SPRINGFIELD — At first glance, suburban businessman Gary Rabine might seem like the classic “country club Republican.”
He’s a millionaire entrepreneur. He argues soaring property taxes are the state’s No. 1 problem.
He even owns his own country club.
But Rabine’s political views hook sharply from the more moderate members of the GOP.
He’s a social conservative opposed to abortion. And he’s a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump, calling his four years in office “the strongest job creation administration in the history of my lifetime.”
“If I can be sixty to seventy percent that effective as a leader in Illinois, Illinois will be a way better place four or five years from now,” Rabine told the Sun-Times.
Rabine, 57, is the third Republican to officially enter the race for governor — and the first from the Chicago area.
He kicked off his campaign Tuesday with events in his business offices in Schaumburg and at his Bull Valley Golf Club in northwest suburban Woodstock.
Owning a paving business and several other companies based out of the northwest exurbs, Rabine is hoping to bring his business expertise to the governor’s office.
“Fifteen years ago in Illinois, we really were the best place in the middle of the country to create jobs and start a business, to grow a business. But over the last 15 years, that’s deteriorated to being the worst,” he told the Sun-Times in an interview between events Tuesday.
He dismisses Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker as a “trust fund billionaire” who doesn’t have the right business experience to lead the state.
“I don’t have any knowledge of him ever building a business from the ground up. I mean, he calls himself an entrepreneur, but I’ve not witnessed real entrepreneurship there,” he said of Pritzker. “Buying and selling companies for profit is a little different from … building a paving business here in Illinois and creating a national platform for paving parking lots.”
Rabine criticized Pritzker’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, saying that “a total shutdown may not have been necessary” last March.
The Bull Valley businessman also derided the governor for recently signing the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ criminal justice reform bill, saying it will “put our families, our communities and our neighborhoods in harm’s way like never before.”
But to Rabine, the biggest issue in Illinois is rising property taxes. Those are set by local governments, but Rabine promised to cut them 50% by 2024.
“People in Illinois that work so hard to pay for their homes end up with very little equity left because of our high [property] taxes and that’s pushing people out,” he said.
Rabine has never run for office before, but he has been a Republican donor in Illinois and nationally for decades. So far, he has pumped $250,000 into his own campaign.
Rabine backed former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in his 2014 bid, but broke with Rauner when the GOP governor signed a 2017 law that expanded taxpayer support for abortions in Illinois.
“I believe that Bruce Rauner had his heart in the game to turn around Illinois, and I backed him because of that. But I did not believe that Bruce would ever do a bill like that,” he said.
Rabine switched his support to state Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Wheaton conservative who narrowly lost to Rauner in the 2018 Republican primary. Rabin contributed $10,000 to Ives’ campaign.
Even though Rabine is an abortion opponent, he said that he would not make that issue a priority as governor.
“I’m a man of the laws of the land, and the laws that are in place are in place,” he said of Roe v. Wade and other abortion laws.
Last October, Rabine hosted a fundraiser at his Bull Valley Golf Club for Trump, which was attended by Donald Trump Jr.
Repeatedly asked about the former Republican president’s false claims that the election was stolen, Rabine could not say whether he believes President Joe Biden fairly won last year’s presidential election.
“We need to keep a close eye on it because every vote needs to count. But I would never say one way or another [about Trump’s claims of election fraud] because I have no clue.”
Illinois Democratic County Chairs’ Association President Kristina Zahorik slammed Rabine’s election denialism as “disqualifying.”
“Gary Rabine is either clueless or part of the conspiracy theory crew who don’t believe Joe Biden was legally elected President. Either one is disqualifying to serve as an elected officeholder,” Zahorik said in a statement.
Rabine is an advisory board member and longtime donor to Turning Point USA, a controversial conservative group that has college campus chapters across the country. At that fundraiser for Trump, Rabine called Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA and an Illinois native, a “hero of mine.”
Rabine said he supported the group because they “educate kids on college campuses on the blessings of the free enterprise system” and on the “dangers of socialism and Marxism.”
Kirk’s organization was a major proponent of Trump’s election fraud claims and one of the first to use “China Virus” as a moniker for COVID-19.
Turning Point USA was listed as a “coalition partner” on the “March to Save America” website for the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 insurrection. In a now deleted tweet, Kirk said that his organization was “sending 80+ buses full of patriots to fight for this President.”
On one of those buses was a man later charged for his participation in the riot and allegedly assaulting three Capitol police officers with a fire extinguisher.
Rabine said he was unaware of Turning Point USA’s involvement.
“I don’t know anything about what they did or anybody did personally for that event. I’ve not been in touch with that and don’t really don’t care to be,” he said.
Rabine declined to say how much money he has donated to the group.
While saying he “didn’t know the whole situation,” Rabine defended state Rep. Chris Miller, who was recently censured by the Illinois House for allegedly helping incite the insurrection — allegations Miller denies.
Rabine said Miller was “a very good man.”
“I think we need to stop just jumping to conclusions before any investigation and before anybody knows what’s going on,” he said.
Rabine also “didn’t agree” with local GOP organizations’ censures of U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger for his vote to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrection, saying “any Republican can have their own opinion.”
Rabine joins state Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia and former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo in the Republican gubernatorial primary.