SPRINGFIELD — Republican candidate for governor Darren Bailey kicked off the biggest political week of the year in Springfield on Tuesday by criticizing Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s economic policies and promising to end sex education standards signed into state law last year.
Bailey spoke in front of the Illinois State Capitol at an event sponsored by Awake Illinois, a group born out of anti-mandate fervor during the COVID-19 pandemic that has come under scrutiny for inflammatory rhetoric over LGBTQ rights, that attracted about 60 people.
Under signs that read “GENDER IS NOT INTERCHANGEABLE! GOD CREATED MALE/FEMALE,” and “dad /dad/ noun a human male who protects his kids from gender ideology,” Bailey on Tuesday stressed the importance of fighting for “these freedoms that are being taken away from us.”
“Children are our most valuable asset but our children and our rights as parents, they’re being stripped from us,” he said during an eight-minute speech.
He acknowledged the small size of the crowd, which he blamed on economic conditions that prevented some from traveling to Springfield.
“Some of you had to make the decisions today, and some of you had to sacrifice whether or not you even come here,” said Bailey, a state senator from Xenia. “And I’m going to contend that may be one of the very reasons why this crowd size is smaller than we know it ought to be because people in this state are now making decisions whether we put food on our table or whether we fill our gas tanks up.”
The event took place on the eve of the first of two political days in an election year at the Illinois State Fair. Pritzker and the state’s top Democrats will speak Wednesday, while Bailey and the state’s top Republicans are scheduled to hold their party’s rally on Thursday.
Other speakers at Tuesday’s event included Bailey’s running mate, lieutenant governor candidate Stephanie Trussell, GOP attorney general candidate Thomas DeVore and a group of Republican legislators in the Illinois General Assembly known informally as the “Eastern Bloc.” That group, which includes Bailey, has encouraged separating Chicago from the rest of the state and opposed Pritzker’s COVID-19 vaccine orders and other pandemic mitigation mandates.
Bailey didn’t take questions from reporters after his speech, which has been the norm since he came under fire earlier this month for a 2017 Facebook video in which he declared that Holocaust deaths during World War II paled in comparison with lives lost through abortion.
His comments were condemned by several Jewish groups, community leaders and Pritzker, who is Jewish and has made abortion rights a key campaign issue against Bailey. While Bailey later said in a statement that “in no way” was he trying to downplay the millions of deaths in the Holocaust, he contended in a radio interview that Jewish leaders told him his comparison was a sound one. He did not respond to a request from the Tribune wanting to know the identities of those leaders.
DeVore, an attorney from downstate Sorento, told the crowd he has “zero interest” in being a politician but he wants “to help the people take control of their government.”
“Let me ask you this, regardless of what side of the equation you’re on, the masking or the vaccinating, I don’t care, you have to admit to yourself it was a fair question, at a minimum a fair question of whether the governor had the power to do what he did,” DeVore said. “And if it was a fair question, at a minimum, the attorney general never attacks the people, he stands up for them.”
DeVore’s lawsuit against the state over Pritzker’s pandemic mandates for schools was dismissed by a downstate judge last week.
Awake Illinois, which formed in May 2021 in Naperville and has spread across the state and claimed the mantle of “parents rights,” broadening its scope to push inaccurate claims that critical race theory, a college-level academic framework, was being taught in public elementary and high schools.
The group also recently has directed its ire at the new school sex education standards, signed into law by Pritzker last year. Last month, after the group targeted a child-friendly drag event at a bakery in northwest suburban McHenry County, warning, “They’re coming for your kids.”
The business was broken into and vandalized the night before the show, forcing the event to be canceled. Police arrested a 24-year-old man who was charged with a felony hate crime and criminal damage to property. Awake Illinois disavowed the attack.
Trussell, Bailey’s running mate, has come under fire of her own after WGN-Ch. 9 reported this week on her past social media posts on Facebook and Twitter in which she criticized politicians who back a “gay agenda.”
Trussell, a former conservative radio host on WLS-AM 890, briefly discussed the report while rushing away from reporters.
“There’s no way I could possibly hate gay people. If anybody knows my lifestyle and who I am and where I came from, there’s no way. I love everybody. It’s just that simple,” she said.
Petrella reported from Chicago.