After a night of turbulence and rumor, Gov. Bruce Rauner today finally confirmed that, for the second time in just over a month, there’s been a major shakeup of his senior staff.
Rauner attempted to quickly move beyond the flap, saying that, at least for now, the departures are limited to his communications team. But for a variety of political and ideological reasons, this contretemps is likely to rage on a while longer.
In a statement and in a brief press conference, (the good stuff starts at about the 10 minute mark; check out the video below) Rauner confirmed that four members of his communications team have “resigned . . . by mutual agreement.” They are the top two staffers, Diana Rickert and Laurel Patrick, as well as assistants Meghan Keenan and Brittany Carl.
Rauner said the first two sent out a press release without checking with him that said he couldn’t comment on an allegedly racist cartoon posted by the Illinois Policy Institute because he was “a white male.” Rauner today said, “I understand why some people are upset” by the drawing, which depicts a white man with a big cigar refusing school money to an African-American child.
Rauner also ripped “rumors” spread by the media, an apparent reference to reports that Chief of Staff Kristina Rasmussen and Chief Counsel Dannie Murashko also were on the way out. In an earlier staff phone call, Rauner denied that either now is going, my colleague Rich Miller at Capital Fax reported. But others expect more changes within a few weeks.
Just one of those things, and now time to move on, the governor concluded today.
But it’s not nearly that simple.
Rickert, Rasmussen and other staffers came from the IPI just last month, after a major purge in the wake of the Legislature’s override of Rauner’s veto of the 2018 state budget and a related income-tax hike. Most of the departed folks had worked for former U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, a moderate Republican, whereas the distinctly liberatarian IPI holds some strong views that many consider on the political fringe.
For instance, insiders believe IPI inspired some unusual clauses in Rauner’s amendatory veto of a school-funding bill that was key to the budget deal brokered this summer—for instance, a provision that would penalize schools for implementing the property-tax caps that were a standard of GOP politics in the suburbs in the 1980s and ’90s. Rauner now is struggling to preserve that veto and prevent another override.
If nothing else, though Rauner denied that any “chaos” exists in his administration, the imbroglio over race, competency and extreme ideology provides any number of openings for Democrats seeking to oust the GOP incumbent.
For instance, the campaign of J.B. Pritzker has up a mock “help wanted” ad on Craigslist, seeking applicants for an “entire gubernatorial communications team” with “extensive experience in radical, right-wing activism. Government experience optional. Leave your G’s at home.” The job will be located in “Springfield or under the nearest bus.”
Funny stuff that. Effective, too. Only Rauner isn’t laughing. This one is going to sting for quite a while.