SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — Governor Bruce Rauner is on a hiring spree and you don’t necessarily need government experience to apply.
Staggering in the aftermath of a staff mutiny, the Republican governor is turning almost exclusively to the Illinois Policy Institute and it’s related political organizations for reinforcements. The libertarian think tank, handsomely funded by Rauner and his political allies, dutifully handed over almost all of it’s top level staff to fill a gaping void on the second floor of the statehouse. Almost all of the new hires are new to the public sector.
Rauner’s sudden dismissal of Chief of Staff Richard Goldberg sparked a mix of rage and dismay among loyal Rauner staffers, many of whom resigned in protest to what they perceived as a hard tilt to the right in the governor’s new staff placements from the insurgent IPI.
If Rauner is reeling under the weight of so many high level resignations, he hasn’t shown it. Instead, he claimed the recent upheaval was part of a broader plan to improve and recruit qualified candidates.
“We are always striving to assemble the most talented team in America to have a state government that works for the people,” Rauner said. “Changes happen in various points.
“I’m very, very proud of our team,” he said.
Rauner appeared to take a veiled shot at members of his former staff, saying, “We will be striving every day to have the best people possible who are committed to the people of Illinois, not committed to politics, not committed to other things, but they put the interest of the people of Illinois first. That means a commitment to changing our system.
Former staffers were demoralized and disgusted with Rauner’s firings, one calling it a “slaughter.” Others described Rauner’s moves as a knee-jerk act of desperation in an attempt to wrangle House Republicans who broke ranks with the party and voted with Democrats to override his budget veto.
Rauner’s new Chief of Staff, Kristina Rasmussen, previously served as the President of the Illinois Policy Institute where she routinely railed against “lucrative” public sector union contracts and state worker pension benefits. In a 2013 interview with WCIA, she targeted a “highly paid internship program” that supplies the governor’s office with young talent. At the time, interns in the Dunn Fellowship earned less than $32,000 per year. Rasmussen called that meager wage a “lavish salary” and called for former Governor Quinn to slash the internship program.
“If you’ve got someone making $80,000 and you’ve got an equally talented person who’s willing to take that job for $30,000, it means that you’re paying folks too much,” she said.
Rauner described his highly paid crop of new hires as a bargain for taxpayers.
“We’ve had incredible people who have also taken huge compensation cuts to become public servants and left very successful careers in other sectors to come into government,” Rauner said.
Rasmussen signed on for an annual salary of $170,000. Tax filings from the nonprofit Illinois Policy Institute show Rasmussen’s salary was less than $160,000 in 2014. In the same year, she collected over $30,000 in “other compensation” from the Policy Institute and related organizations.
According to a former Rauner staffer, Diana Rickert, another IPI recruit, will earn $15,000 more than her predecessors. State records show former Communications Director Brad Hahn and former Deputy Chief of Staff Lance Trover each earned an annual salary of $150,000.
In a 2016 op-ed for the Chicago Tribune, Rickert wrote, “When public-sector unions demand excessive salaries and benefits, politicians just say yes and pass on the bill to taxpayers.”
A press release from the Illinois Policy Institute published in the same month complained that “at $67,836, Illinois lawmakers have the highest base salary in the Midwest and the fifth-highest base salary for legislators in the nation.”
In 2015, Rickert called for Illinois to lay off every state worker in a ruse to dodge paying pension benefits, writing, “A government shutdown might be exactly what Illinois needs.”
In the years leading up to his election bid, Governor Rauner’s family foundation donated $625,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute. The funds fueled an ideological incubator for his upstart government experiment.
Tuesday, Rauner said of his new staff members, “All of us owe them a debt of gratitude.”