BATAVIA – Residents, elected officials and campaign supporters on Saturday filled Water Street Studios to hear Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner speak.
About 180 people took in 50 minutes of Rauner, including his main stump speech and a question and answer session in the studio's main gallery space rented out by local volunteers.
Near the top of his speech, Rauner listed his four main priorities – creating more jobs, lowering taxes providing great education and installing term limits for elected officials.
Rauner's main theme of shaking up Springfield appeared to resonate with much of the audience, who clapped and nodded as he spoke about the troubles that have plagued the state for decades. Rauner repeated several times that the state of Illinois is an emotional issue for him. He also emphasized that he doesn't need anything from Springfield and can't be influenced by outside interest groups.
"I'm (financially) independent," Rauner said to the crowd. "I don't need anything from anybody ... what I need is a prosperous, booming Illinois."
On jobs Rauner said he will continue to reach out to other Republican governors to see how they have returned jobs to their state. He also wants to form a task force that would include leaders from Kane and other counties to tackle spending.
Unions were a persistent theme during Rauner's visit. Rauner said union leaders hold too much influence in Springfield and made generic accusations of corruption in organized labor. When criticized by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis for being a capitalist, Rauner said he was proud of that and claims he spent years helping teachers in his career as a venture capitalist in charge of growing union pensions.
Retired special education teacher Joan Kolcz of Geneva pressed Rauner on his strategy for pension reform during the Q & A session. Rauner said he would freeze the current system and ensure longtime and retired teachers wouldn't lose their contributions and then put together a 401(k)-style plan for current teachers going forward.
After the speech, Kolcz said she was pleased with his answer as long as he is telling the truth. Kolcz said she is still undecided for the March 18 primary but is starting to lean toward Rauner.
Nick Rentas of Geneva said he definitely plans to vote for Rauner. He wondered about Rauner's connection with young voters because the crowd seemed to skew 50 and older, but overall he was pleased with the turnout and Rauner's presentation.
"We've been talking about the pension problem forever, it's about time someone were in and fixed it," he said.