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Illinois Governor 2018 Transportation

In this Jan. 29 file photo, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and primary challenger state Rep. Jeanne Ives meet with the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board in Chicago.

DECATUR -- Gov. Bruce Rauner made his case as a “proud Republican” Friday afternoon, as he battles a challenge from within his own party in the primary.

The first-term Republican visited the Decatur Herald & Review editorial board for about an hour, speaking about his first term in office and what he hopes to achieve if re-elected.

“The Republican Party stands for limited government, low taxes, individual liberties and personal responsibility, and I believe in those principles passionately,” Rauner said. “Everything I’m working for is on those principles.”

He pointed to what he calls the "four pillars" for his re-election case: help control 2020 legislative redistricting, reduce the income tax and keep Illinois in two lawsuits that could go before the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming year. One lawsuit concerns mandatory union membership fees and another delves into allowing individual municipalities to establish right-to-work zones.

Rauner also defended his administration’s actions regarding the outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at the Illinois Veterans' Home in Quincy that has killed 13 people since summer 2015 and infected dozens more. He called testimony given this week during a House-Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, where facility staff said that they found out about the outbreak from media reports, “false” and suggested they were politically motivated.

“The reality is we took strong, immediate action,” Rauner said. “(We) communicated with employees and that was put out, (Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs Director) Erica Jeffries put out that clear statement about how they communicated. There is a lot of politics being played right now.”

Rauner also clarified a comment he made Thursday that he would not do anything different about how his administration handled the outbreak, saying his administration helped find the cause of the disease and immediately addressed it.

That comment has since drawn criticism from Democrats and Republicans, who said it ignored unnecessary deaths and anguish caused by the outbreak.

The governor's strong defense of his Republican credentials comes at a fractured time for the party in Illinois. Rauner faces a primary challenger from the right in state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton, a development that came after he signed two controversial pieces of legislation last year authored by Democrats. The first allows Medicaid recipients and state employees to have abortion procedures covered by their insurance, and the other called the TRUST Act, limits local police cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Ives and other Illinois conservatives have said the TRUST Act makes Illinois a "sanctuary state."

Another right-wing ally has turned on Rauner: John Tillman, the CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute and leader of a web of nonprofit organizations that advocate for free-market principles in Illinois. After the Chicago Sun-Times published a story raising ethical questions about Tillman's use of funneling cash through different nonprofits, Rauner told the Herald & Review, sister paper to the JG-TC, he's now concerned.

"I'm appalled. I historically was one of their biggest funders," Rauner said of the institute. "I fund free-enterprise, limited government, low-tax efforts. They've gone far afield."

A Super PAC that shares the same major donors as Tillman's organizations, Liberty Principles, has paid for a spate of advertising supporting Ives and Dan Caulkins, a Republican primary candidate for the 101st Illinois House District.

The winner of the contest between Rauner and Ives will face off against one of the six Democrats seeking their party's nomination: state Sen. Daniel Biss, businessman Chris Kennedy, billionaire J.B. Pritzker, educator Bob Daiber, activist Tio Hardiman and physician Robert Marshall. 

The primary election is March 20.

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