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National Editorial & Columnists

STATEHOUSE SPOTLIGHT: The right, and wrong, way forward for Illinois

Former governor advises GOP to not tack too far right; advocates for strong two-party system

Bernard Schoenburg
Bernard Schoenburg

Former Gov. Jim Edgar said Wednesday that he’s not sure who will fill the power vacuum for the Illinois Republican Party when Gov. Bruce Rauner leaves office, but Edgar also said it would be wrong for the party to tilt to the political right in its attempt to regain power.

“If you want to win statewide election in Illinois, I don’t think going to the right is the strategy,” Edgar told me a day after Democrats won all statewide constitutional offices in Illinois and added to their domination of the Legislature.

Republican Edgar was named Wednesday as one of five co-chairs of Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker’s transition team. The team is led by Lt. Gov.-elect Juliana Stratton.

Edgar also said Rauner made a mistake in consistently and publicly vilifying House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, during his term in office, and he said Pritzker is no Madigan puppet, as Rauner and other Republicans alleged during the campaign.

“Oh, no, no, no, no,” Edgar said when asked the “puppet” question. He noted that Pritzker is worth more than $3 billion, and given that, “You’re probably not a puppet of anybody. It’s not your nature. ... He needs to work with Speaker Madigan. He needs to work with everybody in the Legislature. But I don’t think he’s a puppet at all.”

He said being an ally is not the same as being a puppet.

Edgar, who was governor from 1991 to 1999, said he doesn’t think he could have gotten elected to the state’s top office “had I not been viewed as somewhat of a moderate” because “there’s not enough Republicans in the state.”

“I think Republicans in the party need to stand for something, but I don’t think moderation means you don’t stand for something,” said Edgar, who, for example, is pro-choice on abortion. “It just means that you’re probably a little more in the middle and you might not be as hard line on some issues as some would be in the party.”

The last time he spoke to Rauner, Edgar said, was when he had dinner at the Governor’s Mansion, at Rauner’s invitation, in the summer of Rauner’s first year in office. It was about the time the 2-year budget impasse was beginning. He said he warned against harsh public attacks on Madigan.

Edgar said he told Rauner that it’s fine to talk about disagreements on issues, but added, “You’ve got to be very careful not to make it personal because you’ve got to work with these people.”

“They decided to take a different direction,” Edgar said. “That’s their choice, but it was obvious that my advice wasn’t really what he wanted and that’s fine. We haven’t talked since.” ...

Edgar said, “I was disappointed the way things turned out” during Rauner’s term.

“We didn’t need to go through that budget impasse,” Edgar said. “And that really hurt the state. ... It was probably the worst shape I’ve seen the state in, even during the [Gov. Rod] Blagojevich years.

“I think Governor Rauner’s a very bright person,” Edgar added, “and I think he had a lot of potential. I just think he made a mistake. ... He admitted he made a mistake later on, but the damage was done, and that was unfortunate.”

Edgar said he has “a little bit” of a feel for Pritzker, as they both served on the board of, a company that offered online gambling on horse races. It was sold several years ago to Churchill Downs.

While Edgar said Rauner “wanted kind of 100 percent” when it came to issues, he thinks Pritzker could be “a little more inclusive” and “more open to compromise.”

“Hopefully, it will be more productive,” Edgar said.

He said he hopes Pritzker and the majority Democrats don’t ignore the Republicans in the Legislature, and that GOP lawmakers will work with the next governor.

“This polarization that we’ve seen not just in Illinois but across the country, I think, is counterproductive,” Edgar said. ...

As for who will fill the void in the GOP with Rauner out as governor, Edgar said, leadership will “probably be a group.

“I think the two Republican legislative leaders probably have as much influence as anybody now going forward in the party,” Edgar said of Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin. But he said he’s sure that people like GOP activist and Chicago radio host Dan Proft, who advocates strongly conservative policies and whose Liberty Principles Political Action Committee gets millions of dollars from shipping materials company leader Richard Uihlein, will also want a big say.

It is, Edgar said, “yet to be seen how that all develops.”

“I’d like to see the state move forward,” he said, adding that it is important for Illinois to have a “strong two-party system,” and he is focused on public policy and on the Edgar Fellows program, which gives leadership and government training to a bipartisan group of young people each year through the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

Contact Bernard Schoenburg:, 788-1540,

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