Rich Morthland says it was only a week ago that he got a phone call from state Rep. Jeanne Ives asking whether he'd consider the second slot on a ticket to challenge incumbent Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.
It didn't take long for Morthland to agree, and now the former state legislator who sits on the Rock Island County Board is in the midst of what is shaping up to be a statewide campaign.
"This has all moved so swiftly," Morthland said during a 10-minute break between classes at Black Hawk College on Monday morning, where he's a professor.
Ives, a Wheaton Republican, hasn't formally declared that she'll run against Rauner. But she's circulating petitions for a gubernatorial candidacy, with Morthland running for lieutenant governor. And, according to the news story posted Sunday night by the Daily Herald, a suburban Chicago newspaper, she said "we expect to be on the ballot."
Rauner has angered some in his party, especially by signing a bill that expands taxpayer funding of abortion, as well as a controversial immigration measure.
"I know there are some people that were upset about his stand about taxpayer funding for abortions," said Drue Mielke, vice chair of the county Republicans and a county board member.
Still, the wealthy governor will be a tough challenge for any insurgent.
Morthland is familiar with uphill fights, though.
He was the only Republican member of the Rock Island County Board several years ago; there are eight now. And in 2010, he became the first Republican in memory to win a state legislative seat in the Illinois Quad-Cities by capturing the 71st District post.
The seat opened up after Mike Boland, the longtime Democratic state representative, vacated the job for an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor.
Morthland couldn't hold the seat for long. He lost a re-election bid to Democrat Mike Smiddy in 2012, who lost his own hold on the seat in last year's election.
Morthland is back on the county board now, winning the 1st District post last November.
By agreeing to be Ives' running mate, he steps onto a much larger platform.
In an interview, Morthland said Rauner has broken campaign promises. Among his objections is the bill the governor signed that will expand state funding for abortions.
He also faults the education reform bill that Rauner signed and is touting in campaign ads.
"I don't support that measure," he said.
Morthland lives in Cordova, which also is the home of the Exelon nuclear plant.
One of Ives' complaints about Rauner is that he signed a bill that overhauled the state's energy policy and provided subsidies to two Exelon nuclear facilities — in the Quad-Cities and Clinton, Illinois.
The company, as well as Quad-City business leaders, pushed for the legislation, saying hundreds of jobs were at stake. But Ives called it a bailout financed by higher utility rates.
Morthland says he's supported Exelon while on the county board. And while he said that he and Ives "haven't completed our conversation about it," he notes her opposition to the legislation and that she's at the top of the ticket.
He adds that nothing he has done on the county board would contradict her position.
Morthland, who is a part-time farmer, says his presence on the ticket gives it some geographical balance. Also, as a part-time farmer, Morthland says he knows about rural concerns and the importance of agriculture.
"This is absolutely central to the economy of the state of Illinois," he said.
Fellow Republican board members say Morthland is well liked in the county.
"He’s intelligent, he’s a teacher. He has his facts straight when he speaks, probably because he’s used to being in the classroom and a teacher," said Mike Steffen, who also is chair of the Rock Island County GOP. He says he isn't sure that Morthland is as conservative as Ives but is a good balance on the ticket.
Steffen, like Mielke, says he is neutral in a primary. And Steffen praises Rauner for doing a good job, even as he says he's "moved to the center."
Both Rock Island County Republicans say they believe, even with a primary, the party still will come together for a general election.
When asked for a comment on the situation Monday, Rauner's campaign mentioned House Speaker Mike Madigan twice, but not Ives.
"Governor Rauner is focused on fighting for Illinois’ future and defeating Mike Madigan’s machine so Illinois can have property tax relief and term limits, and we can roll back the Madigan income tax hike," Justin Giorgio said in an email.
The filing period for the March primary is from Nov. 27 through Dec. 4.