The six Republican candidates for Illinois governor faced off Tuesday night in Chicago, albeit on two separate debate stages, hours after a shooting at a Texas elementary school that dominated a large portion of the debates.
A scheduling conflict between two TV networks – WGN and NBC 5 – had the candidates split into groups of three, with the NBC debate beginning at 6 p.m. and the WGN debate starting immediately after it at 7 p.m.
NBC’s debate included Aurora Mayor Ricard Irvin, the polling and money frontrunner, along with former Waterloo state Sen. Paul Schimpf and suburban attorney Max Solomon. The WGN debate that followed included Sen. Darren Bailey, of Xenia, Petersburg venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan and suburban paving magnate Gary Rabine.
The debates saw Irvin stick mostly to the talking points he’s deployed throughout the campaign, while Bailey, who was closely trailing Irvin in recent polls, referred to Chicago as a “crime-ridden, corrupt, dysfunctional hellhole.”
Much of the discussion revolved around a mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old barricaded himself in a fourth-grade classroom and killed at least 21 individuals, including 19 children.
While all candidates expressed horror at the tragedy, responses from a policy standpoint ranged from saying more needs to be done to support police and treat mental health to candidates saying more guns are needed in schools. Below is a summary of responses on shooting and crime.
On Texas school shooting
Irvin noted he was mayor of Aurora in 2019 when a shooter killed six, including himself, at the Henry Pratt Company in that city. Irvin said a governor would have to “make sure that not only we heal after this, these events that seem to be happening so much throughout our country day in and day out where we’re comparing one violent act to another.”
“We need to make sure that we support our police, and we support our neighbors, and our families, and our friends, and these school children that we don’t allow weapons to get into the hands of criminals and those with mental illnesses,” Irvin added. “And as governor, I will take a strong stance to ensure that we do what’s necessary to protect ourselves.”
Irvin’s response followed Schimpf, who cited law enforcement support as well.
“You have to try to keep our students safe by helping law enforcement to do their job. We also have to be exploring mental illness and the challenge that mental illness faces, poses for our country,” Schimpf said, without giving specifics.
Solomon said all schools should have armed security guards.
The candidates at the WGN debate were asked about the shooting, as well as their positions on the state’s Firearm Owners Identification law that requires Illinoisans to apply for a photo ID to be able to legally own a gun.
Bailey said he would look to repeal the law – a move that would require action from lawmakers – and pointed to the state of New York, where shootings occur despite “some of the most egregious gun laws that there are.”
“So, I’ve been striving for the last four years as an elected official to try to partner with community groups and church groups as well to empower them to be able to deal with mental health because much of these issues that we’re dealing with actually have to do more with mental health than anything else,” Bailey said.
Sullivan said “some of the root causes are getting back to fatherhood, and promoting the family in our society again.”
“I really do feel like when you remove God from our society, these are the types of things that happen,” he said. “You know, and the Democrats always want to talk immediately about gun control and limiting our Second Amendment rights. But that is not the, I mean, we have the strictest gun laws in the nation here in Chicago and what is that doing for us? I am pro Second Amendment but I also feel like we need to look at mental health services, you know, and we also have to look at faith and fatherhood.”
Rabine responded that “bad people are going to get guns” regardless of policy.
“So we’ve got, we’ve got to really be better, in my opinion, raise our kids better than we are and do better things,” he said.
Schimpf also said he would look to get rid of the FOID law.
“We need to enforce the gun laws that we have. We need to enforce the background checks, but we need to get rid of the FOID,” he said.
Irvin said the FOID process – which saw an overhaul passed by state lawmakers in 2021 that strengthened Illinois State Police’s FOID enforcement abilities and directed the agency to create a searchable database with serial numbers of stolen gun – is “broken.”
“The system is broken and definitely needs to be fixed,” he said. “But we need background checks to ensure that guns don’t get in the hands of criminals and folks with mental illnesses.”
On crime, Chicago
Irvin, Schimpf and Solomon were asked if they would call in the National Guard – which only governors can do – to address violence in Chicago.
“If necessary, I would definitely call them in Chicago, you know, as governor,” Irvin said without answering whether it would be necessary right now. He also claimed he called the National Guard into Aurora in response to rioting in 2020.
“I will tell you what’s necessary,” he said. “It’s necessary that we get a governor that’s going to actually lead the state and work with mayors like Mayor Lightfoot or any other mayor throughout this state to address the crime.”
Irvin said he’d focus on “three Cs – children, cops, community,” by “getting kids into positive programs,” putting more police officers on the beat and “empowering the community to help our police take back their streets.”
“I don’t care how many people you arrest, if you don’t give the community an opportunity to address and work and take pride and stock in their own community, it’s just going to return,” he said.
The budget that passed this year with only Democratic votes included hundreds of millions of dollars for community youth investment and violence prevention programs, money for three new classes State Police troopers, and $10 million for law enforcement recruitment and retention.
Bailey said he voted against the budget because “more money always seems to be the answer for Illinois politicians.”
“More money and new programs is not the answer,” Bailey said, touting a “zero-based budget” process to “cut the fat,” although he did not identify programs he would cut. He also said more conversations are needed between lawmakers and law enforcement.
When asked how he would keep guns out of the hands of mental health patients, Bailey said he would look to partner with churches and civic groups, then launched into an attack on Chicago’s leaders.
“Let’s focus on the city of Chicago a minute, let’s just call it like it is. Let’s think about Chicago, a crime-ridden, corrupt, dysfunctional hellhole and no one knows that better than the friends and the people that live in Chicago,” he said.
Bailey, who promoted a measure in the General Assembly that would make Chicago a separate state from the rest of Illinois, said as governor he would be “standing up” and “fighting for” Chicago “just as much as I will be fighting for the state of Illinois.”
Bailey downplayed the separation measure, saying it was “to raise awareness of the problems in Chicago.”
Sullivan and Rabine said they’d push to create an option for voters to recall state’s attorneys, such as Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, although Illinois law does not currently allow it.
“We need to surge the National Guard and treat this like the crisis that it is to help our brothers and sisters and their families that are in need,” Sullivan said, adding he would be “the most pro-law enforcement governor in the nation.”
The candidates also frequently said they would look to repeal the SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform, which passed in 2021 and made changes to law enforcement use-of-force, decertification and detainee rights while providing for the elimination of cash bail beginning in January. A repeal would require legislative action.
Schimpf, a U.S. Marine who was an American adviser in the trial of Saddam Hussein, was more measured in his response.
“Well, the National Guard is not a solution that you can just say I’m going to call in the National Guard as a governor and that’s going to solve all the problems,” he said.
He said he’d be a more supportive governor of law enforcement.
“I’m going to be a presence on the streets of Chicago,” he said. “I’m not going to be cuffing and stuffing anybody. That is not my job as governor, but our Chicago police need to know that they have a governor that supports them.”
Solomon said he would have called in the National Guard “yesterday,” and he would accept federal aid no matter who is president.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.