Ward Room Q&A: Dan Rutherford

State Treasurer Dan Rutherford says state employees should be able to choose between a defined benefit and defined contribution pension system, and doesn't think gay rights, abortion and guns should define his Republican Party. Ward Room's Ted McClelland talked to Rutherford this week to catch up on the issues. 

Q: First off, tell us what you did in Korea last week.

A: I went to Yongsan garrison, in Seoul, and had lunch with Illinois soldiers. I also went up to the DMZ. I met with the mayor of Busan, which is the sister city of Chicago. I went to the USS George Washington, which had just finished some war games with Japan, and had a chance to meet some Illinois sailors. So when I asked the soldiers and sailors, "Is there anybody you want me to call when I get back home?" So a number of them gave me a family member's name. So what I did on the Fourth of July rather than marching in parades was made phone calls to soldiers' mothers, in-laws, brothers, fathers.

Q: You were talking about expanding a South Korean energy solutions company to Illinois. What kind of progress did you make on that?

A: I've already got it on my calendar when the Koreans are visiting. It would be presumptive to say which company it is or where.

Q: What about the meetings about the Smart Grid technology? What's that going to bring back to Illinois?

A: What they're looking to do is a siting of a project in the U.S. It would be an investment and one of the cities in Illinois is competing for that.

Q: Which city?

A: I don't know if it's public, but I spoke with the people from the Smart Grid side of Illinois before I left.

Q: A couple weeks ago, you came out against Governor Quinn's prison-closing plan. What's wrong with closing prisons to save money?

A: What's wrong with closing prisons to save money is the fact that we're at 147 percent capacity in our prison system. You can say, "What's wrong with closing down state police?" Just because it's cost cutting doesn't mean it's an appropriate logical move. The General Assembly's budget was less spending than the governor proposed, but they funded those two prisons. I am very much into cost cutting. I even cut my own office budget to less than what it was 10 years ago. The point that I debate with the governor is a public safety standpoint. He didn't cut 'em to save money. He cut 'em to put the money someplace else. He wanted more money for Children and Family Services. I've been to Tamms. Those guys are the worst of the worst of the worst, and when they close that down, they're going to put 'em into a system that is already abundantly overcrowded, and when they take those female inmates and close down Dwight, they're putting them into a system that's already overcrowded. If we don't need a Supermax prison, then what is the plan to do with these inmates, how and what are we going to do to transition them out. What are we going to do with the facility, the employees that are already trained?

Q: You're in charge of the most stressed state treasury in the United States, and you spend more time with the numbers than anyone else. What are your ideas for getting this state back to solvency?

A: The absolute A-plus, number one must be done is responding to the problem in the state public pension system. When the governor delivered his address, I was right up front, "I'm standing with this governor. I support his effort to change the state public pension systems." I'm going to use whatever political capital I have to go out and help him get it done.

Q: Do you think it's constitutional to change the terms of pension systems for existing employees?

A: I do believe if you allow it to be choice, then I do. I'm in favor of having a choice that if they want to stay in the current system they're in, they can, but they pay a certain premium. If they care to go at a different type of defined benefit, they would have a different type of premium, or they can go to a defined contribution.

Q: One of your last votes as a senator was in favor of the civil unions bill. Was that a vote you felt you could make because you'd been elected as a statewide official, and was there anything in that vote that was looking at having appeal as a statewide officeholder?

A: No, that wasn't the reason I did it. I believed it was the right thing to do. The Human Rights Bill, I voted for it back when it didn't pass, and I voted for it when it did pass.

Q: I read a quote from you that said the Republicans should not define themselves by their positions on abortion or gay rights or gun rights. Do you think a social conservative can win a statewide race in Illinois, because you and Judy Baar Topinka and Mark Kirk certainly did better than Bill Brady.

A: On social issues, on some of them I'm as conservative as they come. I'm pro-life. I happen to be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. I support conceal carry. But I don't let that define who I am, because I think there are more important issues today that the public of Illinois is looking to have their leaders respond to. So when I said, "We as Republicans should not allow the social issues to define a good Republican from a bad Republican, I mean it. There are a lot of good Republicans that aren't pro-life. There are a lot of good Republicans that don't support the idea of conceal carry. You know what? That doesn't make 'em a bad Republican.

Q: The AP wrote a story not too long ago talking about some errors in mailings that came from the state treasurer's office. One was the Social Security numbers on the envelopes, another was alerting friends and family of a treasurer's office employee to a college contribution plan, and then the 11-page booklet about your successes in office. Some people are saying that these suggest a lack of attention to detail that's necessary for an executive officeholder.

A: No. Break those into three parts. One on the Social Security number, that was done by the outside vendor. There's no way we could have stopped that if we would have known that. We put an extra check in place. The idea of the one that somebody in the office let people know in advance about participating, it was the wrong thing to do. That person no longer works for the treasurer's office. The third thing, there's not even a picture of me in that brochure. The reporter talked about a glossy brochure. It is not about the accomplishments in office. It is all about no more debt. It is dealing with the pension liability. Two of them were outside my control, and we responded to them, and the third I think was a matter of interpretation.

Q: I'm not going to ask you if you're going to run for governor, because Ward Room has already announced that. That's a proven, as they say in debating. We all know Gov. Quinn loves country music. What kind of music does Dan Rutherford love?

A: I like the old '60s and '70s, I like The Doors, I like The Who. I also like some of the Broadway stuff, like Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. When I jog in the morning, I use my iPhone and listen to Pandora, or I listen to news radio.  

Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!

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