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Ella West/MEDILL 

Businessman Bruce Rauner, Republican candidate for governor schmoozes with attendees at the Illinois Education Association Representative Assembly held in Chicago. Rauner squared off in debate with Gov. Pat Quinn for the first time, Friday. 

Quinn and Rauner face teachers union, trade barbs in first gubernatorial campaign debate

by Ella West
April 12, 2014

Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner squared off for the first time Friday in what promises to be a combative gubernatorial race.

The debate, before some 1,300 attendees at the Illinois Education Association’s annual conference in Chicago was moderated by IEA president Cinda Klickna, a veteran teacher who took the candidates to task on issues related to funding for education and pensions.

Quinn and Rauner appealed directly to IEA members gathered at the Hilton Chicago for the three-day meeting. “I think it is very important that you not let loose a virus in Illinois,” Quinn said, referring to his opponent.  

Rauner said, “Gov. Quinn has broken his promise to you, to our voters, to our tax payers.”

Moderator Klickna confronted Quinn over his controversial pension reform plan, currently the subject of a consolidated lawsuit being tried in Sangamon County Circuit Court. “I know you disagree with me,” Quinn said. “But please, don’t compare me to the almighty, compare me to the alternative over here.”

The audience booed when Rauner said he would like to move teachers into a defined contribution, 401(k)-type plan.

Quinn scored applause with his response: “A risky 401(k) plan for the teachers of Illinois? No way!”

Klickna also called out Rauner for an op-ed he wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times in which he said teachers are overpaid. Rauner denied the claim.

“I do not believe teachers should be paid less,” he said over a jeering crowd. “That op-ed is referring broadly to government workers.”

Quinn scored more points with the audience of teachers and administrators when he said, “I’m not going to ‘charter-ize’ Illinois public schools.”

Rauner’s defense of charter schools was not as popular. The crowd murmured while he said, “It’s not fair for low-income families who can’t afford to move and can’t afford to go to private school to be trapped in failing schools.”

Kathy C. Theodor, a teacher in Oswego Community Unit School District 308, said she wasn’t impressed with Rauner’s comments. “I’m not convinced of his true intentions,” she said.

She added that she is not entirely pleased with Quinn, either. “He’s gone back on his word a couple of times,” Theodor said, “but I think that he does come around to seeing the result that is best for us.

 “I think I have my mind made up. Unfortunately it’s the lesser of two evils.”