Democratic Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican opponent Bruce Rauner hurled the lowest of blows at one another during the rivals' first face-to-face meeting, held Tuesday morning before the Chicago Tribune editorial board.
The showdown, streamed live online, was the most riveting, made-for-reality-television moment thus far in one of the most toxic and widely watched gubernatorial campaigns in the country. Looking like Celebrity Apprentice finalists, the two went at it for more than an hour inside the stately Trib editorial boardroom, launching verbal grenades back and forth to the very end as they pleaded their cases to the paper's conservative-leaning opinion editors.
When it was all over, nobody said "You're fired!" The enemies shook hands in an obligatory display of faux respect, actually making eye contact after many minutes of hurling personal attacks via side eye. Without further ado, the 10 biggest jaw-droppers from the raucous Rauner-Quinn Debate No. 1:
1. Taking the Trib board by surprise, Quinn accused the multi-millionaire venture capitalist of bribing lawmakers to influence Springfield's bipartisan pension reform bill passed last December. "You tried to sabotage it," sniped the governor. Rauner, calling a pull-back of retiree pensions "morally wrong," fervently denied the allegation but said he "absolutely" pushed hard to strike down the controversial law. But Quinn said House GOP leader Jim Durkin told him that Rauner had offered campaign money in exchange for "no" votes.
2. Given the opportunity to ask each other questions, the foes went for the jugular. Rauner pressed Quinn on previously stating that disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was an "honest" man following his indictment on corruption charges. (Quinn responded that he never defended Blago.) Quinn asked Rauner why he has not yet disclosed his 2013 tax returns, to which Rauner replied: "We've gone far and beyond what's required. ... Voters have a clear picture of my wealth." The Winnetka venture capitalist, whose use of a corporate loophole to save tax money were recently revealed in a bombshell Trib report, refused to apologize for his success and said he had given back to philanthropic causes.
3. Asked about his stance on the minimum wage, Rauner—heard in damning audio last week saying he supported eliminating a living wage for low-income workers—conceded his language was "inartful" and reiterated that he backed an increase in Illinois' rate alongside pro-business concessions. He accused Quinn and Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan of playing "political football" on the issue, saying the pair "could have raised the minimum wage" earlier in their government careers. Striking back, Quinn said he'd made prior attempts throughout the last decade and that Rauner had been "caught red-handed" in that January radio interview, adding: "I favor raising the minimum wage without condition."
4. Quinn pounced on Rauner's checkered private-equity past, casting the GTCR founder as a money-motivated executive who reaps financial rewards from bad businesses decisions for which he refuses to take responsibility. Rauner pivoted the debate to Quinn's alleged reputation for corruption, cronyism and "illegal patronage hiring." In an especially low blow, he quipped: "The only difference between Pat Quinn and Rod Blagojevich is the hair. ... Pat Quinn has no idea how jobs get created."
5. Another Rauner bon mot that had Rauner and running mate Paul Vallas (also in the room) cracking up: "(Vallas is) a Chicago machine politician. What we don't need in Springfield is anymore Chicago politicians." To which the Windy City-based incumbent invoked the mini-scandal over the businessman pulling strings to get his kid into the elite North Side public school Walter Payton College Prep. Quoth Quinn: "Name-calling won't get around the fact that you clouted your daughter into (Walter Payton)." Rauner countered that he understood why parents were upset about that: Because they don't have a choice.
6. Rauner alleged that Vallas, a veteran education reform advocate, had "flip-flopped" on the school voucher issue in order to get on the ballot. While Rauner said the thinks that taxpayer dollars should go toward vouchers, Vallas countered that pro-voucher, school-choice proponents "don't think public education can be effective without charging. I do."
7. Backtracking on his previous assertion that Rauner is too wealthy to governor Illinois, Vallas clarified: "No one's too rich to be governor." At the same time, he maintained, "Mr. Rauner defines his success as 'I made money.' ... I believe his wealth (informs) his strategy."
8. Rauner poo-poohed the Quinn-Vallas commitment to education, suggesting that Democrat-installed tax hikes are meant to cover fiscal woes rather than prop up a broken public school system. "We cannot tax our way out of our problems," he said in reference to the 2011 income tax increase that Quinn wants to make permanent in order to stave off a budget crisis. "They say it's for schools and then it doesn't go to the schools. ... They count borrowing as revenue. That's not revenue." In defense mode, Quinn said Rauner's budget proposal doesn't add up, arguing: "It's all about arithmetic, Mr Rauner. And you don't understand arithmetic or want kids to learn arithmetic cause you'd cut education dollars."
9. Evelyn Sanguinetti, Rauner's running mate, said they are like-minded on policies but took a potshot at the way he dresses. She added that she and Rauner's wife, Diana, and "working" on improving his election style. Vallas, sporting a suit-and-tie, demurred when asked to weigh in on Quinn's wardrobe; instead he made a self-deprecating joke about his own clothing choices, observing that this was the best he'd ever looked in the campaign.
10. Quinn defended his track record on term limits, which Rauner strongly supports. "I was for term limits in 1994," asking Rauner where he was at that time. Rauner's response: Making money for pensions.