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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Who’s Chad Grimm, and Should Bruce Rauner Be Worried About Him?

The Libertarian candidate for governor has no illusions about winning. But a showing of five to 15 percent could cause Rauner trouble and give Grimm’s party a better foothold.

 Photo: Courtesy Chad Grimm for Governor

Finding Chad Grimm wasn’t easy. When I finally wrangled the cell phone number for the Libertarian candidate for governor, the Peoria native happened to be in Chicago and was able to meet me late yesterday afternoon for an interview. He vows to be a more public presence from now on, starting with his demands—as yet unanswered—to be included in debates, the first one hosted by the League of Women Voters on October 9 in Peoria and televised by PBS. 

Grimm laments that his campaign spent $100,000 fighting attempts—he says by the Rauner camp—to knock him off the ballot. Conventional wisdom has it that Grimm will take votes from Rauner, and, in a close race, could cost him the election, especially because the Green Party candidate, who was seen as taking votes from Pat Quinn, was declared ballot ineligible because of too few signatures. (The Constitution Party and the Independent Party candidate were also declared ineligible for the same reason.)

The media has closely covered Republican Party attorneys’ attempts to challenge Grimm’s petitions at hearings before the Illinois State Board of Elections, including charges of intimidation from private investigators wearing holstered guns, challenging petition circulators and signers, threatening legal jeopardy. The Sun-Times’ Dan Mihalopoulos described several direct ties between the Rauner campaign and the alleged intimidation. While appearing here for Rauner, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said of the inclusion of the Libertarian and ouster of the Green, “You people in Illinois make New Jersey people blush.”

Rauner denied having anything to do with any of the above, describing himself as “…appalled by the behavior I read about.”

Grimm, 33, is often described in terms—“gym manager”—that, intentionally or not, ring of belittlement. The tall and handsome bachelor manages a Gold’s Gym in Peoria, one of two that his family owns. A graduate of Lake Zurich High—his parents, whom he calls “standard-issue Republicans,” divorced and, from age 7, he shuttled between his father in Peoria and his mother in Elmwood Park and later Lake Zurich. He dropped out of Harper College to pursue theater and improvisation (he “studied” at Second City, he says). He moved to Los Angeles and was doing mostly comedy sketches, before returning to Chicago to take a job as a radio station intern. When the station changed formats, he changed course and managed a couple of Giordano’s here before heading back to Peoria and the family gym business. In recent years he has been an elected republican committeeman, and a failed candidate for seats in the Illinois House (2012) and Peoria City Council (2013).

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation:

Did Bruce Rauner or any of his staffers ever contact you and try to persuade you to drop your campaign?

Surprisingly,  no.

Theoretically, if only Rauner and Quinn were on the ballot, who would you vote for?

I’d skip that part of the ballot.

You don’t see a difference between the two?

I don’t. There’s a thin piece of paper difference between them…. Once they get elected, the doors close, they smoke the same cigars, and pass the same kind of legislation…. I thought it was funny when Quinn acted shocked, appalled, at the machinations around my name on the ballot when he successfully kept the Green Party off the ticket. 

If the election were held next week who would win?


Realistically, you haven’t a chance to win this thing.  In 2010 when Quinn was running against Bill Brady, the Libertarian Party candidate got just one percent. Are you looking just to maintain the 5 percent of the vote that the early September APC Research poll showed you had? (Quinn had 48 percent and Rauner 37.)

Our goal is double digits—13 or 14 percent. And remember, in 2010, all the third party candidates collectively, including the Green Party candidate Rich Whitney and Independent Scott Lee Cohen, did make a difference.  All together they got 7 percent of the vote. If we break 5 percent, we make ballot access easier in future elections.  [Grimm needed 25,000 signatures—he claims to have collected 45,000—while the two major party candidates needed only 5,000. Also, in 2010 Quinn beat Brady by less than half of one percent.]

Are you still working at the gym and campaigning in your off time?

No, as of last week, I’m full-time on this race. When you called me I was on the phone raising money. We have $35,000 in the bank and our goal is to raise a million. I’m going before the Tribune editorial board tomorrow, I have a forum in Elgin upcoming and a date to talk to high school students. It’s not true that high school students can’t vote; a lot of seniors can, and they have parents. Kids are rebellious by nature and so are Libertarians. We reject the status quo; the immoral meddling in other peoples’ affairs.

Your stand on today’s hot-button issues?

Eliminate the minimum wage; the minimum wage is zero when you’re unemployed.  Eliminate the state income tax. Support the 2nd Amendment; you have a right to a gun unless you’re in custody and the right to buy a gun so long as you’re more than 18 years old.

I’d pardon those in prison for victimless crimes such as marijuana and non-violent gun possession. Legalize marijuana. If you want to do something in the privacy of your own home you should be able to do it. Drugs are a health issue. Why are we treating it as crime?

I’m the only one of the candidates for governor who is pro-life. If a pregnant woman is killed it’s considered a double homicide.  [He would make exceptions for the health of the mother, leaving that to the doctor and the patient; he notes on his Facebook page, “I consider the murder of an unborn child as the worst kind of harm committed on the most innocent among us!”]  I’d like to see Roe v Wade overturned; it’s not mentioned in the Constitution.

I’m against a tax on millionaires; people shouldn’t be taxed more or less because of income. I’m for a flat tax. I’m for eliminating state employee pensions, gradually, over some years, but moving employees who want to into 401(k)s. I’m personally against term limits, but I’m for the public being able to vote for them.

Which American politician most inspired you?

Barry Goldwater. I like his consistency. He didn’t sell out his principles.

How about one who was active during your lifetime?

Ron Paul, and his son Rand.  I think Rand is good for politics, good for political discussion.  I like his foreign policy…. He’s helping to complete the conversation his father started.

But Rand has campaigned this cycle for Republicans who are being challenged by Libertarians. For example, the Libertarian in the North Carolina Senate race whom the New York Times describes as a “pizza delivery man.”

Rand is someone who really wants to be president. I don’t know how he would act as president. His dad always knew he would never been president, so he could stand by his principles 100 percent…. During the 2008 Republican debates, he didn’t sound like the other guys; all of them sounded the same.

If you had a chance, in public, to ask Bruce Rauner a question what would it be?

Why does a billionaire venture capitalist want to be governor? I can’t figure it out. 

Do you think he’s really running for President?

I don’t know.

Twenty years from now, when you’re 53, what would you want to be doing?

Hosting some sort of web channel show not regulated by the FCC. I want to bring a message to people who haven’t heard it…. I don’t want to preach to the choir. I want people to wake up to the fact that we have to stick to what the Constitution says the role of government is supposed to be…. I read the U.S. Constitution for fun and the Communist Manifesto as well.


NOTE: In my research for the profile I wrote of Bruce Rauner, I found a transcript of a Dartmouth College Forum from 2011 which included Rauner, then GTCR chairman, two hosts of Bloomberg Surveillance, and a professor of economics who holds an endowed Rauner chair.  Rauner stated his beliefs in “…limited government, low taxes, personal freedom, and personal responsibility, the founding principles of the nation, what has created the greatest economy in the world.”

Bloomberg: Does that mean you are a Libertarian?

Rauner: I don’t know labels that well, but I probably am.

Bloomberg: Okay, so you’re going to vote for Ron Paul then?

Rauner: You know, in some ways I like his philosophy, but I think that would be a wasted vote.

Carol Felsenthal is a lifelong Chicagoan and self-proclaimed political junkie. She writes occasionally for Politico Magazine and The Hill. Her books include biographies of Bill Clinton, Katharine Graham, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Among her many stories for Chicago are memorable profiles of Michelle Obama and Bruce Rauner. Follow her on Twitter at @csfelsenthal.


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