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Olson: Rutherford a practical candidate with a plan

When it comes to the way forward for the state of Illinois, Dan Rutherford is a pragmatist.

Rutherford, the state’s treasurer and one of four Republicans vying to become the party nominee to take on Gov. Pat Quinn in November, has some concrete proposals and promises for leading the state.

He cites his record cutting the budget of the state treasurer’s office as evidence of fiscal discipline.

He said he wants to review state programs to see if they create more benefit than the expense they incur. He has a three-point plan for making Illinois more business-friendly.

But on some issues where the easy way might just be to tell voters what they want to hear, Rutherford takes a more practical stance.

He’s emphatic that he wants the 67 percent income tax increase to partially expire as scheduled in 2015, but said if plans for pension reform are thrown out in court, the state could become insolvent without the extra billions it brings in.

On how he would get along as governor with the state House and Senate solidly controlled by Democrats, Rutherford said he will work with the two leaders rather than antagonize and try to force them into things the way former Gov. Rod Blagojevich did.

“I think what Illinois is looking for right now is a governor who’s going to actually be able to help lead,” Rutherford said. “There’s going to be some hard things, tough decisions I’m going to have to make as the governor.”

Rutherford and I had a 40-minute conversation last week at the Daily Chronicle offices.

He’s a rational thinker who says job creation would be his administration’s top priority. He has a plan to make state government more responsive to the concerns of people and small business owners.

And he said his commitment to appealing to groups outside the traditional GOP base is part of the reason he’s the only Republican in the race who’s won an election for statewide office.

On jobs, Rutherford said there are three things he could do as governor without any help from the legislature: He would be chief marketing officer for Illinois; he would appoint state agency directors who pledge to do everything in their power to create or retain jobs, and his Lieutenant Governor, business lawyer Steve Kim, would be the director of the Governor’s Office of Job Creation and Retention.

The job of the “lite guv” would be to work with state agency directors to resolve problems of burdensome regulations, delays with inspections or computer issues that cost businesses in time and monetary penalties.

“The lieutenant governor will be the ombudsman,” Rutherford said. “That office will be the one to [help people] to navigate the bureaucracy.”

Rutherford’s not the outsider, and he’s not the big-money candidate in the race – although he ticks off a litany of failed big-money gubernatorial candidates such as Ron Gidwitz, Jim Oberweis and Andy McKenna in making the point that money isn’t everything.

Rutherford said his willingness to meet with people of color, people of different faiths, and other groups has helped him before and can help him again in the general election.

He pointed out that he won 22 percent of the vote in the city of Chicago in his successful 2010 bid for treasurer while Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady received only 18 percent.

“I went into communities that Republicans generally don’t go into,” he said. “Sikhs, Polish, Jewish, gay and lesbian, Latinos, black churches. … I know that’s how I got 22 percent in Chicago, I know it is, and it also allows people to look at me and say, ‘OK.’ ”

Inclusiveness is key in a statewide politician. And I would point out that Rutherford knows where DeKalb is, something local voters should appreciate.

Rutherford doesn’t vote on proposed laws as treasurer, but his stance on some of the key issues of 2013 include:

• Medical marijuana – No. The Food and Drug Administration says it’s a step toward encouraging drug use.

• 70 mph maximum speed limit – Yes.

• Same-sex marriage – No, although he also points out he was the only Republican state senator to vote yes on civil unions in 2010. Marriage has a religious connotation, though, he said.

Overall: Rutherford isn’t promising to shock the system in Springfield or promising things he can’t deliver. He’s an experienced public servant who has seen how government works up close and understands the serious challenges it faces.

The question is whether that will be sexy enough to win a four-way primary race and then unseat an incumbent governor in a financially ailing but heavily Democratic state. In many voters’ minds, the state has become synonymous with mismanagement, and a practical approach, although it might be reasonable, might be less appealing.

Just so it’s clear: I’m not endorsing a candidate here, just telling you about some time that I spent with one. There’s an open invitation for any of the Republican gubernatorial nominees – or Gov. Quinn – to stop by our newsroom. If you know where DeKalb is and want to reach me, my contact info is at the bottom of this column.

O’Reilly’s last hurrah: Today’s edition will be the last to include a column from Bill O’Reilly. The lord of the “No-Spin Zone” has decided to discontinue his newspaper column.

I looked forward to O’Reilly’s weekly columns – whether you agreed with them, they certainly provoked thought and conversation, and really, that’s all you can ask for from a columnist.

He’s probably a bit too hard on today’s “urchins” though. I think he must have written at least 10 different versions of the “what’s wrong with kids today,” column since I started.

We’ll be experimenting with a couple of other columnists in his stead in 2014, including self-identifying libertarian John Stossel and best-selling author Dr. Benjamin S. Carson.

Happy New Year: I was talking this over with News Editor Jillian Duchnowski this week, and we both agreed that 2014 would be better than 2013, hopefully in the Daily Chronicle as well as just in general.

It’s not a slam-dunk certainty the way 2002 had to be better, but it feels as though good times are on the horizon.

Anyway, that’s what I’m going with, and I wish the same for all of you in the year to come.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email, or follow him on Twitter

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