Illinois Governor Debate Gets Heated: Top 9 Moments

Bruce Rauner and J.B. Pritzker launched attacks at one another amid an already-heated campaign for governor of Illinois

You can watch the forum in its entirety here.

Sparks flew as the candidates running for Illinois governor squared off in the first televised debate of the election Thursday, with Bruce Rauner, J.B. Pritzker, Kash Jackson and Sam McCann trading barbs amid an already contentious and expensive race.

Here are the top nine most explosive moments of the debate, moderated by NBC 5 Political Editor Carol Marin:

1. Rauner, Pritzker call each other liars

Carol: Mr. Pritzker, Gov. Rauner says you want to raise taxes on everybody and you say that's a lie. But you propose a graduated income tax that so far lacks available specifics. Will you tonight tell voters exactly what tax rates you favor, even if they're not going to be passed, but what you'd like to see, so they can make a judgment about what they're likely to pay?

Pritzker: Let's start with why we need a fair income tax system – Illinois has the most unfair tax system in the entire nation. That's why we need one. Gov. Rauner is standing up for that unfair tax system. I believe we need to change it. We need to ask wealthiest people, like Bruce Rauner and me, to pay a higher rate and we need to provide a tax cut for middle class families and those who are striving to get there, and lower local property taxes which is one of the biggest problems we have in the state of Illinois. Gov. Rauner has put forward no plan. The middle class should get a tax break - that is critically important to me. And remember that most states in the United States have a progressive income tax system and they're doing far better in job creation. I believe it's something we've gotta negotiate with the people's representatives in the legislature and remember it's got to go to a referendum of the people of Illinois before it could become part of our Constitution anyway. [[493905781, C]]

Rauner: Carol, Mr. Pritzker is dodging your question because he doesn’t want to tell the truth to the people of Illinois. He is proposing a massive new income tax hike on all the people of our state. He doesn't want to talk about it because the truth is so painful and politically unpopular. His party in the General Assembly made a mistake strategically a year ago and actually released the likely rates that they’re going to put forward. And what it shows is that everybody who makes more than $17,000 a year, everybody, pays a higher rate than they do today. And an average middle class family pays 26 percent more in income taxes.

Pritzker: Gov. Rauner, you're lying. You're lying again.

Rauner: Mr. Pritzker cannot be trusted when it comes to taxes. This is important Carol, this is a critically important issue. This election is about taxes and corruption. Two things: taxes and corruption. Mr. Pritzker is a disaster on taxes, he cannot be trusted because he has not paid his taxes by keeping his money in the Bahamas and ripped toilets out of his mansion.

Pritzker: Gov. Rauner has a casual relationship with the truth. He lied to the cardinal of Chicago, he lied about wanting a billion dollar tax cut for people when actually he proposed a budget that would raise local property taxes by a billion dollars, and he lied about the Quincy veterans home where he covered up his fatal mismanagement. He’s been lying for three and a half years, and now he’s lying about me. 

2. Rauner, Pritzker spar over vehicle mileage tax claims

Carol: Gov. Rauner, your campaign is running ads stating that Mr. Pritzker has proposed a vehicle mileage tax. Again, he calls that a lie and the record seems to indicate it’s not exactly what he said. Are you bending the truth a bit?

Rauner: He was clear in his statements, it's on the record, he said “We should look at putting in a vehicle miles tax." And the general assembly has proposed that to me every year that I've been governor. I've said no. Big government is not what we need in the state of Illinois, the government putting a box in everyone's car, measuring the miles they drive and taxing people to commute to work, taxing people to get their farm produce to market is wrong. Mr. Pritzker is supporting the General Assembly's idea for a vehicle miles tax. [[493906931, C]]

Pritzker: I have not proposed a vehicle mileage tax, and let me be clear - there are real differences between Bruce Rauner and me when it comes to taxes. He thinks defending a tax system that is the most unfair tax system in the entire nation is the right thing to do, I don't. Remember that people in the bottom 20 percent percent of taxpayers are paying a much higher rate of taxes overall than people in the top 1 percent. He's defending a system that is good for him and bad for middle class taxpayers. I want to cut property taxes and that's why we need a fair income tax.

3. Candidates battle over term limits

Carol: Mr. Pritzker, three downstate Democrats running for the Illinois House voiced support for term limits for its legislative leaders, including House Speaker Mike Madigan. Is it time for Speaker Madigan to step aside as leader of the Democrats?

Pritzker: I don’t think that people should serve for decades in leadership posts in Springfield and I favor leadership term limits. That's a good idea. They've imposed it in the Senate, they should impose it in the House. In my view, that's the right way to go. I also believe we should get rid of gerrymandering in the state because I want more competitive elections. [[493905841, C]]

Carol: Governor, I think everyone knows your opinion of Speaker Madigan and your push for term limits in general. Republican leader Bill Bracy has been in the Senate for 16 years and Jim Durkin, your leader in the House, for 12 years. Term limits for them?

Rauner: Everyone in state government, from the governor to the typical rank-and-file members of the General Assembly, should be term limited. I believe statewide officers should be term limited at 8 years, legislators should be term limited at 10 years and we should also have an end to gerrymandering and have bipartisan maps. Mr. Pritzker is falsely claiming that he supports term limits and the end of gerrymandering. He has personally funded Mike Kasper, Mike Kasper is Madigan’s attorney who personally sued to block term limits and fair map reform.

Pritzker: That’s not true, I supported independent maps.

Jackson: Neither one of you, neither one of you guys – you wouldn’t even come over to the Tribune to debate.

4. McCann and Rauner get heated

McCann: First and foremost, I am very pro-life, I'm about the most pro-life person you'll ever meet and very proud of that. I think it's reprehensible that the taxpayers of Illinois are required to pay for taxpayer-funded abortion on demand. I’ve even had pro-choice constituents come to me and say that.

Rauner: I've said five years ago and I will say again today: I support a woman’s right to decide and I do not believe her income should not determine whether she has that right. Carol let me also say, Mr. McCann has been given far too much airtime in this discussion. He is a phony candidate.

McCann: Get used to it, brother. Get used to it.

Rauner: He has received funding from Mike Madigan for his campaign. He was put on the ballot by Mike Madigan's attorney. [[493905471, C]]

McCann: You’re a liar! You've been lying to the people of Illinois from the very beginning. You said you would have no social agenda and all you've been able to accomplish is to make yourself the most progressive, liberal governor the state of Illinois has ever had. You're a liar and a thief.

Rauner: Mr. McCann are you getting paid on a per-interruption basis by Madigan or on a lump sum?

McCann: I’m getting paid by people to be here to take back the state for the people.

Rauner: He has one purpose on being on that stage and to help Mr. Pritzker be victorious for Mike Madigan. That's why Mr. McCann is here.

5. 'You haven't done an honest day's work in your life'

Pritzker: When you cut mental health services, when you cut substance abuse treatment. That is what helps to increase violence on the streets and you don't understand that. You know, people who want to get jobs, want to get trains and you cut funding for people who would get skills training. I mean, I think you’ve got it all backwards, governor.

Rauner: Mr. Pritzker, you know it's easy for you to sit on the sidelines and criticize when you haven’t done an honest day's work in your life.

Pritzker: You're lying, you're lying.

Rauner: You are not addressing the core issues that we need to fix. Pension reform, job creation, corruption, term limits. Those are the issues that we've got to deal with. [[493905821, C]]

McCann: And when are you going to get around to that, governor? You've been the governor for four years. This is a speech, this is something somebody who's running to be governor. What have you been doing for the last four years? Nothing.

Pritzker: During the course of my life, I’ve stood up for working families all across the state of Illinois, I've expanded early childhood education, I've been a national leader on it, I've expanded school breakfast programs for low-income kids across the state, in fact I've created thousands and thousands of jobs by founding the world's best small business incubator. Gov. Rauner has created fewer jobs in the same time period as his predecessor who he said was a miserable failure at job creation.

6. Pritzker says Rauner has failed as governor

Mary Ann Ahern: The registration information for some 76,000 voters in Illinois may have been compromised by foreign hackers in 2016. Do you believe the state has done enough to ensure election security? And also what additional steps you would take to make sure voters feel safe?

Pritzker: The governor’s done nearly nothing about this actually. He refuses to take us out of the crosscheck system which is a failed system that we should be out of already. He's failed at the computer upgrade system for the state of Illinois. I don’t see why anyone would trust him to secure the ballot box for people when he's failed at all of those things and frankly three and a half years in, you’ve accomplished nearly nothing and failed as governor. [[492867501, C]]

7. Rauner dodges death penalty question to talk corruption

Carol: Governor, studies suggest that states without the death penalty have consistently lower murder rates. Plus, as Mr. Pritzker points out, Illinois has had a terrible reputation about getting it wrong. Is there a consideration that you would make about your position?

Rauner: Carol, we have an issue of violent crime in Illinois. The far bigger issue we have in the state of Illinois is corruption and self-dealing. That’s why I stand so firmly against Mr. Pritzker and his candidacy. He has completely shown to the people of Illinois the lack of integrity, the lack of character.

Carol: This was a question about the death penalty.

Rauner: And the bigger problem is corruption. Mr. Pritzker cheating on his income tax by keeping his money offshore, ripping toilets out of a mansion.

8. 'Everything you just tried to take credit for happened in spite of you, not because of you'

Rauner: I've dedicated my life to improving education, far before I became governor. I set record funding for K-13 schools, record funding for early childhood education, historic school choice, tuition scholarship tax credits for low-income families, equal funding for charter schools and in my second term, I will reverse the years of under-funding of our universities, just as I reversed a decade of education cuts from Madigan's majority in the General Assembly. [[493905801, C]]

Pritzker: Basically everything you just tried to take credit for happened in spite of you, not because of you. Seven hundred thirty-six days without a budget in the state, longer than any state in the history of the United States, a $16 billion backlog racked up because of your failed management of the state, a billion dollars of late payment fees that the taxpayers had to pay for and eight credit downgrades - we're now the worst rated credit in the entire nation. Five universities under your watch have fallen to junk status and you're the biggest deficit spender in the history of the state of Illinois. You are a failed governor, you have failed every single year of your term, it is abominable to me and it's time for a change in this state.

Rauner: Mr. Pritzker, I will respond to that and simply say this. Your lack of integrity, your lack of character, your cheating on your property tax, your cheating on your income tax, your trying to use your inherited wealth to buy political office from imprisoned Rod Blagojevich. This is fundamentally wrong.

9. 'His image is a lie'

[On campaign finance]

Pritzker: Remember that it was Gov. Rauner who wrote these enormous checks up front. In December of 2016, no one else was running. Why would he do that? Because he wants to scare everyone else out of the system.

Rauner: Mr. Pritzker’s outspending me three to one in this election! Three to one. [[493906171, C]]

Pritzker: And in fact he was attacking me at the very beginning of the race, even during a Democratic primary, because he was scared to run against me. The truth of the matter is, Gov. Rauner has got to go. He has spent so much money trying to craft an image but the truth is, his image is a complete lie. The man has done nothing to create jobs, he has done nothing to expand healthcare for people in the state and he's done nothing to make it easier for people to go to college.

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