SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan touted his status as a political “outsider” as he filed paperwork to appear on the ballot in the Republican primary race for Governor less than an hour before the filing deadline on Monday afternoon.
“What good are these politicians doing us? They have driven everything that I love about my home, this state, into the ground,” Sullivan told reporters in the parking lot of the Illinois State Board of Elections. “I bring a business experience from the outside into this.”
Illinois voters were drawn to similar messages in 2014 and 2018 when private equity investor Bruce Rauner and billionaire venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker gave similar sales pitches about their success in big business. Rauner and Pritzker both won a seat in the Governor’s mansion without any prior experience in government.
“I am not J.B. Pritzker. I’m not Bruce Rauner,” Sullivan said. “I’m from Central Illinois. I grew up working on a farm, one of eight kids. I learned the values of hard work of faith, family, service. My Christian faith drives my entire life, and and I see the results we’re getting for our neighbors.”
Sullivan filed his nominating petitions alongside his running mate, Kathleen Murphy, who said she has stepped aside as Jeanne Ives’ business partner while she runs for Lieutenant Governor. Ives, a far-right firebrand who challenged former Governor Bruce Rauner in the 2018 primary, has since endorsed state senator Darren Bailey’s primary bid.
“We were not looking for a photo op with Governor Pritzker,” Murphy said in a veiled reference to Bailey who was photographed alongside Pritzker in the filing line last week. “We were looking to turn in the best petitions possible to represent the people who work so hard to help us get them.”
While Sullivan campaigns as a political outsider, his running mate has benefited from her work as a political insider as recently as this year.
Financial records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show three of Bailey’s closest allies in the House, representatives Dan Caulkins (R-Decatur), Brad Halbrook (R-Shelbyville), and Chris Miller (R-Oakland), used taxpayer funds to hire Murphy and Ives to perform $37,500 worth of “public relations” work. The payments were made since Sullivan launched his campaign last fall.
Sullivan highlighted his experience in business and in Afghanistan, and turned his fire on Pritzker’s record during his first term in office.
“We need someone who has the competency, the skillset, the background, to do a good job on the areas that matter most to the state of Illinois,” Sullivan said. “J.B. Pritzker has been unwilling to take on any single issue that is the most important to the people of Illinois. Unfunded pension liabilities? Doesn’t look at it. Crime? Through the roof. This whole demeaning and devaluing of police that’s led to violence on the streets? It’s unconscionable.”
While Sullivan was eager to attack Pritzker for the things he hasn’t done, he was far less willing to reverse many of the policies Pritzker has enacted during his first term.
Would Sullivan outlaw legal marijuana?
“No, we have no plans to do that,” he said, after dodging the question three times.
The minimum wage floor is set to reach $15 an hour halfway in January 2025, halfway through the next governor’s term in office. Would Sullivan take any steps to reverse or slow the arrival of that Pritzker policy?
“No, we we have no plans right now to reverse course on that area,” Sullivan said.
Other conservatives running against Sullivan may be more eager to reverse Pritzker’s progressive policies.
Gary Rabine, the other businessman running in the Republican primary for governor, said, “I would have to look at that.”
“I don’t believe that a $15 minimum wage is a good thing for for small businesses and restaurants and, you know, little tiny businesses,” Rabine said last month.
“I think that the rung of the ladder in a job for a 15-year-old kid can be less than that,” Rabine said. “I believe that somebody with with great experience in their 20s and 30s should be making a lot more than that. I think the goal should be to create jobs that [pay] $50,000 or more, and stop worrying about minimum wage.”
Later, after Sullivan’s comments were initially published, his campaign manager Noah Sheinbaum sent out an updated statement suggesting the candidate could oppose the minimum wage after all.
“This is Chicago city policy being forced down the throats of small business owners across the state, and it’s killing opportunity, especially for young people,” Sheinbaum said. “Chicago’s minimum wage should not be imposed on downstate businesses and it’s killing jobs.”
If his petitions survive the challenge from any rival campaigns, Sullivan will join Rabine, Bailey, former state senator Paul Schimpf, and Aurora mayor Richard Irvin on the primary ballot. The election is June 28th.