DIXON – U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger kicked off the 25th annual Reagan Day Dinner on Friday night with his message that the 40th president's brand of conservatism is about to make a comeback. Three of the four Republican candidates for Illinois governor then talked about how they planned to bring that conservatism back to Illinois.
"Conservatism means we believe in the power of the individual," the 16th district congressman told the audience at the Dixon Elks Lodge. "We will bring back Ronald Reagan's sense of economic freedom."
GOP gubernatorial candidates Sen. Bill Brady, Sen. Kirk Dillard, and Treasurer Dan Rutherford also were keynote speakers. Evelyn Sanguinetti, businessman Bruce Rauner's lieutenant governor choice, was there to represent Rauner.
Kinzinger said he believed that any of the three candidates there could beat Gov. Pat Quinn.
"No matter which man wins, I see any one of them beating Pat Quinn by 10 points," Kinzinger said. "But we'll wake up after Election Day and realize that conservatism is back."
Brady, who lost to Quinn by only about 19,400 votes in 2010, said he wants tax cuts for Illinois families, reforms in the workforce and schools, and an end to the state's culture of corruption.
"I promise we'll have term limits so Mike Madigan can't serve 40 years in the General Assembly," he said.
While Brady claims that the other candidates have "waffled" on the expiration of the temporary income tax increase, he says he has made his stance on the issue clear.
"There is absolutely no way I'll let Democrats extend it," the Bloomington native said. "The money to pay for it is there – there is $2 billion just from pension savings."
Regarding workforce reforms, Brady said there should be no increase in the minimum wage.
Brady was one of the authors of the pension reform bill, and he says that if politics don't get in the way, there is no question the bill is constitutional.
Dillard's message focused on making Illinois a destination economy and regaining the state's competitive advantage.
"The state is overtaxed and overregulated," Dillard said. "We have everything going for us, and we should be the king of the Midwest."
Dillard, who was chief of staff for former Gov. Jim Edgar, said that the fact Illinois has the nations's fourth highest unemployment rate is unacceptable.
"We want our children to be 10 minutes, not 10 hours, away from home because they can't find a job," he said.
Quinn is a stronger candidate than he was in 2010, and should not be taken lightly, Dillard warned.
"He's much tougher than he was 4 years ago," Dillard said. "He has no primary opponent, he has more money, and he has pension reform behind him."
Quinn actually does have a primary challenger, activist Tio Hardiman, who is considered a long shot at best.
Dillard pointed out that he didn't vote for the temporary income tax increase in the first place.
"We should roll the the tax back," he said. "The governor said he'd pay off old bills with it, and there is still $6 billion in old bills in [Comptroller] Judy Baar Topinka's office."
Dillard lost in the last GOP primary to Brady by only 193 votes.
Rutherford agreed that the tax increase didn't serve its stated purpose. He also said he wants it to disappear, but that getting rid of it isn't that simple, given that the $5 billion the state would lose constitutes about one-seventh of the state's general revenue spending.
"In January 2015, we may need some type of temporary revenue as part of a comprehensive package," Rutherford said.
Both Dillard and Rutherford believe the pension reform bill will be deemed unconstitutional, further complicating the state's financial situation.
Rutherford spoke of his time as executive director of Reagan's presidential campaign in Illinois. A young man of 25 at the time, Rutherford said he idolized Reagan from the moment he met him. He said Reagan still serves as inspiration during tough times.
"Reagan went through some hard times to get his party's nomination," he said. "He didn't have millions to spend. This business of politics is tough, and it's not going to get any easier."