Editorial | Rauner has a tough sales job


The governor made his pitch on why he deserves four more years.

Widely perceived to be in deep political trouble, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner took important steps Thursday that he hopes will lead him back into the political promised land.

In so many words and so many ways, the hard-charging former businessman admitted that he has been too much of a bull in a china shop, that he was too aggressive in seeking important policy changes and that the budget battle he fought with — and lost to — Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan hurt many people.

He didn’t come out and say “I’m sorry.” But Rauner did say he has learned from the bitter lessons of the last four years what not to do in the next four years. If re-elected, he promised to do a better job leading Illinois in the direction it must go if it’s ever again going to regain its status as a prosperous, successful state.

“I have learned that the two most important things for success in public service are courage and understanding,” he said. “I have learned that building consensus around ideas … hammering out policy details … clearly communicating to the people of Illinois why they matter … these things take time in government. Sometimes more time than we would like.

“I stand before you today a man of no less courage, but perhaps greater understanding.”

The question in the aftermath of Rauner’s mea culpa speech in Chicago is whether it will make a difference, and if so, how much of one in his face-off with Chicago Democratic businessman J.B. Pritzker.

The people of Illinois are angry and sickened by the state’s faltering circumstances — financial chaos, endemic corruption and status-quo politics.

But do they consider Rauner to be part of the solution or part of the problem?

Given the state’s political leanings — overwhelmingly Democratic — Republican Rauner has never been the people’s choice. He was elected because voters — by a narrow margin — were disillusioned by 12 years of chaotic, corrupt and financially inept one-party Democratic rule they associated with former Govs. Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn.

Elected Democrats in Illinois made Rauner governor by making themselves unacceptable to voters who traditionally prefer Democrats.

Pritzker is a traditional Democrat; he’s also a political newcomer with no record to defend, a united party behind him and boatloads of cash. He has none of the weaknesses a Democrat must have to lose a statewide race. Even his repeated pledge to raise the state’s income tax — traditionally a political no-no — seems to have had no impact on his standing with the body politic.

Rauner’ speech last week was an effort to reshape the challenging political landscape by asking voters to give the new, wisened version of himself a second look. Just as important, he reminded them how important it is that the state chart a new course and warned that Pritzker’s only interested in doing more of what made Illinois a mess.

“The people of Illinois have a clear choice in November. Will we continue the hard work of reform, aimed at making this state a place our children and grandchildren can thrive? Or will we return to the status quo: a government controlled by insiders, hellbent on raising taxes, with little regard for the consequences felt by ordinary citizens,” he said.

Rauner also argued that, even though Madigan rejected his entire legislative agenda, he hasn’t asked the Democratic-majority General Assembly for much.

“Our neighboring states have flattened and reduced taxes for their residents,” he said. “Bluer states than Illinois have put in place the same common-sense reforms I’ve proposed: Rhode Island Democrats achieved bipartisan pension reform, Massachusetts Democrats reformed their workers’-compensation and government health care systems, California Democrats passed term limits and have tackled gerrymandering.”

But is anyone listening? Are they persuaded?

The Pritzker campaign already has this election chalked up in the win column, and their analysis appears correct — it’s Pritzker’s race to lose.

Rauner still has time — roughly seven weeks to the Nov. 6 election — but it’s drawing short. The governor’s words are an acknowledgement that he’s got tough sales job on his hands.

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September 16, 2018 at 07:06AM

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