Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bill Brady addresses a small band of followers in a cozy, dimly lit Irish pub in Plainfield, Ill.
Despite the Sunday drizzle, about 20 people have gathered, clad in sweaters and khakis and the kind of expensive coats you see in catalogs catering to the faux-outdoorsman.
They listen attentively as Brady, who fills the gloom with crackling energy, speaks on the potential of their state.
“The number one issue is making Illinois’ economy the number one in the nation,” he says. “I believe we can do that, because we have the greatest assets in the nation. If you look at [the state] as a business, we’ve been underperforming devastatingly.”
Brady, a state senator and owner of a Bloomington construction business, is one of six Republicans competing for the gubernatorial nomination in the Feb. 2 primary.
Among his competitors are Senator Kirk Dillard, former GOP state chairman Andy McKenna, commentator Dan Proft, businessman Adam Andrzejewski, and former state Attorney General Jim Ryan. A seventh candidate, DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom, dropped out of the race last Friday.
Despite constant travel from his native Bloomington, Brady seems relaxed, alert. He greets every latecomer with a firm handshake and a quick, “Make yourself at home.” One wouldn’t think he’s spent hours in a car, as his suit remains perfectly pressed, its only adornment a pin featuring the American and Illinois flags entwined. He has a practiced handshake, and a time-tested smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes.
“I have felt positive for the last year,” Brady says of the possibility of a Republican takeover in Illinois. “The verdicts have started coming in. The trifecta in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts are really giving people something to believe in.”
Brady says he believes Illinois is neither Republican nor Democrat, that half the voters are independents, and all his party must do is promote strong candidates, like himself, in order to sway undecided voters.
Brady’s enthusiasm seems to reflect a new optimism that’s permeated the Illinois GOP.
“Illinois is next,” says Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady (no relation) in an e-mail to party affiliates. “Like Massachusetts, Illinois is under control of the single-party rule Democrats who have had unbridled control of the State of Illinois for the last eight years and have brought us to the brink of financial collapse.”
Brady’s platform is this: he’s a downstate businessman looking to create jobs and deconstruct what he believes are inefficient government systems.
The best way to run the state is through a business model, Brady says. He believes the solution to Illinois’ budget problems lies not with raising taxes (he has never voted for a tax increase, he says) but with $7 billion in budget cuts.
“You can’t find one businessman or economist who would say you’ll bring more jobs to Illinois by raising taxes,” he says. “We’ve got to cut the tax burden. It’s the same thing that’s cost us the jobs we’ve already lost.”
Brady also wants to eliminate the State Board of Education, which he claims will save $50 million a year. He would like to downsize the board and make it into a department of the governor’s office.
Though he said House Speaker Michael Madigan is a product of a corrupt system that happens when legislative leaders are not term-limited, Brady says if he became governor he could work with the speaker.
“I believe he would embrace much of my agenda,” Brady says of Madigan.
Robin Ambrosia, chairwoman for the Will County Republicans and organizer of Sunday’s event, said she believes in Brady because of his business background. She is optimistic about his chances because she thinks people are starting to understand the impact of raising taxes.
“I think the momentum is going our way because of the knowledge of high taxes,” she says. “People are waking up and realizing that taxing people is not the answer. [Brady] understands that raising taxes discourages businesses.”
Brady and his team stake up some yard signs, grab their umbrellas and finish the necessary meet-and-greets. They will continue to make their way across the state, the next stop to support a local judge’s candidacy.
All across town, Brady’s signs are competing with numerous others. Candidates’ names are crowded together in cardboard and paper on slushy ground outside homes and businesses.
“I attended a brunch this morning, and there were four times as many signs as people,” Brady says.
Contact Diane Ivey at firstname.lastname@example.org.