Jim Dey | Rauner’s sorry, so sorry — but do the voters care anymore?


I’m sorry, so sorry
That I was such a fool

I didn’t know
Love could be so cruel

Pop singer Brenda Lee made that ode to romantic regret a big hit in 1963. Last week, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner released his own version of that musical — and political — standard in an effort to persuade skeptical voters to give him another look.

Why did he follow this time-worn path of office-holders who see their political fortunes sinking faster than the Titanic?

If it wasn’t crystal clear before Rauner gave his mea culpa speech Thursday at Chicago’s Hilton Hotel, it was a few hours later when the Illinois Broadcasters Association released a poll showing Rauner trailing badly in his bid for a second term against Democrat J.B. Pritzker.

The poll showed Pritzker, a multi-billionaire heir to his family’s fortune, leading in the contest by a margin of 44 percent to 27.1 percent. Undecideds and supporters of third-party fringe candidates made up the balance of responders.

Even worse news for the governor is that just 23.9 percent of respondents have a favorable view of Rauner compared to 52.4 percent who have an unfavorable view.

(The only remotely good news for Rauner in the poll is that the 44 percent support rate for Pritzker shows 56 percent of voters do not support Pritzker or remain undecided.)

No wonder, challenger Pritzker has, with a couple of exceptions, made almost an art form of saying nothing controversial as he campaigns across the state.

From Pritzker’s standpoint, his prospects for success can only decline because his lead is so commanding that it’s virtually impossible for them to get better.

That being the case, the Rauner campaign decided it was time for the political version of a Hail Mary, one in which the former businessman made admissions of contrition and promised to slow down his hard-charging ways.

You tell me mistakes

Are part of being young

But that don’t right

The wrong that’s been done

“I was a political newcomer. A private citizen who was called to serve, to fix the biggest problems in our state. … I believed a dramatic, aggressive approach could shock state government into shape and bring Illinois back to life … I underestimated how difficult change can be in government… I have learned from my years on the job,” he said.

What has he learned?

“I have learned the two most important things for success in public service are courage and understanding … I have learned that building consensus around ideas … takes time … And I have learned that there are countless areas where we can work together,” he said.

Rauner said his goals remain the same — “reducing taxes, growing jobs and ending corruption in state government” — but that his methods have changed.

“In divided government, you can’t fix things all at once. You have to be willing to accept incremental improvements. You can’t sacrifice progress for the sake of winning an argument,” he said.

Reactions to Rauner’s speech were varied.

Pritzker sneered in response to Rauner’s humble pose, calling it “desperate” and “too little too late” for the “devastation” Rauner has caused in the state.

The Associated Press described it as an “unorthodox address that was part apology, part State of the State Address and part stump speech.”The Chicago Tribune said Rauner defended “contentious aspects of his first four years. … as laying the groundwork for change that only he can foster.”

It would have been more accurate if the Trib has referred to change only Rauner “will,” not “can,” foster. He and Pritzker are polar opposites on policy — Rauner arguing for dramatic changes necessary to change the state’s downward trajectory and Pritzker arguing for more of the same.

A traditional Democrat, Pritzker is determined to pursue social spending programs that Springfield political analyst Rick Miller has estimated will add $10.7 billion to the state’s current $38 billion-plus budget and generate additional revenues with higher state income taxes.

In Springfield Thursday, Pritzker suggested sales taxes on services, in addition to legalizing and taxing marijuana and a higher income tax, will be considered “if we have to look for revenue sources.”

A subsequent campaign statement issued by a Pritzker spokesman said Pritzker does not, as the candidate indicated in his interview at the Springfield Journal-Register, support sales taxes on services.

Rauner certainly took a bold step with his declaration of contrition. But it remains to be seen if the electorate cares enough to give it any consideration.

These kinds of appeals have worked, and they have failed.

Politico noted that “similar, 11th-hour apologies in the past have fallen flat,” citing unsuccessful efforts in 2010 by Iowa Gov. Chet Culver and in 2003 by California Gov. Gray Davis.

But they’ve worked as well. Just four years ago, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel professed to be a changed man as he sought a second term. That turned out to be a pose, the result being that Emanuel recently announced he won’t be a candidate.

Will it be any different for Rauner? The polls say no — at least for now.Nonetheless, Rauner is hoping to generate a big change in the numbers by emphasizing the big changes in his approach leading this state.

“I’m a better governor now than when I took office because of what I’ve learned,” he said.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-351-5369.

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September 16, 2018 at 07:04AM

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