BROWN: Rauner brings in new (far) right hand for re-election fight

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For those who thought Bruce Rauner has governed Illinois like a conservative ideologue, and a pigheaded one at that, it looks as if we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Rauner signaled Monday he’s going all-in as an anti-tax, anti-government populist by announcing he has replaced his chief of staff with the head of a conservative think tank that most recently was slamming him for being too willing to compromise with Democrats.

In picking Kristina Rasmussen, president of the Illinois Policy Institute, to take over for Richard Goldberg, the point man on Rauner’s failed “grand bargain,” the governor is taking an ideological turn to the right in preparation for his 2018 re-election fight. Or perhaps it’s more of a return to the right.

“With [Rasmussen] at the helm, we are confident the Governor is returning to the revolutionist instinct that won him the governorship in 2014 and brought hope to the people of Illinois,” said Matthew Besler, president of a like-minded conservative group, Illinois Opportunity Project.

Revolutionist instinct? Is that what we used to call “throw the bums out?”

OPINION

At this point two and a half years into office, Republican Rauner looks an awful lot like one of the bums, but I’m definitely not counting him out of winning a second term.

Conservative allies portrayed the staff change as a “shakeup” in which Goldberg was “fired” in the wake of the recent legislative session, during which 16 Republican lawmakers — 15 in the House and one in the Senate — joined with Democrats to override the governor’s vetoes and enact an income tax increase that broke the long budget impasse.

The governor’s office put a softer spin on the move, saying Goldberg was “transitioning back” to the foreign policy and national security work he was doing in Washington before joining Rauner’s campaign team in 2014.

It doesn’t really matter to me. It’s a super-demanding job, and nobody stays in it forever. Plus, it’s a natural time to make a switch.

The important thing is that Rauner is replacing Goldberg with somebody who has helped build an organization of conservative true believers dedicated to dismantling government.

Although known for his in-your-face style that sometimes involved publicly insulting legislators, Goldberg is regarded as a political pragmatist compared to Rasmussen, whose tenure at Illinois Policy Institute coincided with its emergence as the state’s primary advocacy group for conservative political thought.

I don’t know Rasmussen. All I can judge her by is the work of the Policy Institute, which included the release of a brilliantly devious documentary about House Speaker Michael Madigan intended to burnish his image as the devil-incarnate.

To give you an idea of how hard-core they are, when it looked as if Rauner might go along with the watered-down version of his “grand bargain” being negotiated by Senate President John Cullerton and then-Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, the Policy Institute unleashed a barrage of negative stories.

One was headlined: “Madigan Dupes Another Governor.”

Another declared, “Rauner’s Reform Demands: From 44 to 0.”

Rauner, who was a major funder of the non-profit Policy Institute before becoming governor, never did find a deal that could bring him to support the tax increase.

“My vision has always been for an Illinois that is prosperous and compassionate, with a state government that serves the people, rather than the other way around,” Rauner said in a statement announcing the staff change. “That’s Kristina’s vision too, and that’s why I have appointed her my next Chief of Staff.”

It’s hard to believe Rauner will be able to sell that line about being compassionate a second time, no matter how many times he trots his Democratic wife out there in television commercials, especially after her early childhood education group tried suing the state to get paid and later supported the override of Rauner’s veto.

There’s been nothing compassionate about Rauner’s reign, during which he’s brought much of the state’s social service system to its knees while also crippling its colleges and universities with the budget standoff.

The next big test, and Rasmussen’s first, will be whether the administration and legislators can negotiate an education funding deal that will allow schools to open in the fall.

Rauner has said he will veto a Democrat-approved bill because it is overly generous to Chicago Public Schools.

The Illinois Policy Institute has also warned against this Chicago “bailout.”

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