Bailey, 54, has made a name for himself battling Pritzker over COVID-19 and arguing that downstate Illinois should break away from Chicago. But on Monday, he portrayed himself as an everyman who can unify forgotten residents.
EFFINGHAM, Ill. — Facing a packed-in, almost entirely unmasked crowd of supporters, conservative Republican firebrand Darren Bailey on Monday kicked off his bid to unseat Gov. J.B. Pritzker next year — citing the “utter failure” of the Chicago Democrat.
“Gov. Pritzker and the Democrats have failed us, and it’s time to fix it,” the state senator from southern Illinois told the crowd. “Gov. Pritzker says it’s not a big deal that people are leaving the state in droves — 850,000 is not a trickle, governor, it’s a torrent.”
Bailey, 54, has made a name for himself battling Pritzker over COVID-19 and arguing that downstate Illinois should break away from Chicago.
But on Monday, before hundreds of supporters at the Thelma Keller Convention Center, he portrayed himself as an everyman who can unify forgotten residents.
“Far too long, citizens of Illinois have been left without a voice,” he said. “People in Illinois have been divided. We’ve been used. We’ve been mocked. We’ve been marginalized.
“People in Illinois have been ignored based on their race. They’ve been ignored based on their class. Their ZIP Code. Or by special interests.
“All while a political class has done absolutely nothing but enrich themselves, while destroying our state and robbing our children and our grandchildren of our future. Friends, this has got to change. And it has got to change today.”
Bailey promised to “demand a budget that freezes all spending,” and he vowed to pass an income tax cut.
“Illinois is in trouble, government always spent more than it took in. The cycle never ends.”
Bailey was endorsed by Republican U.S. Rep. Mary Miller and her husband, Republican state Rep. Chris Miller.
“If Darren Bailey is governor of Illinois, then there is a God in Heaven,” state Rep. Chris Miller told the crowd.
Miller’s wife launched her congressional career last month with an apology after she was recorded telling a crowd of supporters at a pro-Donald Trump rally that “Hitler was right on one thing — that whoever has the youth has the future.”
Only elected to the Illinois House in 2018 and to the state Senate last year, Bailey has quickly made a name in Republican politics by being one of the governor’s most ardent critics on his response to the coronavirus and other matters.
The downstate Republican filed a lawsuit last May in Clay County claiming Pritzker did not have the authority to extend stay-at-home orders for more than 30 days. After being consolidated with several similar cases, the lawsuit was dismissed by a Sangamon County judge in November.
Bailey was expelled from a session of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Bank of Springfield Center last May in a bipartisan 81-27 vote for refusing to wear a mask. He returned to the Legislature the next day wearing a mask.
Pritzker characterized the stunt as a “callous disregard for life.”
Bailey was one of five Republicans to co-sponsor a 2019 bill that would have separated Chicago from downstate Illinois.
Supporter Ray Blade said that Bailey “shares [their] values,” saying that Illinois has gone “downhill, over a cliff” since Pritzker was elected.
His wife, Janet Blade, a school teacher for over forty years, said that Bailey would fix the “poisoned atmosphere” in Illinois schools, referencing “culturally responsive” learning standards set out by the Illinois State Board of Education – guidelines that received loud boos from the crowd when brought up by Bailey.
The couple feared that Bailey’s election would not be fair, pointing to their belief that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged” in Illinois and elsewhere.
“The election will be fair downstate because everybody knows each other, but not so much in Chicago. It’s never been fair,” said Ray Blade.
Waving a Fire Pritzker sign, Susan Meyers, who drove two hours from Wayne County, said that Bailey would “stand up for downstate Illinois.”
Bailey “did the right thing” when he refused to wear a mask and sued the governor, she said. “[The state] shouldn’t have been locked down. I feel so sorry for the businesses who won’t open again.”
But Kristina Zahorik, president of the Illinois Democratic County Chairs’ Association, blasted Bailey as out of touch with Illinois voters.
“Darren Bailey is an extremist. And much like his idol, Donald Trump, Darren Bailey has focused on ginning up outrage to impress his fellow zealots, further dividing Illinois. Illinois voters said no to Donald Trump this past November. Darren Bailey should expect the same.”
Bailey joins former state Sen. Paul Schimpf and businessman Gary Rabine in the GOP primary field.