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Conservative Downstate Republican state Sen. Darren Bailey, the fiercest legislative opponent of Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s pandemic-induced public health restrictions, formally announced his candidacy for governor Monday night, pledging a grassroots movement to take Illinois back from “political elites.”
“Republicans and Democrats have worried about the donor class more than they’ve worried about the working class, and friends, that ends now,” Bailey told supporters at a kickoff event in Effingham.
“I will be a governor for the people of Illinois, guided by the lessons that I’ve learned from faith, family and community,” he said. “It’s time to lift ourselves out of the mire and partisan anger and cynicism. It’s time to restore confidence in government. It’s time to revitalize our state. It’s time that we live up to our name: the heartland of America.”
Bailey, 54, is a farmer who also runs a private Christian school with wife Cindy. He is from Xenia, a village of about 400 people about 250 miles south of Chicago. After winning an Illinois House seat in 2018, he was elected to a state Senate seat in November in a district that covers a large area of east-central Illinois.
During a 13-minute announcement speech, Bailey vowed fiscal restraint, including a freeze on spending and no tax increases. Looking optimistically ahead at his chances, Bailey vowed a tax cut “by the end of my second term.”
Speaking of Illinois’ divisions, including geography and race, Bailey said “marginalized people have been ignored” while “a political class has done absolutely nothing but enrich themselves while destroying our state and robbing our children and grandchildren of our future.”
As supporters held signs saying “Fire Pritzker,” Bailey blamed the first-term governor and other Democrats for policies that he said have led to a “torrent” of people leaving Illinois. But Bailey also criticized Republican leadership in the state.
“We’ve tried the country club approach, we’ve tried the Chicago Loop approach, and I don’t think that’s worked for anyone in this room,” he said.
“We are building a movement and it is going to continue to grow. With your help, this movement will bring hope. It will bring opportunity. It will bring a vision for the future that makes it very clear to every citizen of Illinois that the days of putting the interests of the corrupt political class above the people is over,” Bailey said.
Bailey is the second Downstate conservative Republican to publicly declare a governor bid, following last week’s announcement by former one-term state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo. Several other Republicans also are mulling a run, including suburban businessman Gary Rabine.
The March 2022 Republican primary winner will take on Pritzker, a multibillionaire who spent $171 million of his own money as an heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, to defeat one-term Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2018. Bailey began the year with $179,214 in his campaign account while carrying $96,685 in debts from money he and his wife lent his campaigns.
During his brief tenure, Bailey has become known as the most activist politician battling Pritzker’s COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, including an unsuccessful court challenge to the governor’s powers to issue emergency orders.
Only a few people could be seen wearing masks at his campaign kickoff event at the Thelma Keller Convention Center.
Last May, Bailey was removed from the makeshift House floor at the Bank of Springfield Center for refusing to wear a face mask — a move his Republican colleagues backed. He came back a day later, wearing a mask. He then posted a video to social media claiming Pritzker wasn’t wearing a mask but removed it after it was pointed out to have come from 2018 — two years before the pandemic.
In January, Bailey was removed from the House floor for a second time — this time on a gurney after he collapsed and hit his head. Other Republicans said Bailey had suffered from stomach problems and a lack of fluids, and he later returned.
Bailey is a member of a loosely knit group of Republican conservative lawmakers known as the “Eastern Bloc.” They have held populist rallies urging a “reopening” of the state to business, decried Chicago’s influence over rural culture and advocated that Illinois separate so Chicago can be its own state.
He was joined at the announcement by fellow “Eastern Bloc” members Reps. Blaine Wilhour of Beecher City and Chris Miller of Oakland along with Miller’s wife, freshman GOP U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, and Bailey’s House successor, Adam Niemerg of Dieterich.
Bailey was an ardent supporter of one-term Republican President Donald Trump, in line with the urban and suburban-versus-rural political division that Trump’s presidency exacerbated in Illinois.
The lawmaker lashed out at Republican U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Channahon, one of 10 congressional Republicans to vote for Trump’s second impeachment following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Kinzinger, who has said he is not considering a bid for governor or the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Tammy Duckworth in 2022, had earlier been viewed as a possible rival to Bailey for the GOP governor nomination.
“We need to find those bad elected officials and get them out of office,” Bailey said in a Facebook video. “People like Adam Kinzinger up north. He calls himself a Republican. No. He’s a Democrat. Get him out of office.”
A social media devotee, Bailey frequently offers a daily Bible message. Before his announcement on Monday night, he invoked God’s help to restore Illinois’ finances, culture and values.
“This is a God-sized challenge we face here in Illinois, and it is going to be our faith and our creator that’s going to have to be involved in turning this state around,” Bailey said.
Criticizing Pritzker’s signature on community justice legislation opposed by law enforcement groups, Bailey said he was “going to be eager to see what kind of law enforcement protection” the governor had in touring the state. The legislator credited law enforcement for working to “protect and serve” in the wake of “just demoralizing behavior that seeks to destroy everything you stand for.”
He also cited progressive efforts to change the state’s college curriculum for incoming teachers aimed at avoiding personal biases, as another example of Chicago and liberal idealism interfering with Downstate cultural values.
“Now, right in the heartland of America, Illinois has become a stronghold for this evil, wicked stuff. So we just got to take it back and then we’re going to reverse all this,” he said to his Facebook followers. “Something’s going to start here in Illinois, in the heartland of this land and it’s going to spread across this nation.”