By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bruce Rauner said Illinois government needs a total transformation and he's ready to lead that effort.
"I'm not a politician ... I'm a businessman," Rauner told a group of Quincyans who gathered Tuesday to hear him speak at Knapheide Manufacturing Co.
Rauner laid out four priorities that he believes must be tackled. He wants to see Illinois focus on job creation, efforts to end the corruption and insiders' financial dealings in Springfield, improving education and establishing term limits that limit lawmakers to eight years in office.
"We have a plan for that" term limits campaign, Rauner said.
Rauner, 57, is a Chicago area venture capitalist who entered the governor's race about three weeks ago. He has been one of the state's top donors to charter schools and school choice.
"I love teachers. I don't like teachers unions," Rauner said.
He attributes the Illinois pension disaster to the influence of union bosses who got lawmakers to make pensions too generous to sustain. Rauner wants to cap and then end the current pension system. Then going forward he would move all employees into a new system such as a 401(k) plan.
He believes that will meet constitutional requirements as long as people with 10 years or more in the current system get those benefits when they retire, but also get switched over to the defined contribution plan.
A state law that causes contracts to expire six months after a gubernatorial election will help make pension changes possible, he said.
Any Republican faces an uphill battle in Illinois, where Democrats outnumber Republicans, Rauner said. He described his own plans to win at least 20 to 22 percent of the vote in Chicago, where he is well known as an educational campaigner. Rauner said he has support in the black and Latino communities.
He also is setting his sights on winning the votes of some disaffected Democrats who see the state's failures and want something better. He also pins his hopes on independents who are sick of the excesses that have led to four of the last six Illinois governors being convicted of crimes.
"My youngest daughter said ‘Daddy, don't run for governor. I don't want you to go to jail,' " Rauner said as the Quincy crowd laughed.
He said the power of the governor's office will help him make the changes needed even with a Democrat-led Legislature.
"The governorship in Illinois is one of the strongest political offices in America" with executive order powers, line item veto power, amendatory veto power, appointment ability, negotiating authority on all contracts and total control of the check book.
"You need the Legislature if you want to spend more. If you want to spend a lot less" that's within the governor's power, he said.
Rauner believes he will stand out from other Republicans in the race. He described them as career politicians who take government union money.
"They've all been down there as part of the process. There's a mind set in Springfield that ‘well, we can't do this or we can't do that.' " How about we start talking about what we can do," Rauner said.
He describes himself as someone who has battled for school reform, worked to create businesses and driven costs down and done contract negotiations.
One questioner wanted to know why Rauner contributed to the election campaigns of Chicago mayors. He said that was necessary to help match or negate the influence of teachers unions and get a chance to be heard on school reform.
"I'll never apologize for that or back down," Rauner said.