If more Republicans were like Dan Rutherford, Illinois Democrats might not take the LGBT vote for granted. Rutherford, state treasurer and a GOP gubernatorial hopeful, has backed more LGBT legislation in his career than many of the state's Democrats.
Rutherford has been active at Equality Illinois eventsattending the organization's gala, stopping by the politician pride reception before Sunday's parade and participating in an LGBT political forum with openly gay Rep. Greg Harris last fall.
So consistent has his support for LGBT rights been that many have speculated that the Pontiac, Ill. native is gay himself (Rutherford says he is not gay).
And yet Rutherford presents a challenge for LGBT activists because he opposes equal marriage, a position he has stated repeatedly.
Rutherford threw his hat into the race for Illinois governor in June. Windy City Times sat down with him in early August for a conversation on marriage, the future of his party and just why he backs LGBT issues.
Windy City Times: What do LGBT people need to know about Dan Rutherford?
Dan Rutherford: I think it's important to understand my background. For 25 years, I have been president of ServiceMaster Corporation and responsible for our global expansion. In that, it took me as a young man to all over the world, and I'm from central Illinois.
WCT: Pontiac, Illinois.
Dan Rutherford: Pontiac, yeah. So, now I'm going to parts of the world. What that did is it allowed me to go into places in the world multiple times that I just never would have experienced. So I really became quite understanding of diversity.
I did not become a career legislator. And that's an important component because I didn't have to get reelected to have a good life. I already had a good career, was simultaneously in the private sector. So, I was actually able to have a confidence level in my role in government to look at life and things and really do what I thought was the right thing to do.
I think that first came about in our discussion regarding substantive issues and the community, was the Human Rights Act.
WCT: You voted for it in the early 90s, long before it became law in 2005.
Dan Rutherford: The first time it came up, I did vote for it. It was one of those things that I really thought long and hard about. And the other thing was, I read the bill. I stepped away from the emotion and went with the practicality. As I recall, it was dealing with discrimination with regards to housing, financial credit, public accommodations. There was three or four or five things, and as I stepped back, I just thought, "this does not make sense to not have this as part of it." So I voted for it. And yeah, I got some grief.
WCT: Have you had political reservations about backing LGBT issues?
Dan Rutherford: First of all, I think if you're consistent, that's important. I would rather vote yes or no on issues consistently as opposed to voting present.
WCT: Was there backlash?
Dan Rutherford: I experienced minimal backlash during the moment. In my campaign for the senate, there was, in the primary, an aggressive opponent, that was basically supporting the hardcore agenda. But even at that, it was part of the business.
WCT: But you have not supported same-sex marriage.
Dan Rutherford: If you don't mind, let me put the info in-between there. Civil unions came up, and this is one of those things that I stepped back, and I really analyzed it. The part I don't think a lot of people understand is it's not just for same-sex but for opposite-sex.
I voted for it, of course. I was the only Republican in the Senate to vote for it. Did I get some grief? Yeah. But it was one of those things that I thought in my heart, it was the right thing to do.
Now, we'll go to gay marriage. The difference for me there is the religious component.
Now, I think something else has happened with regards to the bill. I think the Supreme Court's ruling did add a very fair, debatable component in this. The tax consequences, I think that is a consideration to have weighed in. So what happens is, that has added a further component to this that lends itself to discrimination.
Now, I am what I am. I support civil unions. But the religious standpoint of marriage, it's just not where I'm at.
WCT: But we're talking about civil marriage, here, not religious.
Dan Rutherford: I just think that it's just not at that point yet from a religious standpoint that I can support it.
WCT: What religion do you practice?
Dan Rutherford: I grew up as a Methodist.
WCT: It sounds like you are evolving on same-sex marriage. Is that a fair statement?
Dan Rutherford: I think that there's a lot of things evolving out there. I think that when the Supreme Court ruled, and this is a matter-of-fact accounting sensitivity… but I think that did add a component with regards to the tax situation.
WCT: Is the Republican Party changing? Should it?
Dan Rutherford: I think the party should change. I think the party should evolve. I think it's going to take people like myself to help the party evolve. When I voted for the human rights bill in the early 90s, there was only a few of us. And when we moved forward to eventually pass it, there was more of us. And as we moved into consideration of the civil unions bill, there were some of us.
Equality Illinois was one of the hosts at the Republican National Convention for one of the receptions.
WCT: You took a lot of heat for that.
Dan Rutherford: I got some flack because the question was put in a way that caused me to have a sound bite that probably wasn't how it was intended to be. If people don't want to participate, then I understand, but everybody did [laughs].
I was the chairman of the Romney campaign for Illinois. There are cocktail parties the companies and labor groups and organizations host, and they are all a sponsor for some piece of it. Equality Illinois approached us and said they would be interested in hosting a part of one of the afternoons or evenings, and I said, "As far as I'm concerned, great."
So to answer the question, yes, I think my party needs to be more tolerant. I think they need to be more tolerant of the gay and lesbian community. They need to be more tolerant to the ethnic minority community. I think they need to be more tolerant with regards to the immigrant community.
I'm not saying that to be negative on my party. I'm just saying that if we allow gay rights, guns and abortion to be the definition of the difference between a good Republican and a bad Republican, we will be the party of the perpetual minority.
WCT: So what makes a Republican a Republican?
Dan Rutherford: I'll tell you exactly what it is; government, stay out of my wallet and out of my purse. The difference between the Democrat Party and the Republican Party needs to be about government spending and economics and maybe start to get into some of these social benefit programs.
You know what I think we got to do to help the crime rate in the City of Chicago? I think we need get the employment rate down in African American wards below 80 percent. What do we need to do about school funding? I think we broaden the tax base, get more people to work. You got a bigger tax base, then you don't have to go out and raise taxes.
WCT: What is your stance on funding for AIDS services and the Affordable Care Act?
Dan Rutherford: I think that the AIDS prevention programs, I think you will see that historically, I have been supportive within the context of the overall finances of the state. Again, AIDS prevention isn't just for the gay and lesbian community. Preventative is a lot better to try to work with as opposed to dealing with now a situation that, from a government standpoint, is going to be abundantly more expensive.
In regards to Obamacare, it's the law of the land. I'm not going to be one of these run-around trying to whatever… it's the law of the land. The sensitivity I have though is what we're getting ourselves into in state obligations in the future. So there is the part about the Obamacare that the federal government is going to pick up, and X numbers of years down the road, they're going to take down their percentage. At that point, the government of Illinois is going to have to do a number of things: One, pick up the difference in cost or two, cut off the services. Well, neither will be reasonable.
WCT: What will be your top three priorities as governor?
Dan Rutherford: Jobs, jobs, jobs. There is nothing more important that I can do as the governor of the State of Illinois than to help get the unemployment down.
WCT: Why is Dan Rutherford the best governor for Illinois?
Dan Rutherford: I probably have as great of an understanding and appreciation for the diversity of this state as anybody, Democrat or Republican. And I think that comes from my real life experience.
I think that I come from a private sector that has dealt with small businesses and large businesses. And I think there's an advantage in having been a citizen legislator as well. I know the process, I know the people.
WCT: Your support for the LGBT has put you in the spotlight. Conservative bloggers have speculated you are gay. How do you define your sexual orientation?
Dan Rutherford: I'm not gay.
WCT: Can you talk about your relationship to the community?
Dan Rutherford: I get it. This kind of thing happens in politics. I've been when I'm invited. Equality Illinois has their reception in Springfield. I'll go to that. They hosted receptions and Republican National Conventions before. I'll go to that. There's an annual gala. I've been to it, I haven't recently, but I've been to it. I haven't been in the gay Pride Parade but I've been to the elected officials' reception prior to it. I'll go where I'm invited and be there.
WCT: Is there anything you want to add?
Dan Rutherford: Just to emphasize the fact that I'm the one Republican [running for governor] that's won a statewide race. I'm the only one.