This time in 2015, Bruce Rauner looked well-positioned to be Illinois’ next governor-for-life. Before his inauguration, the rookie pol, a trim and vigorous 58, had the potential to write his name in state history next to Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar, socially moderate, fiscally pragmatic Republican chief executives who retired undefeated on their own terms in 1991 and 1999, respectively.
A determined, successful private equity investor, the self-made, Ivy League-educated Rauner promised to “drive results” — reverse the state’s fortunes by attracting jobs and fixing our finances. He had the personal wealth to support and potentially expand the GOP’s legislative coalition, and he had an agenda that included such popular items as term limits, nonpartisan political maps and more funding for K-12 education.
He blew it.
With arrogance bordering on opacity and a confrontational leadership style, Rauner squandered this promise, plunged the state into a destructive 736-day budget stalemate, made just about every major problem worse and ended up taking a humiliating 15.7 percentage-point loss in November to Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker. His political nemesis, veteran Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, increased the size of his seat majority to 74-44 over the 71-47 advantage he had when Rauner took office.
As his reign of error comes to a close Monday, it’s time for a look back through laced fingers.
Madigan himself summed it up well during a floor speech Wednesday when he described Rauner’s single term as “four long years of character assassination, four long years of personal vilification (and) four long years of strident negotiating positions … which hurt our state government and led to inaction for the people of Illinois.”
Inaction on reducing our long-term pension debt and increasing our credit rating, both the worst in the nation. Inaction on changing our tax system to reflect new and urgent realities. Inaction on boosting our flagging higher-education network and repairing our crumbling infrastructure.
Rauner pointed to some small-bore achievements during his farewell appearance Thursday before the Tribune Editorial Board — improvements in the criminal justice system and funding help for charter and private schools — but he didn’t come close to backing up his parting boast, “I’ll put our track record of accomplishment up against any governor in the U.S. in the last four years. And I will especially love to put it up against any governor who had an opposing legislature dominated by a supermajority and then a majority from the other party.”
I couldn’t help but think of the actual track record of accomplishment he might have had if he hadn’t chosen to relentlessly accuse Democratic legislative leaders of being crooked and corrupt when he needed their respect and cooperation to begin to advance his agenda.
I couldn’t help but think of the incremental but meaningful compromise advances for businesses and taxpayers Rauner might have pushed through had he understood that his narrow victory over unpopular Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn in 2014 gave him a bully pulpit and an opportunity, not a crown.
I couldn’t help but think of the appeal Rauner could have made to voters last fall — “I’m a moderating, common-sense voice of reason and a check on Democratic power” — if he hadn’t stubbornly, recklessly refused to negotiate a state budget unless the General Assembly knuckled under to his anti-union demands.
This prolonged act of hostage-taking, which bears a striking resemblance to President Donald Trump’s ongoing refusal to fund 25 percent of the federal government unless Democrats agree to give him money to build more security barriers along our border with Mexico, did real harm to real people and ended up costing the state real money. It marked Rauner as a politically clueless ideologue, not the sort of can-do leader Illinois needs.
Are Madigan and the Democrats blameless? Not at all. Every time I’ve written critically of Rauner, the “It’s all Madigan’s Fault!” crowd floods me with messages accusing me of overlooking the major role Democrats have played in creating the problems Rauner said he could fix.
That role is undeniable, even though we’ve had Republican governors for 30 of the past 42 years. And it’s admittedly pure supposition on my part that a more conciliatory, incrementally minded Rauner would have been able to gain traction, wrangle some bipartisan support in the legislature for some little or partial victories, confront reality on taxes and, at the very least, leave the state and his party in better shape than when he took over.
The blue wave of 2018 might have swamped him even if he’d had the political skills to match his business acumen, and even if he hadn’t alienated social conservatives by lying to them before supporting abortion-rights legislation.
But still, seeing Rauner again Thursday I couldn’t help but think what might have been.
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via Commentary – Chicago Tribune https://trib.in/2b2aIzV
January 10, 2019 at 04:06PM