At about 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, a dark SUV rolled up to the entrance of Turner Hall in Columbia, letting out Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, along with several aides and security personnel.
The entire GOP Lincoln Day Dinner crowd began to flock to the entryway as the approximately 6-foot-5 state official strode through the hall, giving hearty handshakes and even a few hugs to well-known advocates. A myriad of photo opps, a few cocktails and a handful of conversations during a private reception were followed with Rauner being introduced to the podium for a GOP rally cry by Myron Neff, Monroe County GOP Central Committee member.
“I’m excited to be back here in Monroe County. This is strong Republican territory here,” he cheered, motioning to a crowd of more than 220 supporters. Rauner had attended the county’s Republican Lincoln Day Dinner in 2013 as a prospective gubernatorial candidate and returned in 2014 for a short visit while on the campaign trail.
During his speech, the governor went on to thank the county for their support and for fighting for the party’s values. He briefly mentioned the state budget, but only as a means to transition into his agenda.
“Some people think the problem is about the budget,” he uttered in a sincere tone. “It’s partly about the budget, but it’s really about our future prosperity.”
To Rauner, that future prosperity includes bringing power back to the Republicans in Springfield — he confidently foretold at the dinner that eight more Illinois Republicans would unseat Democratic representatives in the 2018 elections. He also continued his call for pension reform, job growth, term limits and non-partisan redistricting, among other topics.
“He knows how to resonate with people, and he spoke to us as people, not as constituents. And that’s so neat that he does that,” Ed McLean, Monroe County GOP Central Committee chairman, voiced in admiration.
Rauner dipped out immediately following his speech, heading to the Republican dinner taking place in Madison County. McLean said the governor was met with a handful of peaceful demonstrators in the Turner Hall parking lot at the end of his stay.
For a full recap of the dinner, pick up a copy of the April 12 paper.
To listen to Rauner answer McGowan’s question about downstate politics, click here.