Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday tried to distance himself from a leadership battle within the Illinois Republican Party, the latest in an ongoing struggle between the governor and a vocal wing of conservatives who say they have been betrayed.
Rauner in a letter had endorsed his hand-picked state party Chairman Tim Schneider for re-election, but state Rep. Jeanne Ives since has announced she favors Lake County GOP Chairman Mark Shaw. The challenge to party leadership follows Ives’ narrow loss to Rauner in the March primary and comes as the governor has been trying to repair the party’s image, contending he’s “unifying” Republicans after the bruising primary battle.
That primary fight helped expose deep divisions in the party at a time when the governor will need to muster as much support from conservatives as he can to win a second term in November. Rauner faces a third-party challenge from Downstate Republican state Sen. Sam McCann, in addition to Democrat J.B. Pritzker.
On Monday, Rauner tried to make light of the party leadership issue, saying: “I really don’t spend much time thinking about it.”
When pressed on whom he would support as chairman, the governor reiterated his backing of Schneider, saying he has been effectively running the Illinois GOP since 2014.
“I support Tim Schneider, I put him in place,” Rauner said.
Schneider, a Cook County commissioner, was elected to his four-year term as chairman in 2014. He succeeded Jack Dorgan, a Rosemont village trustee and lobbyist who took over after Pat Brady resigned in the fallout over his support for same-sex marriage. Dorgan didn’t seek a full term and was named a co-chair of Rauner’s campaign finance committee in what was viewed as a consolidation of power by Rauner ahead of his successful bid for governor.
Rauner said Monday that he’s not paying attention to the infighting within the party, pointing out that “there have been fights and disagreements and challenges many times over the years. It’s part of the process.”
The governor made his remarks after an event at a homeless shelter in Chicago, where his administration announced plans to launch 10 pilot programs aimed at improving behavioral health care for Medicaid recipients — a $2 billion endeavor.
Days earlier, Rauner told WOC AM-1420 in Davenport, Iowa, that the party was moving forward and looking to heal the wounds of the primary battle.
“You know primaries are tough,” Rauner said. “They’re part of the process. I respect the process, and now we’re all coming together in the state. We’re unifying all Republicans.”
Ives offered a scathing review of Schneider’s time as chairman, calling his tenure an “unmitigated disgrace” and signaling that the rift within the party is far from patched.
“Under his leadership, dozens of Democrats went unchallenged in state legislative seats, he alienated the conservative ILGOP base in the gubernatorial race by choosing sides in a primary, and under Schneider’s leadership a man who proudly associates with the Nazi Party is on the ballot as a Republican,” Ives said. She was referring to Arthur Jones, a Holocaust denier who is the Republican nominee for Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District.
Ives said Shaw has “a record as a common-sense conservative who is unafraid to stand up for our party platform and take on the political ruling class in Illinois.”
The Republican State Central Committee will vote May 19.
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