Local businessman and longtime Republican donor Gary Rabine, who announced his intentions to run for governor Sunday, said that, if elected, he could work with the Illinois General Assembly more effectively than former Gov. Bruce Rauner and even current Gov. JB Pritzker, also businessmen who had no previous elected experience.
Rabine, a Bull Valley resident, said he will avoid the partisan paralysis the state saw with Rauner by bringing an open mind and steady communication to working with the state legislature rather than relying on executive orders as Rabine said Pritzker has in his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I believe that I get stronger when I surround myself with people who think differently,” Rabine said. “Because my passion is to understand all sides of the coin, I’m confident that I’ll be able to reach across better than most anybody I’ve seen.”
Rabine said he thinks the state legislature will continue to evolve from the one involved in the budget impasse under the Rauner administration after being freed from the grip of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
By 2022, the “financial crisis” in Illinois will have reached a breaking point where bipartisan cooperation will be not only necessary, but unavoidable, he said.
As the longtime leader of the Rabine Group, a Schaumburg-based paving, roofing and snow removal company, Rabine said he feels he is the right person to facilitate this movement on key economic issues such as tackling the state’s mounting pension debt or addressing high property taxes and stagnant real estate values.
Rabine said he hopes to create more economic opportunity by changing state regulations that inhibit job growth and will advocate for lower taxes to quell what he said is an alarming number of jobs and residents fleeing the state each year.
“Could a Republican do this? Sure, absolutely they could, but it would have to be a Republican that understands that people in the state are looking for solutions and not just rhetoric and politics,” said state Rep. Martin McLaughlin, R-Barrington Hills.
McLaughlin said he does not know Rabine well enough to comment on his candidacy specifically. He only met Rabine once at Barrington event in which the keynote speaker was Charlie Kirk, the conservative activist and radio talk show host who founded Turning Point USA in 2012.
“Whoever our candidate is at the top of the ticket must be someone who can unite our party ... and understands how to motivate people to work together so that those ideas become policy and benefit all Illinoisans,” McLaughlin added in a written statement.
Rabine said he was an early supporter of Turning Point – a right-wing political advocacy group geared towards young people – and did fundraising work for the organization in 2013 and 2014. He currently serves as an advisory council member.
Turning Point’s mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote freedom,” according to their website, but the organization has been embroiled in various controversies and its leader came under fire last spring for his invention of the term “china virus.”
“What I saw this as was an opportunity to educate on free enterprise and why it’s important to the future of our country,” Rabine said of his decision to support the organization. “I’m not represented by Charlie Kirk or anybody that represents Turning Point USA. The things they say, I’m not in control of and I don’t know how they’re looked upon at all when it comes to left, right, center or whatever.”
Rabine’s political involvement has at least one state representative questioning whether his bipartisan rhetoric is just that, rhetoric.
“The last thing I read about him is that he held a Trump rally,” said state Rep. Suzanne Ness, D-Crystal Lake. “I don’t want people that are getting there because they have these beliefs that are really extreme and they’re trying to make a point.”
“I don’t know if that’s where he’s at, but everybody deserves the right to run,” Ness said.
Holding strong values and being willing to listen and work with people of opposing values are not mutually exclusive, Rabine said.
While Rabine said that he would not use the same tone that former President Donald Trump did during his campaign and time in office, Rabine said he is not worried about being associated with the “the best president for the economy and job creation” the country has ever seen.
While he has no prior elected experience, Rabine serves on the executive committee for the Republican Governors Association and is a founding member of the Job Creators Network, a conservative advocacy group that gives policy recommendations on removing regulations that inhibit economic growth, he said.
He also has a history of supporting the political campaigns of local, state and national Republicans as well as conservative interest groups.
Over the past decade, he made more than $57,000 in contributions to state and local candidates, according to records filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections. Including donations made by Rabine’s wife, father and by the family’s business brings this total to just under $85,000.
At the national level, Rabine contributed $15,600 to Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign and $4,400 to the Republican National Committee in a single day in November of 2019, according to federal records.
He contributed another $5,000 in March of 2020 to the Great America Committee, a political action committee registered by former Vice President Mike Pence to support candidates who “fight with [Trump] in making America great again,” according to the committee’s website.
“I’m not saying that I haven’t been let down here and there, but I think, overall, the people I’ve endorsed are the people that I have believed were selfless people who really want to do great things for their community,” Rabine said.
He gave $3,000 to support state Sen. Craig Wilcox, R-McHenry, in his 2018 campaign, and Wilcox said he also held fundraiser at Bull Valley Golf Club, in which Rabine holds part ownership. Wilcox said Rabine’s ties locally and nationally will aid him in the Republican primary.
“I think his policies would be much more business-friendly, which is something that I think Illinois suffers with,” Wilcox said in an interview Monday. “There’s certainly many other names that will make a Republican primary a difficult contest.”
After donating $5,000 to Rauner in his first run for governor in 2014, Rabine gave $10,000 to support Jeanne Ives over Rauner in the 2018 Republican primary, marking his two largest contributions at the state level. Rabine also donated $2,800 to Ives’ 2020 campaign to represent Illinois’s 6th congressional district.
In a written statement sent Tuesday, Ives said she considers Rabine a friend and thinks he would be a good fit for governor, but added that there are a number of people she thinks could do a better job than Pritzker.
Unlike Rauner and Pritzker, Rabine is a millionaire, not a billionaire, he said. For this reason, he hopes to fund his own campaign through small-dollar donations from his community, but added this will be augmented by his own funds.
Also unlike Rauner and Pritzker, Rabine said his beginnings working on the ground in a labor industry set him apart as a different kind of self-made business leader. He does not come from an Ivy League background either, he said, instead bringing to the table a degree from Richmond-Burton Community High School and a lifetime of business experience.
While new perspectives are always needed, Ness said she has become wary of candidates who think that business experience is all they need to be a good public servant.
“Business interests are not always aligned with government interests. ... It’d be great to see somebody in the role who understands what government can and should be versus a business person that wants to fix it again,” Ness said. “I don’t know that that’s been helpful in recent years, and I would include Trump’s presidency in with that in addition to Bruce Rauner.”
Ness agreed with McLaughlin and Rabine on the importance of working together, but added that, when it comes to certain social issues like criminal justice reform, there is simply no room for compromise.
Rabine said he takes issue with the fact that police leaders were not involved in the drafting of the state’s recent criminal justice bill and feels it places too much liability on police.
While he said that the use of body cameras by police seems to benefit them and those they serve, he does not think police should be penalized if their cameras are off or not working. Rabine said placing these kinds of undue burdens on police officers will lead to less experienced people choosing to serve in the future and, thus, will lower the quality of the next generation of public safety officials.
Overall, Rabine said he thinks the state must focus on putting out the “fiscal fire” it is experiencing before more social issues can be addressed. In the meantime, creating more economic opportunity will improve various social issues such as mental health in young people who wish to feel empowered about their futures, he said.
Rabine said he is in the process of assembling a team of advisors who are experienced in various economic and social issues so he can build upon his platform when he officially announces his campaign in the coming weeks.
He did offer a few nuggets of insight into his views on social issues, stating that he thinks adoption should be incentivized more to cut down on the number of abortions in the state but adding that Illinois residents will always have access to abortions.
Rabine also advocated for making ultrasound machines available at more clinics so that more people can receive one before making their decision. His political donation history shows that he gave over $1,000 to the Pro-Life Victory Committee across 2014 and 2016, according to the state board of elections.
He said he has much to learn when it comes to health care but thinks that more competition will bring costs down for medications and for care, which he said is greatly needed in Illinois.