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030218-JEANNE-IVES-INTERVIEW-006

Republican candidate for Illinois Governor Jeanne Ives speaks with members of the Quad-City Times Editorial Board in Davenport on Friday, March 2, 2018. Ives is a state representative from Wheaton.

A much-anticipated passenger rail project linking Moline and Chicago would likely be dead if Jeanne Ives becomes governor of Illinois.

State Rep. Ives, the conservative challenger to embattled incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner in this month's GOP primary, made the statement Friday during an endorsement meeting with the Quad-City Times editorial board.

"That's not a priority project for Illinois at this time," Ives told the editorial board when asked if her administration would release the state's portion of the cash.

Illinois can't tap $177 million in federal funding, which was awarded in 2010, unless Illinois ponies up $45 million. All the while, Moline city officials and private investors have poured millions into a new train station and hotel, dubbed The Q based on the promise that, at some point, passenger rail would return to Quad-Cities.

But, since 2010, administrations -- both Democratic and Republican -- have punted on the issue as the state's financial crisis continually deepened.

Rich Morthland, Ives' running mate and a Rock Island County board member, acknowledged that local governments and investors had held up their ends. But, he added, the entire plan reeks of a boondoggle, especially as a largely abandoned station sits unused in Rock Island.

Ives blasted Rauner for distancing himself from President Donald Trump. She repeatedly referenced Trumpian populism throughout her meeting with the editorial board, though with substantially more substance than the policy averse president himself. She blasted public unions for expecting benefits long unavailable for workers in the private sector, saying they were duped by union bosses. She hammered Rauner's centrism on immigration, arguing he supports "sanctuary" protections for illegal immigrants. And, when pressed, Ives' said that she believes her message could translate to the General Election should she upset Rauner on March 20, rattling off poll data on immigration and abortion that, she argues, suggests Illinois' conservatives are to Rauner's right flank. Ives calls Rauner's support last year for legislation protecting abortion access in Illinois the governor's "final betrayal." When pressed about Planned Parenthood's role in providing a slew of women's health services, Ives bristled.

"What is it, like 30 bucks a month," she said when asked about access to contraception. 

She would support the temporary elevated income tax rates for an additional two years so Illinois could fund itself while she perused sweeping reforms, such as moving many public employees from pensions to 401(k)s, Ives said.

Moline rail wasn't the only sacred cow in the Quad-Cities that Ives' targeted. In 2016, Ives was a vocal critic of legislation that provided subsidies for energy giant Excelon, which threatened to close Quad-Cities Generation Plant in Cordova and another in Clinton, Illinois. The firm was bluffing when it said it would shutter the plants and rob the region of hundreds of high-paying jobs. 

"That plant would never have closed," Ives said. "Do you know the cost of decommissioning a nuclear plant?"

Ives' insurgent bid against Rauner has been disadvantaged since day one. The governor's war chest includes more than $50 million of his own cash. And, until recently, Ives has remained a relative unknown. Her name recognition problem was lessened this past month, though. By most accounts, Ives pummeled Rauner in a live streamed debate with Rauner hosted by the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board. Days later, her campaign rolled out a highly controversial advertisement that took aim at union workers, the LGBTQ movement and liberal women. Ives did more than defend the ad, she said the attention it received throughout the country helped get her name out.

A recent poll showed Ives trailing Rauner by 20 points. That's half the gap from just a few months prior.

Jon Alexander is editorial page editor at the Quad-City Times. He can be reached at jalexander@qctimes.com

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Editorial Page Editor

Editorial Page Editor, Quad-City Times