Darren Bailey declines to answer questions on Trump, Jan. 6 committee and call to censure Adam Kinzinger

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SPRINGFIELD — State Sen. Darren Bailey saw an endorsement from Donald Trump as key to winning the Republican nomination for governor, traveling to the former president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach in April to make his case.

Bailey got Trump’s support just days before the primary election. But on Tuesday, Bailey didn’t want to talk about Trump. When asked about his view of the legitimacy of the U.S. House select Jan. 6 committee looking into Trump’s role in fomenting the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Bailey refused to answer.

Asked if his reticence to speak about Trump was part of a calculated effort by the far-right conservative to make himself more palatable to a general election audience in his race against Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Bailey said he was focused on Illinois and was not running for federal office.

Bailey’s attempts to avoid talking about Trump are a departure from his approach before the primary, when he declared there was literally “no distance” between his views and those of the former president.

Republican candidate for governor Darren Bailey talks with voters at the home of supporter Pam Carr Hagerman in West Dundee on July 22, 2022. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)

Trump has been the focus of the Jan. 6 committee hearings, where testimony has show his actions encouraged rioters at the Capitol who threatened the lives of Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress. With committee members urging criminal charges against the former president, candidates backed by Trump have faced questions on whether the committee’s findings have given them second thoughts about accepting his support.

Bailey took only four questions during Tuesday’s brief news conference in Springfield. He appeared indignant when asked if he agreed with a group of ultraconservative downstate allies who have called the House committee hearings a “sham” and called on the state GOP to censure one of its members, U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Channahon.

Bailey called the question “completely inappropriate” because he said his press availability was called to talk about what he sees as the shortcomings of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services under Pritzker.

Asked specifically about whether Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the House select committee, should face censure by the Illinois GOP, Bailey didn’t answer but used the opportunity to take a swipe at the Republican congressman.

”I have dealt with Adam Kinzinger on my own. I’ve made my statements. I don’t agree with anything that Adam Kinzinger stands for. And I’ve made a statement, so you have that,” Bailey said.

Bailey earlier this year called for rioters who broke into the Capitol to be “tried or should be punished” but on Tuesday he denied that his evasiveness on the topic was aimed at making himself more amenable to mainstream Republicans.

“Illinois has real problems. I’m not running for Congress. I’m running for the governor of the great state of Illinois. And I’m running to represent everyone in this state and I am laser-focused on the problems that we have here in Illinois so that we can keep businesses and families here, and protect the businesses and families that are here,” Bailey said.

Christopher Mooney, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said Bailey’s reticence to talk about Trump may be a political strategy for Nov. 8, but makes little sense given his extensive efforts to cultivate the former president’s support.

He also noted it was comparable to the strategy employed by one of Bailey’s GOP primary rivals, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, who ducked or refused to answer questions about voting or supporting Trump or Trump’s agenda.

”It hangs on him,” Mooney said of Bailey’s support of Trump. “He touched the man. He begged for his endorsement. You gotta dance with the one who brung you. You’re running for statewide office. You know these questions are coming.”

The call to censure Kinzinger on Monday came from the five-member ultraconservative Illinois Freedom Caucus, a group of state lawmakers aligned with Bailey in the General Assembly.

Bailey is not part of that group, but is a member of what’s known informally as the “Eastern Bloc” of Republican state legislators who have encouraged separating Chicago from the rest of the state and opposed Pritzker’s COVID-19 vaccine orders and other pandemic mitigation mandates.

Bailey’s news conference came as his largest donor, ultraconservative megadonor Richard Uihlein, who owns the Uline office supply and packaging company, gave $15 million to an independent expenditure political action committee that supports the Republican candidate.

It was the second Uihlein expenditure on behalf of Bailey for the general election, following a $5 million check to the People Who Play By The Rules PAC on July 6.

Ahead of the primary campaign, Uihlein gave $8.1 million to the PAC, which is run by right-wing radio talk show host Dan Proft of Naples, Florida. Uihlein separately gave Bailey $9 million for the primary.

Uihlein has been one of Trump’s biggest funders and he also was a major financial backer of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump “March to Save America” rally that preceded the deadly Capitol Hill insurrection.

Since 2016, Uihlein has given $7.8 million to the Tea Party Patriots group, which helped stage the Jan. 6 rally, the Financial Times previously reported.

The report also showed Uihlein as the largest donor behind Women Speak Out, a Susan B. Anthony List-affiliated political action committee seeking to federally outlaw abortion. He’s also poured millions into the Restoration PAC, which lists as its guiding principles that “all marriage is for one man and one woman for life,” the Financial Times reported.

jgorner@chicagotribune.com

rap30@aol.com

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July 26, 2022 at 07:58PM

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