Commentary: Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Madigan fixation may reflect how little the governor has to show for his first three years in office.
Illinois Issues – Northern Public Radio
November 30, 2017
By CHARLES N. WHEELER III
In November, 2014, Republican Bruce Rauner beat then-Gov. Pat Quinn by some 142,000 votes following a campaign featuring “the incumbent Democrat is a failure” as a major theme.
Not surprisingly, a lot of folks — many of them union workers smarting from Quinn’s efforts to cut public employee retirement benefits — voted for Rauner simply because he was not Quinn.
As candidate filing this week officially kicked off campaign 2018, one might suspect that Rauner’s new mantra is, “Vote for me because I’m not Mike Madigan.” The focus on the long-serving House Speaker is politically expedient, of course, because Madigan may well be the most disliked political figure in the state, after the governor and his operatives have spent millions characterizing the Chicago Democrat as the Darth Vader-Lord Voldemort of Illinois.
But the governor’s Madigan fixation also may reflect that by many measures, Rauner’s three years in office have been worse for Illinois than the “failed” Quinn, leaving Rauner with little to crow about.
“My vision is to make Illinois the most competitive and compassionate state in the nation,” Rauner says on his website. But actions speak louder than words, and the governor’s record includes attempts to cut state subsidies for child care that allows low-income parents to work, to slash home care assistance that helps keep senior citizens out of nursing homes, and most recently, to trim funding for autism services, after-school programming, and immigrant and refugee services, among others.
Moreover, the budget impasse shredded the state’s safety net, causing not-for-profit providers like mental health centers, domestic abuse shelters and addiction treatment programs across the state to cut staff, reduce caseload, and in some cases close their doors.
“It will take years to fix this devastation,” said an executive of one provider association, after this year’s budget finally was in place.
Some critics suspect that was Rauner’s strategy all along, to use crippling cuts to programs serving low-income or high-need individuals to force Democrats representing the disadvantaged to pass his pro-business, anti-union agenda.
If so, the governor badly miscalculated, as Republican legislators from districts whose universities, state facilities and health and human service providers were suffering after two years with little or no funding ultimately chose to override his budget veto.
In the end, his cherished agenda to make Illinois a right-to-work state, to eliminate prevailing wage requirements, and to destroy public-employee unions went nowhere, probably not surprising in a state with deep roots in the labor movement and a GOP governor — James Thompson — who signed the law granting public workers the right to unionize.