Petersburg, Ill. – Jesse Sullivan is the latest person to join a crowded field of Republicans hoping to challenge Gov. JB Pritzker in the 2022 election. However, the young venture capitalist calls himself an “anti-politician” and wants to see “true leadership” for the state.
Many have questioned Sullivan’s background after he launched his campaign a few weeks ago. Even though his charity organization, Alter, has ties to California, Sullivan says he’s a “proud son of Illinois.”
“This is the reason I hate politics. You know? Because people basically try to frame things a certain way to make you appear a certain way,” Sullivan said. “To say that I have values that are not Illinois values is just false. It’s wrong.”
Sullivan spent time overseas for international development work. But, he also led a human terrain team as a DOD civilian during counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan. However, Sullivan emphasized he is not a combat veteran and would never claim to be one.
Sullivan said he learned about faith, family, and service while growing up in Central Illinois. He never had an interest in politics until a few years ago. Sullivan said he started to notice too many people leaving the state for better opportunities.
“I want to bring people back to Illinois,” Sullivan said. “I want to be bringing job creators back here. And so I want to make Illinois the best place in the country to live, to start a business, and to raise a family – my own kids included.”
A “Great Negotiator” for Springfield?
The 37-year-old has four kids with a fifth on the way, and a few foster children as well. But, he came from a big family too. Sullivan said his father called him the “Great Negotiator” when he could settle debates between his seven siblings. The Petersburg Republican thinks Illinois needs that type of leadership in Springfield.
“When you’ve got a supermajority of Democrats in the legislature and such a divided state between you know upstate and downstate, it’s like who can be that bridge person? Who can really bring people together and be a uniter,” Sullivan said.
He hopes to address high taxes, corruption, violence, and crime. But what makes Sullivan stand out from other Republican candidates for governor? Right now, it’s the money in his campaign warchest. Sullivan had $11 million in donations within the first few days of his campaign. Although, none of that money came from Illinois. He says close friends from his days at Stanford wanted to help jumpstart his effort to change the political landscape.
“They said well you’re a high character, high competency leader that we actually believe could do that,” Sullivan said.
While he calls Abraham Lincoln and George W. Bush his inspirational figures, Sullivan says he wants to be a man of the people instead of a politician.
“I want to be the anti-politician, which is someone who could be a common sense problem solver and just really set aside all of the ideology stuff,” Sullivan said. “And say we love our neighbors and how do we help them and create a great state here in Illinois.”
Addressing vaccines and pandemic response
He is also fully vaccinated and wants to change the message within the Republican party. Many are vocal against vaccines and spread misinformation that could prevent people from receiving the life-saving shot.
“Encourage people to look into getting the vaccine when or if they’re willing and able to do it,” Sullivan said. “But, getting mandates from the top down and forcing, in a paternalistic way, everyone to follow those orders is not how I would lead.”
Sullivan also said he strongly disagreed with closing small businesses early into the pandemic. He said the state should support families building businesses from the ground up. Sullivan says those families help capitalism thrive in Illinois.
“They can’t get shut down without thought,” Sullivan said. “Lockdown is not leadership. I think you do have to weigh out livelihoods with the lives, but I would’ve addressed that differently.”
Still, Sullivan didn’t offer his own ideas for protocols the government could put in place to keep people safe while having businesses open.
Some describe Sullivan as the next Bruce Rauner. However, Sullivan says they only have a similar business background and he is a completely different person.
The Capitol Bureau has interviewed Darren Bailey, Paul Schimpf, and Gary Rabine. But many expect more Republicans to announce their intent to run for governor within the next few weeks.