AURORA – About 700 people packed Chris Lauzen's 19th Annual Porky Picnic fundraiser Saturday at the Vaughn Athletic Center, chowing down on barbecue chicken and – of course – pork chops.
Former state senator Lauzen, now in his first term as Kane County Board Chairman, shook hands, held babies and passed out his contact information to constituents as supporters and friends talked, politicians glad-handed and children played games.
The event was highlighted as a public way for the Warriors' Watch Riders to welcome home Lauzen's two sons, Marine helicopter pilot Capt. Ted Lauzen, 29, and Navy Lt. j.g. Hans Lauzen.
But it also allowed a local platform for Republican gubernatorial candidates businessman Bruce Rauner, Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford and State Sen. Kirk Dillard R-Hinsdale to state their qualifications and ask for support in the March 18, 2014 primary. State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington did not attend.
"I've never run for office before," Rauner said. "My youngest daughter said, 'Daddy, don't run for governor. I don't want you to go to jail.' That's a sad commentary on the corruption in our state, but that's one of the reasons I want to run."
Rauner said his platform is more jobs, less taxes, more support for schools and school choice, term limits of eight years, running the state like a business and breaking the hold government unions have on the state.
Rutherford said he won as a Republican for statewide office in a four-way race in 2010. His Democratic opponent was Robin Kelly – an African American woman from Chicago with an Irish last name – as well as candidates from the Green Party and Libertarian Party.
Rutherford said he is the only Republican running for governor who has won a statewide race with 50 percent of the vote, and with 22 percent of the Chicago vote, "because we worked hard … [and] we went into communities of diversity."
"Every single constitutional officer in the State of Illinois was a Democrat from Chicago," Rutherford said. "And here I am, this conservative, Republican, white, male from Central Illinois, going to run statewide … I'm telling you this, because for the election of 2014, we, as the Republican Party, need to change Springfield and put a Republican in the governor's mansion."
Rutherford said he reached out to diverse populations in order to win the treasurer post and that is what the Republican Party must do as well.
"We, as the Republican Party, have got to accept and embrace people of different color and of different religion," Rutherford said. "We don't need to need to change our positions, we need to represent our positions [to] … communities of diversity."
Dillard, who is Assistant Senate Republican Leader, said he is a conservative reformer in the General Assembly who never voted for a tax increase.
"I am tested, I am proven," Dillard said. "I also once ran [the office] of the last clean competent governor of Illinois, Jim Edgar … I care about the future of this state greatly … We inherited a $1 billion deficit and left a $1.5 billion surplus when I was there, running the Edgar administration. We paid our bills in 17 days and we had an unemployment rate below the national average … Wall Street increased our credit rating during that administration for the first time in state history."
Dillard said he has a track record of being able to make a Democratic-led legislature do things not in its DNA, " to live within its means."
Dillar said during the Edgar administration, "We made Michael Madigan the minority leader and we can do it again." Madigan is the state's majority leader.
Lauzen said this year's gathering was "the best ever" and especially meaningful for the big welcome back for his sons.
As to why he hosted the fundraiser, Lauzen said the proceeds will pay for political expenses for when he is invited to various functions. If he decides to seek another term as county board chairman, Lauzen said he could also use the money for another campaign. But Lauzen said he is not declaring himself for a second term at this point.
County Board member Deborah Allen D-Elgin, said she appreciated Rutherford's comments about expanding the Republican base to include "all kinds and colors. We are one country, one people. We must become more inclusive, not less."
County Board member Drew Fraz, R-Elburn, said Lauzen "is the only Republican candidate of either party in Kane County that can pull 900 people together year after year." Though organizers put the tally at 700, Frasz said the average is 700 to 900 each year.
"As for the governor candidates, we have a growing mix of Republican candidates," Frasz said. "I hope it doesn't get so big that they neutralize each other."
Frasz said among the three candidates who spoke that night, he said he would likely support Rauner.
"I personally really connect with Bruce Rauner," Frasz said. "As a businessman and an employer, and someone who's struggling like all businesses to stay afloat right now, I like his message. And I like the fact that he's financially independent, so he isn't bought by the special interests."
Michael Foote of Geneva said it was too soon to get behind any of the governor candidates.
"Time will tell," Foote said. "We'll see what shakes out."
Lois Benson of Batavia said she liked all three candidates for governor.
"To hear the comments and see the camaraderie, I think we can get some things going here that are good," Benson said.
Bob Moga of Big Rock, a former county board member from the 1960s liked all the governor hopefuls.
"They're all good– as long as they're Republican," Moga said.