What’s up with Gov. Bruce Rauner?
The freshman Republican just can’t seem to recover from a first-term marred by a protracted budgetary impasse and an intra-party civil war.
Rauner foundered yet again Monday in an ill-conceived, off-the-cuff attempt to heap blame for Illinois’ ills on House Speaker Michael Madigan.
“… I am not in charge. I’m trying to get to be in charge,” Rauner cracked, while listing a slew of legislative reforms he’s wanted since before taking office.
Just take that quote in for a second. What Rauner intended as a partisan shot at broken politics spearheaded by Madigan’s Democrats was, instead, an admission that he, a sitting governor, was a lame duck.
Not the strongest re-election slogan, for sure.
It would be absurd to lay blame for Illinois’ many failings on Rauner. The man’s been in office less than three years. Governors, both Republican and Democrat, have joined the General Assembly for decades in bad decision making. One doesn’t turn a $100 billion state pension system — Illinois’ greatest financial failing — upside-down in a couple years.
But Rauner’s acknowledgement of his own fecklessness is a damning self-imposed indictment of just how little Rauner — and his supporters — have to show for his first term.
A two-year budget impasse damaged the state for years to come with almost nothing to show for it. Taxes were again hiked to balance the books. Public employee unions still dominate negotiations. The pension remains a legal nightmare.
Rauner’s so-called “Turn Around” agenda has been stuck in reverse for years.
And, now, he’s facing an uprising from his right flank. Challenger State Rep. Jeanne Ives isn’t in Rauner’s galaxy when it comes to campaign funding. Nor does she have much in the way for name recognition, and her social conservationism isn’t well suited to Illinois as a whole.
But her very candidacy is a symptom of growing discontent among Republicans. It’s a general frustration that started showing itself earlier this year when GOP lawmakers began freely voting to override Rauner’s vetoes. And it exploded earlier this year among conservatives when he signed abortion protections into law.
In just the past several months, Rauner fired his top advisers and communications staff. He replaced them with ideologues from a hard-right think tank. The new staff was either fired or abandoned him because of his centrist social policy.
This is just one example of self-destructive flailing from a governor who’s spent almost an entire term stuck in the mud. Suddenly, it’s Rauner who has the look of a man who’s checked out. This week, for example, he wrongly asserted the U.S. Senate hadn’t passed its version of tax reform.
On Monday, Rauner admitted that he’s powerless in a state that needs reform as much as any other. Make no mistake, statements such as these will make their way into black-and-white Democratic television ads paid for by the likes of J.B. Pritzker for Governor.
Rauner took office in 2015 with plenty of promise. The new governor had, on many counts, correctly identified that which plagues Illinois. But, almost immediately, he took it too far. Full of hubris, he targeted unions from day one. He amassed a huge war chest and hung it like an ax over the heads of Republicans in the General Assembly. He played incessantly to rural parochialism and anti-Chicago sentiment.
The miscalculations have piled up and rendered Rauner completely ineffectual.
And, apparently, even Rauner himself seems to know it.