CHICAGO – The candidates for Illinois lieutenant governor don’t just differ on policy issues, the Democratic former school executive and Republican councilwoman are playing starkly contrasting roles on the campaign trail.
Gov. Pat Quinn’s running mate, outspoken former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, has taken to hosting events in Chicago to make critical attacks on Republican Bruce Rauner’s ideas and business record. Meanwhile, Rauner’s running mate, Wheaton council member Evelyn Sanguinetti, tends to appears alongside the venture capitalist and emphasize her life story as a Spanish-speaking child of immigrants.
How the candidates view their roles during one of the nation’s most-watched governor’s races could indicate how they’d conduct themselves in office. This year is also the first time in Illinois’ recent history that governor and lieutenant governor candidates are tied together on the ballot in both the primary and general elections.
The candidates detailed their approaches and where they differ with their running mates in interviews and candidate questionnaires with The Associated Press.
In the past few weeks, Vallas – a former top school official in Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Connecticut – has held several solo news conferences to pick apart Rauner’s ideas, including budget proposals. The sessions, with sharp extemporaneous speeches, prompted Rauner’s campaign to deem him Quinn’s “attack dog.”
But Vallas, who’s also made lower-key stops at universities and with Quinn at parades, disagrees.
“I call myself a watchdog. There’s a difference ...,” he told the AP. “An attack dog attacks for no reason. A watchdog guards the house. I’m going to bark until the neighbors hear ... and do something about it.”
Sanguinetti hasn’t appeared publicly on her own in Chicago, prompting claims from Quinn campaign staffers that she’s not trusted to address reporters in Illinois’ largest media market. Sanguinetti dismissed the notion as “laughable,” explaining that she’s spoken often to crowds elsewhere, such as county party dinners and to Latino organizations and women’s groups.
“My role with Bruce is to be his partner and as I meet with agencies to relay all of Bruce’s vision when he’s unable to be there,” Sanguinetti, the daughter of immigrants from Cuba and Ecuador, told the AP.
Aside from taking over if something happens to the governor, the lieutenant governor’s office has few official duties.
The change in pairing candidates was prompted by a 2010 scandal surrounding Democratic nominee Scott Lee Cohen, when party leaders forced the pawn shop owner to step down after a past domestic battery charge and other issues surfaced. Lawmakers quickly altered election law.
The change was noticeable in the primary with the duos lined up on issues and split up to cover more ground. Since their primary win, Vallas said he and Quinn coordinate daily.
“We don’t step over each other. The governor’s a great texter. I’ll send him a long text and he’ll send a one-word response,” Vallas joked.
Still, there are areas where running mates aren’t on the same page. For Sanguinetti and Rauner, it’s social issues.
Sanguinetti describes herself as “pro-life,” but Rauner says he doesn’t like the term and believes the issue of abortion is best addressed between a woman and her doctor. They’ve repeatedly insisted they’ll focus on financial issues over a social issues agenda.
“Like many pro-life Republicans in Illinois, I respect Bruce’s position on the issue and believe Illinois is in such bad economic and fiscal shape that all of our focus needs to be on growing jobs, reforming state government and improving education,” Sanguinetti wrote.
For Quinn and Vallas, the issue of education could cause ripples. Vallas has previously faced criticism for school reform methods. In New Orleans, he pushed for charter schools and school choice, which were controversial with labor unions.
Quinn doesn’t support charter schools expansion; Sanguinetti and Rauner do. Vallas — who was a 2002 Illinois gubernatorial candidate — explained it less decisively.
“I don’t think we can charter our way to excellence,” he wrote.
On the campaign trail, Vallas has limited his comments on schools to the context of Quinn’s proposed spending and early education guidelines. Vallas, who runs a private education consulting firm, also downplayed education on his questionnaire.
Quinn called education his second biggest priority, while Vallas wrote it was part of his third priority as a funding issue.
Vallas later said he’s spoken about education at every campaign stop: “The issue that dominates is the school funding issue.”
Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen.