Rauner ditches GOP dinner, fears link to preacher's 'inflammatory' views

Originally Posted Online: April 23, 2014, 5:58 pm
Last Updated: April 29, 2014, 12:44 pm
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By Eric Timmons, etimmons@qconline.com

MOLINE -- Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner has pulled out of the Rock Island County Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day Dinner for fear of being linked to the "inflammatory" views of a local pastor.

Rev. Don Johnson of Rock Island was initially scheduled to speak at the Thursday evening dinner but was asked not to after concerns were raisedby the Rauner campaign and others about some of his written statements.

But after it became clear that Mr. Rauner was withdrawing from the event, the reverend was then put back on the program and will now give the "opening invocation and a brief speech" at the dinner.

Mr. Rauner, a venture-capitalist from Cook County, was listed on promotional material for the dinner as a keynote speaker.

But on Tuesday, Rock Island County Republican Party Chairman Bill Bloom said he had made the decision to remove Rev. Johnson from the Lincoln Day Dinner program.

But the change failed to appease the Rauner campaign, which announced after reviewing the statements made by Rev. Johnson that Mr. Rauner would steer clear of the event.

"Bruce (Rauner) condemns the inflammatory remarks written by (Rev.) Don Johnson and believes such language has no place in our society," a statement from Mr. Rauner's office said. "After learning of his association with the event, the campaign has decided to forgo the dinner."

Mr. Bloom said he had been contacted by the Rauner campaign and others about Rev. Johnson and became concerned that the reverend's "confrontational" message might conflict with Mr. Rauner's focus on economic issues.

In his 2012 book, 'The Pandora President: Why We Cannot Reelect President Barack Hussein Obama,' Rev. Johnson wrote that President Obama had "homosexualized the military."

Rev. Johnson also wrote that President Obama's "pro-Islam positions have been the cause of his anti-Biblical actions."

The reverend is a pastor at the Destiny Baptist Church of Rock Island. He is a graduate of Black Hawk College, has a bachelor of arts from the American Baptist College of Bible, Nashville, Tenn. and masters of divinity from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

"At this point I'm not going to make any comment," Rev. Johnson said on Wednesday. "I'm going to leave that to the party."

Rev. Johnson wrote in his 2008 book 'Black but not my Brother' in a passage about abortion "Senator Obama is for infanticide." He wrote in "The Pandora President" that HIV/AIDS is a "plague" that is "driven first and foremost by homosexual behavior."

Mr. Bloom, who was just last week elected chairman of the Rock Island County Republican Party, said Tuesday that he had not read Rev. Johnson's books but had seen some "excerpts."

"I decided we were probably going to have a conflict of messages," Mr. Bloom said. "The most important message is Bruce Rauner's economic one and there was a danger that the pastor's message could cause some noise that would conflict with Mr. Rauner's."

On Wednesday, Mr. Bloom said he had taken the time to read all of one of the reverend's books and part of the other.

"I think Rev. Johnson is a great guy," Mr. Bloom said. "He builds his arguments well and supports them with facts."

However, Mr. Bloom said that Rev. Johnson's socially conservative message had made the Rauner campaign "nervous."

Mr. Bloom said that Mr. Rauner is more moderate on social issues and the Republican's staff were worried the dinner could become a "media circus."

Mr. Bloom said Rev. Johnson was invited to speak at the Lincoln Day Dinner by the committee that organizes the event, whose members include Dr. Lois Frels, the event's master of ceremonies.

Mr. Rauner won the Republican primary for governor last March and is challenging Gov. Pat Quinn in the November elections.

The Lincoln Day Dinner starts at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, at the Moline Viking Club, 1450 41st Street. Speakers include former congressman Bobby Schilling and Dr. John Morris, Director of Ronald W. Reagan Society.


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