CHAMPAIGN – Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman said Thursday that his frustration over the state government's financial mess has led him to look beyond Illinois' elected leadership for a solution, endorsing businessman Bruce Rauner in his bid for governor.
Oberhelman has been one of the most vocal critics of how Illinois has handled its pension crisis, budget deficit and other financial affairs. He said after his Thursday appearance at a downtown Peoria hotel that he'd never before endorsed a candidate.
Rauner, a Republican venture capitalist from Winnetka, became the second GOP candidate for governor when he announced his candidacy Wednesday. Rauner joins state Treasurer Dan Rutherford.
Oberhelman said in an interview after Thursday's event that the state is now in a "deep hole" and he isn't optimistic that Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat who has said he'll run for re-election, or others can lead Illinois out of it. Rauner represents "fresh air," Oberhelman said.
"I think generally 20- or 30-year politicians, both at the state level and the federal level, have not been delivering," Oberhelman said. "That's an important consideration for all of us."
Rauner said he'd like to limit state-level office holders to eight years to prevent what he called corruption and inefficiency.
"We've got to end that corrupt culture, that control by those special interest groups, and put or government back in the hands of our citizens and our taxpayers," Rauner said, according to the Journal Star newspaper in Peoria.
Rutherford pointed out Thursday that he worked in the private sector for more than two decades, but argued voters should consider his knowledge of both Springfield politics and elections as reasons to vote for him.
"Republicans and the public of Illinois, I think, are going to be looking for someone that can actually win [a statewide] race, and I'm the only guy who's in the fray who's actually done it," he said Thursday in a telephone interview.
Oberhelman emphasized that his endorsement of Rauner is his own, not Peoria-based Caterpillar's.
As the CEO of the Fortune 100 heavy equipment-maker, Oberhelman has pressed the state to address its nearly $100 billion in unfunded pension obligation, as well as the budget deficit and workers compensation reform. In 2011, he told Quinn by letter that several other states had asked Caterpillar about moving its headquarters out of Illinois, though he later said the company had no plans to leave.
The pension problem has led two credit rating agencies this week to downgrade the state government's credit rating.
Quinn on Thursday called a special session of the legislature for June 19 to focus on the pension crisis. Lawmakers failed to deliver any potential solutions in the legislative session that ended last week.
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