If Darren Bailey wants to be governor, he’ll need God’s permission — and a bit more practice on the stump.
Freshman Rep. Bailey, R-Xenia, will ascend to the state Senate by running unopposed to replace retiring Sen. Dale Righter. In April he elevated his profile by suing Gov. J.B. Pritzker concerning the state’s public health mandates and again in late May by refusing to wear a mask when the House finally reconvened, leading to a bipartisan vote ejecting him from the chamber.
Though Bailey later wore a mask and got back to work, his lawsuit continues to draw attention and he’s becoming a fixture at demonstrations that can in any way be construed as supportive of his personal politics.
The most recent of these was the recent Back the Blue rally outside La Salle City Hall, ostensibly a public showing of support for law enforcement officers but also effectively a GOP event at which speakers and attendees extolled the current president and marketed merchandise promoting his re-election.
“If and only if God opens a door,” Bailey told Shaw Media, echoing earlier comments, “and we see a path, and my wife is on board, and my family is on board. … Only if that happens, would I entertain even looking at (a gubernatorial bid).”
There’s nothing wrong with political ambition. Bailey even had a few remarks that should play well with people fed up with partisanship.
Speaking on police accountability, Bailey made a broadly popular statement: “When bad actors are not called out, then we have the problem that we have today.” On politics, he said: “We don’t have to endorse a party, we don’t have to endorse a candidate.”
Yet just after that proclamation, Bailey encouraged rally attendees to support Travis Beeden, the Utica Republican looking to unseat Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa, in November — despite admitting he doesn’t actually know Breeden personally.
Bailey should know Yednock, as they’re both first-term lawmakers, and maybe that’s enough for him to say any opponent would be an improvement. But soaring remarks appealing to moderates fall on deaf ears when chased by a blind endorsement of someone simply because they’re running on your side of the ticket.
An off-year summer rally in La Salle isn’t exactly the grandest stage, and Bailey may never materialize as an actual gubernatorial candidate. But if he wants to be taken seriously beyond his base as a maskless marvel who sued the governor, he’ll need to make sure his political pandering isn’t so transparent.
Voters definitely deserve choices in 2022 and I expect Pritzker will be in for a statewide struggle. Bailey could well unite the GOP behind his message, it’s quite unlikely he’s the only one who will try.
• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at [ mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org ]email@example.com.