Following the slaying of at least 19 students and two adults at a Texas elementary school, gun violence and Chicago crime became the dominant issues Tuesday in dueling televised debates among the six men seeking Illinois’ Republican governor nomination.
State Sen. Darren Bailey of downstate Xenia called Chicago “a crime-ridden, corrupt, dysfunctional hellhole” when asked about gun violence.
“Let’s just call it what it is,” said Bailey, who once co-sponsored legislation to split Chicago from the rest of the state. “And no one knows that better than the friends and the people that live in Chicago. Something’s wrong. City leaders, they hate the police.”
Bailey’s comments were made at a debate where he appeared alongside businessman Gary Rabine of Bull Valley and cryptocurrency venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan They came right after a separate televised forum that featured Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, Paul Schimpf of Waterloo, a former state senator, and Max Solomon, a lawyer from Hazel Crest.
Irvin called the Texas school shooting “a horrific act.”
“We need to make sure we support our police and we support our neighbors and our families and our friends and these schoolchildren that we don’t allow weapons to get in the hands of criminals and those with mental illnesses,” Irvin said.
“I believe in the Second Amendment, but I believe background checks are very necessary,” Irvin said, adding the state’s Firearm Owners Identification card, or FOID, law for gun owners was “broken and definitely needs to be fixed.”
But Schimpf said no additional gun laws were needed. Instead, he said, “We need to enforce the gun laws that we have. We need to enforce the background checks. But we need to get rid of the FOID.”
Irvin, Schimpf and Solomon appeared at 6 p.m. in a forum hosted by NBC-Ch. 5 and Telemundo. An hour later, Bailey, Rabine and Sullivan appeared for an hour on WGN-Ch. 9. All six are vying for the June 28 GOP primary nomination for governor and the right to take on first-term Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Nov. 8.
The split debates, which prevented questioning among the full field, allowed the three candidates on WGN to attack Irvin in absentia for spending millions of dollars on TV ads and mailers that question their Republican loyalties.
Bailey bemoaned the Aurora mayor’s absence and labeled him a “mini-Mike Madigan,” a reference to the recently indicted former Illinois House speaker and state Democratic Party chairman.
“It’s actually a shame that Richard Irvin chose not to be here tonight because I was actually looking forward to having a conversation with him face to face,” Bailey said. “Richard Irvin is as corrupt as Mike Madigan, and actually electing Richard Irvin into this seat would be no different from allowing Mike Madigan to serve as governor.”
Though the situation left Irvin with the opportunity to try to continue his attacks on his rivals unrebutted, he chose to save them for the post-debate spin room in criticizing them for not showing up.
During the earlier forum, Irvin again continued to deflect questions about the influence former President Donald Trump holds over the GOP.
Irvin continued to refuse to specifically say if he voted for Trump in past elections, someone he referred to as an “idiot” and a “bigoted racist” in text messages uncovered by WTTW. He did, however, say “yes” when asked if Democrat Joe Biden won the presidency amid Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Previously, Irvin has said only that “Joe Biden is the president.”
But Irvin refused to say if he believed the storming of the nation’s Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021, was an insurrection. “It’s not a yes or no question,” Irvin said, adding those who “broke the law should be prosecuted” but those who were “engaged in peaceful protests” should not. And asked if he wanted Trump’s endorsement, Irvin said he was looking “for the endorsement of the voters.”
But it was the topic of gun violence and crime, in light of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and continued outbreaks of violent crime in Chicago, that took up a large portion of each forum.
Sullivan, Rabine and Bailey each offered their version of thoughts and prayers for the families of the victims but also said mental health issues, not gun laws, are at the core of the problem.
“Much of these issues, that we’re dealing with actually have more to do with mental health than anything else,” said Bailey, who has pushed legislation that would repeal the state’s required FOID card.
When mass shootings occur, “Democrats always want to talk immediately about gun control and limiting our Second Amendment rights,” Sullivan said.
In addition to needing to “look at mental health services,” he said, “we also have to look at faith and fatherhood.”
Rabine also said he thought stricter gun laws weren’t the answer, noting mass shooting and other violent crimes happen in places like Chicago that have stringent rules in place.
“Still, bad people are going to get guns,” Rabine said. “When bad people get guns … bad things are going to happen.”
The three candidates appearing on WGN offered few specifics on policies or programs they would put forward to address rising crime, instead saying they would listen to and support police and push to remove Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx from office, something that would require a change in state law.
After referring to Chicago as a “hellhole,” Bailey said the solution was to “restore confidence in our government by electing honorable men and women to these positions.”
At the earlier forum, Irvin recounted learning in February 2019 about the killing of five people and the wounding of five others, including police officers, by a disgruntled former employee of Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora while he was mayor. Months later, Irvin joined with mayors across the country urging congressional action on gun safety.
But Irvin has since denied signing such a letter and instead has said he was focused on fixing the FOID card system, though many of his rivals favor eliminating the card requirement for gun owners.
Solomon, a U.S. citizen from Lagos, Nigeria, whose campaign has largely been relegated to public forums, said the answer to curb gun violence in schools was to “make sure that every school in the state of Illinois has armed security guards.”
As for crime in Chicago, Irvin repeated his line that he called National Guard troops into Aurora to deal with violent protests following the 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In actuality, only the governor has the authority to call out the National Guard as was done by Pritzker based on Irvin’s request.
“If necessary, I would definitely call them in to Chicago as governor,” Irvin said of the National Guard, stopping short of saying if he believed it necessary.
For his part, Rabine said a key priority for addressing crime would be to repeal Illinois’ status as a “sanctuary state,” where there are restrictions on local law enforcement cooperating with federal immigration authorities.
“The sanctuary state is creating a state where illegal felons are treated better than anywhere else in the country here in Illinois,” Rabine said.
Irvin also said he would move to revoke Illinois’ sanctuary state protections for immigrants in the country illegally and said Aurora was not a sanctuary city. But in June 2019, amid plans for Immigration and Custom Enforcement raids, Irvin issued a statement that his city joined with Pritzker and Lightfoot “in prohibiting the use of our resources to aid or support ICE in its enforcement activities.”
The split forums occurred even though candidates typically resolve differences over televised debates. But in this case the dueling debates occurred when Bailey, Rabine and Sullivan agreed to appear at WGN, which made its invitation before NBC. Irvin accepted the later NBC offer but Bailey, Rabine and Sullivan kept their commitment to WGN.
But Irvin said Wednesday he would appear at a June 2 League of Women Voters on ABC-Ch. 7. Bailey’s campaign said the downstate senator had a conflict for that date and urged the station to select a new date.
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