Jim Edgar interview: former Illinois governor reflects on his legacy, offers advice to GOP hopefuls

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) – He was the last governor of Illinois not to be removed from office or sent to jail. Now Jim Edgar, a lower-state Republican who stepped down on his own terms with high approval ratings, is offering advice to GOP candidates running for that office; and he notes the current incumbent, Democrat JB Pritzker, during his first term guiding the state through the pandemic.

“I find the longer the terms of office, the better they like me,” Edgar joked.

He is undefeated in statewide elections, winning the race for secretary of state twice in 1982 and 1986, and governor’s mansion in 1990 and 1994.

“The Illinois Republican Party has always been more of a centralist party,” he said. “That’s why I think we were able to win statewide elections. “

Much has changed since then. Democrats hold qualified majorities in both houses of the General Assembly and in all state offices, from the governor to the secretary of state to the comptroller. Edgar attributes part of his party’s losses to the rise in polarization that turns the primary elections into a contest for ideological purity.

“When I broke into Republican politics, more Republicans in the legislature were pro-choice than Democrats,” Edgar recalls of his Illinois House election in 1976. “Now it’s completely … Have presidential ambitions – you have to be regardless of party line. You don’t really have much leeway for your own thoughts on some of these buzz issues like this.

Edgar served as governor when Republicans briefly took control of Illinois House after a wave of Republican elections in 1994. At the next General Assembly, Edgar, who was pro-choice, enacted the law on parental notification. This new law would require doctors to notify parents when minors have requested abortion services for nearly three decades. It remained in the law books until Governor Pritzker signed his repeal this year.

“Well, I was a little surprised because I know the public opinion on this,” Edgar said. “But, you know, there’s concern, I think, at the state level what the Supreme Court might do on the whole issue of a woman’s right to choose, and I think there’s a feeling that they have to protect that. I think it might have been a bit too far.

Edgar referred to recent abortion restrictions passed in Texas and Mississippi that are currently before the U.S. Supreme Court and its 6-3 conservative majority. He says he fears the High Court will weaken or nullify Roe against Wade, and that would be a “step back.” However, he saw the recent move to repeal the parental notification law he signed as yet another polarizing move that went too far to the left.

“If you look at the polls, more people are pro-choice than they are ‘Right to Life’. But on this issue, most people think parents have a right to know, ”he said. “Now one of the issues is what they talked about this time: We struggled to try and put guarantees on it, because there are times when this notification doesn’t work. And there were some guarantees that we thought we were putting in there. “

Edgar acknowledges that both sides have changed dramatically since he left office, although many controversial or controversial issues remain the same.

“I think we’ve had a polarization in society,” Edgar said. “And I put the blame, to some extent, on the media for that. We have seen polarization in the media. He then referred to partisan comments on national cable TV channels or social media where “there is no fact-checking on what they say.”

“Today those prejudices are reinforced by … they hear their prejudices all the time,” he said of the general public. “They are not disputed on their points of view. They reinforce it simply because they’re either going to watch whatever TV channel they agree with – which means more national than local – or they go to social media, and they get their information there.

Edgar believes that increasing polarization and one-party control over the state legislature contributes to a broader sense of disillusion and frustration with government institutions.

“People have to be ready to compromise,” he said. “To get things done, you won’t get 100% of what you want. So even if you are the governor and your party controls the legislature, you still won’t get 100%. So you’ve got to be prepared to reach out and, you know, meet people halfway.

“The other reason: if you have policies designed as a result of compromise, it means that many different points of view will be at the table, and that policy is likely to reflect many different points of view. , and I think it may be more acceptable to the public.

Edgar said compromise is a lost art in politics and costs citizens a sense of ownership in the process.

“I had to remember when I was governor, ‘Now I’m governor of the whole state.’ And also, you know, ‘I don’t agree with this South Chicago lawmaker, but they come from a different background.’ And then we could both be right, and we could both be wrong, and we have to find that middle ground. But unfortunately, today, if you seem to be ready to compromise, then people think, “You’ve sold, you don’t have any principles. And that’s unfortunate.

While Edgar suggested that Pritzker had gone “a little too far” on social issues like the repeal of the last anti-abortion law in force, he refrained from criticizing the outgoing governor for the way he managed the first days of the pandemic.

“As a governor who went through a state disaster that was the biggest natural disaster we’ve ever faced in Illinois, you don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘Let’s hold a committee hearing at Senate or the House and let’s discuss how we’re going to deal with it, ”he said. “You have to act quickly and the pandemic has been the same. “

“Yes, it is a year and a half away, but a lot of these decisions had to be made very quickly because nobody knew what the impact would be,” he said, adding that he did not know. fault of Pritzker.

“Now we can debate what we could and could not have done differently. And I think there should be once we are done with the pandemic, ”he said. “I don’t think we’re quite done, though. I think we are getting closer. If people got vaccinated, I mean, this thing could be behind us. This is the thing that I cannot understand.

“I mean, I grew up in the polio era,” Edgar said. “I mean, we rushed like kids to get our shots and they hadn’t tested this thing. But we wanted to be vaccinated. We didn’t want to get polio. And so I’m struggling today – maybe I’m just too old. I just don’t understand this reluctance to get vaccinated, but a lot of people haven’t, so we still have the pandemic lying around. “

“I think once it’s done – and I hope it gets done sooner rather than later – you look at what the correct procedure is,” he added. “I don’t regret some of the things Governor Pritzker had to do. You never want to have to… It would have been a terrible thing to deal with. In saying this, there is no doubt that there is fatigue.

Edgar says Pritzker could be defeated in the next election in 2022, but only if his party chooses an eligible candidate who can appeal to a statewide audience beyond the primary.

“We saw what happened in Virginia a few weeks ago. If that were to happen in Illinois, then you have an outward chance of winning the governorship in a democratic state, ”he said.

“The ruling party is always doing better, and there is no doubt that at the moment President Biden has real problems,” said Edgar. “Right now, Republicans have an opportunity in Illinois. The race for governor is going to be difficult, but it is not impossible. But at the bottom of the ticket in legislative races, again, especially in the suburbs, they could win seats if people aren’t afraid of who they’re at the top of the ticket.

Edgar believes state senator and chief gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey (R-Louisville) “has a real problem running in the Chicago area,” noting that the former House Republican “wanted to remove [Chicago] state ‘at any given time. He described venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan as “a very bright young man” but predicted he would have “his pros and cons” as a first-time candidate who has never held an elected post before. .

Edgar warned Republican voters against turning their main contest into a race to kiss former President Trump if they hope to win the race against Governor Pritzker.

“I don’t think it can win in the general election,” he said. “This is the Republicans’ dilemma. I think it’s going to be extremely difficult for someone who is considered a strong Trump guy to be able to win the general election in Illinois for the governorship. I think it will take a moderate Republican.

“I don’t think it’s impossible that a Republican can’t win, but it’s going to have to be someone who isn’t going to scare people off in the middle and who will be able to stop some, as I said. ‘calls, independent-minded Democrats or thoughtful Democrats, and do well with independents, “Edgar said.” So it’s in the suburbs that it’s going to be decided. “

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