Part 2 of a 3-part interview with IR Editor Fran Eaton
Is Dan Rutherford a conservative or a moderate? Sometimes I’m not sure what blog I’m reading to determine who I am. . .
State Senator Dan Rutherford's political career began with a statewide victory for Ronald Reagan in 1980 (see Part 1) . Twenty-five years later -- fourteen of which have been spent in the Illinois General Assembly -- he has embarked upon his own statewide campaign, taking on who he calls the "titan of the Democratic Party" Secretary of State Jesse White.
Rutherford talks in Part 2 of a 3-part interview about the challenges of reaching out to an ideologically-divided Republican Party with the hopes of winning in a politically-diverse state. He talks about tapping into the GOP's Old Guard while searching for new party enthusiasts and assuring reformers that change is underway.
Rutherford also describes what he believes his role will be in the IL GOP in 2006. . .
FE: You’ve decided you want to do something more for the state of Illinois. How did you decide you were going to run for Secretary of State over any other office?
DR: Let’s go back to 2002 and the race for governor. I worked very hard in the General Election for Jim Ryan. I hosted a fundraiser in my home, I was regional coordinator for his campaign in my area, I was a surrogate speaker for him, I did all that stuff. He was our Republican nominee.
FE: Were you with him in the primary?
DR: If Jim was coming through, I’d do anything for him. Corinne [Wood] came through, I served with her, if she came through Pontiac, I’d do anything to arrange the media. Pat O’Malley, same thing. I don’t know that I publicly endorsed in the primary, but my big effort was working for the ticket in '02.
When we lost that thing, I really thought, shame on us as a Republican Party. We did not come together to support our nominee in the General. And this is important to understand, as I get ready for '06, because I thought that was wrong for the Republicans that were for other candidates to not embrace the nominee. I thought that was inappropriate. And this comes from a guy who watched and helped Ronald Reagan become President, who later went on to say, “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.” The Eleventh Commandment of the Republican Party.
FE: You know what it takes to win in Illinois.
DR: Yes, in '02, I may not have had the bully pulpit or the juice to help command or direct that.
FE: Is there anyone in 2006 to do that?
DR: Let’s go to the first questions first . . .
After that, I went out on the circuit in '03, '04 and '05 because there were no Lincoln Day dinner speakers. Yes, there were incumbent Congressmen, yes, there was [State Treasurer] Judy Baar-Topinka, members of the Senate and House. But there were no other speakers willing to go out and do Lincoln Day speeches.
Part of it was that I was willing to go out there and drive 300 miles to go do them. Eventually county chairmen determined, "Hey you know what, this guy can give a pretty good speech," and it just skyrocketed from there. The Lincoln Day speeches, the Reagan speeches, the chicken and the pork chop dinners . . .
FE: Were you thinking about running for statewide office even then?
DR: Absolutely. Absolutely.
FE: You’ve been planning for this bid for a long time then. . .
DR: I honestly thought I wasn’t planning to run, but I knew that if one was eventually planning to make a decision, you’d better be prepared, because you shouldn’t get there and look back and say, 'I wish I had done this.'
The first year I gave nine Lincoln Day speeches, the next year eighteen keynotes, went to 37, and it skyrocketed from there.
Then we were moving towards '06. I heard, ‘Wait for Judy Baar. See what Judy’s going to do. Run the path of least resistance. Run for Governor – you’d make a great governor. Run for Secretary of State.' Blah…blah… blah….
It was like taking a drink out of a fire hose, people giving me advice on this stuff.
Finally what happened, I talked to my family, got their advice, went to a couple of folks who I felt would really give me a gut check, and I went and sat down on the back deck of my house by myself.
I said, 'What is it you as a person want to do the day after this election? Do you want to be the treasurer of Illinois? God bless. Do you want to be Governor of the State of Illinois? Hallelujah!'
'Or is it because you come from twenty years of serving people in a service business to understand what customer service, value for money, time and courtesy is all about? What place in Illinois government has the largest retail office than the Secretary of State?'
Honestly, I sat there on my back deck saying, ‘What is it, why are you resistant? Is it because Jesse White is the titan of the Democrat Party? Because he’s the big guy?'
'Yeah, that’s the reason I’m being a little wimpy about this. Am I going to be better off to make a decision and not look back? The heck with it, I’m running for Secretary of State.'
FE: You really expect me to believe that?
DR: Go ahead and tell me what you think happened.
FE: The bottom line is that the easy office to go for was the Treasurer’s office. . .
DR: It was.
FE: Jesse is a tough guy to knock off, but Judy delayed, and you didn’t want to wait. . .
DR: I could have waited.
FE: You could have waited until yesterday, today?
DR: I could have waited. We’re going to have a great nominee for treasurer. And that person’s petitions will be in. I could have absolutely waited. But, no, I decided to make a decision, and I did what I really wanted to do.
The other thing that has happened is that the evolution of this thing is going right back to the '02 election, and the role for me to play in '06 is to admonish everyone to not let what happen what we did to ourselves in '02.
And when I stand up in front of a group in Lincoln Day speeches, I’ll give the same speech I gave in Ogle County. You know what, I happen to be someone who is prolife (endorsed in every election by prolife groups) but the majority of women in the suburban area are not prolife. I am pro-Second Amendment, but the Hispanic men in the city are not pro-gun.
If we as the Republican Party allow that to become the determining factor as to what is good and bad, we will be the party of the perpetual minority. We must use the Eleventh Commandment of Ronald Reagan, and do what he did to build a victory – and that is going and looking for people that were with him 55 percent of the time on the issues and build up a majority as opposed to being only with those who are with him 100 percent of the time and he would have been in the perpetual minority.
One does not need to give up their principles on what is good and bad on the social issues. Stick to them and don’t change, but you need to look on the fundamental part of what I believe makes us Republicans or not, and that is the whole issue in regards to taxation and regulations, size of government.
You know what? We’re going to have to agree to disagree on some of these social issues, but you cannot throw out good candidates that may not agree with us on some of these social issues. I mean that.
Is Dan Rutherford a conservative or a moderate? Sometimes I’m not sure what blog I’m reading to determine who I am.
FE: How would you describe yourself ideologically?
DR: I’ve got groups that are adamantly prolife groups supporting me. But I’ve got so-called conservative groups that I read just don’t like me. And I don’t get it.
I got an e-mail from someone in my constituency who wrote, 'You know I’ve supported you for all these years, but I’m pro-choice and I’m not supporting you now.' Then I get other emails from so-called conservative groups who say, 'You know you voted for the Human Rights bill, I’m not supporting you now.'
You know what? Here’s who Dan Rutherford is. He’s someone who is going to go out, analyze each individual issue, the Human Rights bill that came up in the Illinois Senate and previous to that in the Illinois House (which I voted for two other times before it came up for a vote in the Illinois Senate).
I read the bill, I studied the bill, I listened to testimony on the bill. I know what the bill does and what it does not do -- not at all what certain fabrications and certain spins and certain things are being said about the bill -– I understand it. I made a decision.
The same thing as in regards to gun control and pre-emptive on certain ordinances. I listened. I read it . I listened to the debate. I understand. I made a decision.
I suppose if I had to put myself into one of these round or square pegs as a conservative or liberal or moderate, I definitely fit into one, but the way that I’m seeing the way people are trying to use certain processes to come to a conclusion as to what one is, it just doesn’t work.
I know what my role is going to be in 2006. I’m going to the candidate for Secretary of State, I’m going to be one of the most aggressive campaigners this state has ever seen in these modern times, and I’m going to use the technology that wasn’t available four years ago and definitely wasn’t available in 1980 for Ronald Reagan, and I’m going to use them to go out there and show them I can be a good public servant and bring the technological advances to the office of Secretary of State, and I’m going to get elected.
And in doing that, I’m going to go out and do Lincoln Day speeches, Reagan Day speeches, and everything else, and I’m going to shake my finger at all those who have their laundry in a bundle because they don’t like certain people who are Republicans because they are A or B.
What we’ve got to understand is that the fundamental basis of what we understand makes us Republicans. Because if we don’t, I promise you, I guarantee you, Rod Blagojevich will go back as the Governor of the state of Illinois. This state will be blue, it won’t even begin to be purple, and you might as well forget about it ever becoming red.
FE: How do you reach out to such a diverse group of people in the Republican Party. Yesterday, former Governor Edgar introduced Judy Baar-Topinka’s bid for governor and said she would reach out to Democrats and moderates to get votes. Edgar didn’t seem to be too interested in bringing in the conservatives. Republicans need a majority – the conservatives as well as Reagan Democrats -- to win in Illinois.
DR: Two nights ago, I was at a reception. The majority of the people in that room were not conservatives. They were there because of who invited them and my message was pretty direct. You know, I happen to be different on the issues of guns and abortion. But you know what? That doesn’t make someone who doesn’t agree with me on those issues as someone who is bad.
And you know, with all respect to my conservative friends, I’m not about to change my conservative stripes. What you see is what you get. I’m not going to become a different voting pattern on abortion, and I’m not going to become a different voting pattern on other issues.
Am I a conservative? I can tell you there are those out there from the e-mail I got from that woman that pro-choice groups don’t support me, she’s not going to, either. And you’ve got those who are on the conservative side who, maybe I’m not 110% for and with them, that they’re not going to support me. You know what? I’m sorry, but I am who I am, and you know what? You don’t have to question or wonder. It’s very, very direct.
The way I win this is, I’m going to go out there and this will be my message: I’m going to tell directly to the prolife groups that will give me the opportunity to share with them under all the election cycles, with all due respect, the office of the Secretary of State will have little to do with Roe vs Wade, but when it comes to public policy, he’s got a voting record.
I think if we allow ourselves to paint conservative and moderate, that we’re going to always force ourselves to align and change, and I’m just not going to allow that to happen. I’m going to understand there’s going to be differences, and that can’t be the divider.
FE: Are you seeing the Senate as the Republican farm team? There have been a lot of complaints as time and time again, the party has looked backward to Republicans such as Jim Edgar rather than get a new, fresh team ready for statewide office.
DR: The '06 cycle is the beginning of the new GOP farm team. The Senate is the natural place for it to come from. With all respect, I was in the House for ten years, as was Peter Roskam. Judy Biggert and Judy Baar-Topinka were in the House, as well. Christine Radogno was not, Carole Pankau was, Rauschenberger was not, Bill Brady was. The idea you see so many in '92 it’s part of being in the House so many years, you go to the Senate.
Yeah, I’m mid-term. I’m going to be Secretary of State, but if something really weird happens and I’m not, I’m going to continue to be a good state senator. The idea of the farm team is there.
I’ve had political reporters ask me why everyone’s bailing out of the Senate, and I say no, they’re not bailing out of the Senate, what you don’t understand is that this is absolutely what a farm team season is all about. These are the people who have been through X years in the House or Senate, who have grown and are ready to be the next step.
You know what? God bless Bill Brady and Christine Radogno and Carole Pankau and Dan Rutherford. They’re in mid-term, and they’re going to work hard to rebuild the party. If they don’t quite make that shot, they’ll return as senators.
FE: There’s a lot of concern that the Old Guard continues to call the shots in the Illinois GOP. You’re looking to establishment-types to work behind the scenes while looking for newer energy through Lincoln Day dinners and so on?
DR: You used a phrase “behind the scenes.” I want to check that. You can’t just all of a sudden have a nuclear holocaust and start from scratch. The political process in our country has always had someone from the past to be dealing with this stuff from today. And sure, the old oaks have been burned down and George Ryan is on trial, and so on and so forth, and yes, this next crop of farm team generation is there today.
You know, I’m going back to the past. I’m going back to Jim Thompson, I’m going back to Jim Edgar, I’m going back to Ty Fahner and the people I worked with in the 1980s and 1990s. I want to have their advice and their assistance; I want them to help me raise money. I’m going to past county chairman who were around in the 1980s for Ronald Reagan and they are long retired, and maybe they’re the Old Guard, but you know what? They’ve got institutional knowledge.
But in the same vein, and I want to wind this around to young people. . . If there are young people ready to get out there and get engaged, we’re going to get them involved and engaged somehow. Today’s campaign, www.DanRutherford.org allows someone to go on the Internet to say, 'I want to get involved in your campaign,' to post a remark on our Secretary of State’s office, go look at our diary of what we’ve been doing.
A lot of people have got website these days, but we’re talking about an interactive process to get people engaged. Blogs are a new evolution, they were embryonic in '02, but they were non-existent in 1998.
It’s that type of thing that yeah, I’m going back to some of the people I worked with 25 years ago and I’m a smart enough guy to recognize that resource, as well as that young person who is ready to be engaged.
FE: Do you think that in 2006, the campaigns will be different, knowing the feds are watching the use of state workers in campaigns? Everyone will be careful to set up field operations without state workers. It’s a new day in Illinois politics.
DR: Sure. Let me tell you, if Senator Dan Rutherford were to deploy his army of state workers – the one and a half staffers I have working for me – it won’t be the reason we win this war. I don’t have a patronage army.
FE: Who is your base in this race?
DR: Our base will be folks who have been involved in the political process. If I did a poll today, I understand my name ID against Jesse White’s, I know what it’s going to be. I’m not going to spend the money to go do that. Right now, my existing base is people who have seen us, heard us at the Lincoln Day dinners and have heard about us on the radio. I was on the radio this morning in all different parts of Illinois, and the call-ins, those are who are for Rutherford today.
Who’s going to be for Rutherford tomorrow? Don’t forget, we’re not in a sprint; we’re in a marathon. We’re preparing for the next eleven months to go forward,
I really believe a couple of things are going to happen:
I believe you’re going to find the public of Illinois saying, you know what, I don’t like the way my government is treating me, I don’t like the way my government is serving me, and again, the largest retail operation of Illinois government is that of the office of Secretary of State. Whether it’s in license plates or titles or libraries or organ donors or archives or business services or franchising or whatever it may be, they don’t like it.
That’s one, number two. . .
I agree with what you said, Fran, in that the political operations here in the city of Chicago that have been using machines and giving contracts for trucks and Hispanics and everything else with attorneys breathing down their necks, are not going to be doing the hinky stuff they used to do. The idea of subpoenas coming into Blagojevich’s administration, my thought is that you’ll not be finding many state employees of the governor’s office going out there doing stuff that shouldn’t be doing.
You know what? In the office of Secretary of State, they should be aware that I’m not asking them to do it. You take that, you take that and the idea of using today’s newest technologies, we’re not going to win this because of a blog or a website, but we’re going to have new tools never used in an election before.
And you need fire in the belly. I’ve been around enough campaigns and candidates through the years in the State House, Senate and statewide, that unless you’re burning inside and you’re willing to go out and work this from early morning until late at night, seven days a week, you don’t deserve to be on the campaign trail, you don’t deserve to be the candidate. And I have that. . .
In the final segment of this 3-part interview, Rutherford answers questions on issues pertaining to the office of Secretary of State.