Rauner, Roskam blow anti-LGBTQ 'dog whistle'

Equality Illinois says it’s no coincidence Rauner ad uses gay marriage to link Pritzker, Madigan

Gov. Rauner arrives for Governor’s Day at the State Fair this summer. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Gov. Rauner arrives for Governor’s Day at the State Fair this summer. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

A prominent gay-rights group says Gov. Rauner is fanning the flames of discrimination with a new TV ad using a gay wedding to link J.B. Pritzker with House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Saying, “We recognize a dog whistle when we hear one,” Brian Johnson, head of Equality Illinois, blasted a new Rauner campaign ad released this week that casts Pritzker and Madigan in a wedding ceremony.

The tactic has quickly spread to other races, as Republican U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam has a new TV ad casting his Democratic opponent Sean Casten alongside Madigan as “the corruption couple.”

One Illinois has previously reported on how Rauner and other politicians typically use Madigan as a political effigy and whipping boy to divide downstate Illinois voters against Chicagoans and suburbanites. The use of a gay wedding to link Pritzker to Madigan in what the TV spot calls “an unholy union” adds a new level of political symbolism, however, and Equality Illinois immediately attacked it.

Saying the group is “deeply disappointed” with the governor, Johnson issued a statement saying: “As someone who has officiated same-sex weddings, Gov Rauner could serve as a model of inclusivity and use his campaign to vigorously promote full acceptance of LGBTQ Illinoisans. Instead, he chooses to raise the specter of gay marriage to turn out the most extreme elements of his base. We recognize a dog whistle when we hear one.

“The governor should be ashamed of using the LGBTQ community for comedic value to make a political hit,” he added. “Our weddings are not a joke. Gov. Rauner does not represent Illinois’s values with this ad.”

In charging that Rauner is playing to the worst biases of his political base, Johnson pointed out that the official Republican Party platform still opposes marriage equality and that many Republicans still oppose equal rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender people, and queers.

The Pritzker campaign likewise lashed back at the governor, issuing a statement saying: “It is only fitting that Bruce Rauner would choose to end his campaign by blaming others for his own failures. After four years of seeing their governor more interested in affairs with special interests, badmouthing his own state and refusing to compromise, the people of Illinois are looking forward to their divorce from Bruce Rauner being finalized on November 6.”

The controversy cast a shadow over another new TV ad for Roskam in the contentious 6th District race in Chicago’s western suburbs. Rich Miller reported Wednesday on his Capitol Fax blog that Roskam’s latest ad not only calls Casten and Madigan “the corruption couple,” but it came two days after Roskam tried to call out Casten for his support for gay-rights activist and syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage.

Congressional candidate Sean Casten is standing by his support of LGBTQ activist Dan Savage. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Congressional candidate Sean Casten is standing by his support of LGBTQ activist Dan Savage. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

According to Miller, in at least one instance the two controversial ads were scheduled to run back-to-back on television.

That too was likely no coincidence. Miller pointed out that, in a debate that aired on WTTW-TV in Chicago Monday night, Roskam made a thinly veiled reference to Casten’s support for “people who were advocating political blackmail and political slander.”

Casten took that to mean his stated support for Savage, a comical and confrontational columnist who previously has had readers offer their suggestions for what distasteful aspect of sex should be named for Rick Santorum, a former Republican senator and presidential candidate who’s been outspoken against gay rights. Google searches still turn up that Santorum definition ahead of even websites for Santorum himself.

While not going into detail on that, Casten didn’t back down, citing Savage’s creation of the It Gets Better Project in support of gay teens who’ve been bullied and shamed to the point of contemplating suicide, as well as his consistent support for the LGBTQ community. “Mr. Roskam has been a horrible advocate for that community,” Casten said, “and maybe he doesn’t like that I support them, but I do.”