By Rich Miller
It’s almost impossible to make a deal with somebody who won’t accept reality. And that’s been the case in Illinois for over a year, as Gov. Bruce Rauner has made one politically unrealistic demand after another while refusing to negotiate a budget until those demands were met, all the while blaming the entire impasse on House Speaker Michael Madigan’s intransigence.
Because the public debate is so wrapped up in partisanship and ideology, it’s been tough for a large segment of the population to wrap its collective mind around what’s really been going on. Many see this fight as the “new, good” Rauner versus the “old, bad” Madigan. While that argument certainly has plenty of merit, it’s not nearly the entire story.
It takes two to tango, and the truth is, and has always been, that Rauner doesn’t even have enthusiastic support among legislative Republicans for a big chunk of his “Turnaround Agenda,” particularly his demands which are opposed by labor unions. His complete agenda cannot pass both legislative chambers no matter who the House Speaker is.
After what happened the day after the March primary election, however, Rauner’s obvious inability to accept some stark political realities may finally help more folks understand what the rest of us have been seeing for the past year or more.
There is no doubt that Rauner had a bad March 15. While he wasn’t directly involved in Speaker Madigan’s Democratic primary, there’s zero doubt that the people who funded Madigan’s opponent were friendly to the governor’s interests. They made the campaign a referendum on Madigan’s entire career, and Madigan won handily.
The same money conduit Rauner used to fund other races, Dan Proft, somehow came up with $1.3 million in cash via a “dark money” group to give directly to Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago. All that other Raunerite money ($1.6 million) spent on Dunkin’s behalf didn’t just appear out of nowhere, either. And nobody really believes that the Illinois Chamber decided without prompting to all of a sudden run an additional million-dollar TV ad supporting Dunkin (who had one of the lowest Chamber ratings of any state legislator) without first consulting its own board of directors. That race became a very public referendum on Rauner, but Dunkin ended up winning just 32 percent of the vote. Oops.
And, of course, there’s state Sen. Sam McCann, R-Plainview. Rauner personally endorsed McCann’s GOP opponent Bryce Benton, funneled millions of dollars into Benton’s race, both via Proft and through a $50,000 contribution from himself, and personally campaigned with Benton in the days leading up to the election. He threw the kitchen sink at McCann, with a boatload of cash spent to make the race about how McCann was Speaker Madigan’s “favorite Senator.” Sen. McCann won by more than 5 percentage points. That’s a solid Rauner defeat in anyone’s book.
Everyone with even semi-honest eyes could see that Rauner was a big loser. Yes, he won several other primary races, but he basically steamrolled a bunch of unprepared amateurs with overwhelming financial resources and (in most cases) viciously negative ads. Without a doubt it’s important to win those little races (Madigan himself does it a lot), but the marquee contests against formidable foes—who are far more like the legislative Democrats Rauner will face in November—most definitely went south.
And, yet, there he was, claiming via press release that Madigan was the primary election’s real loser, even though all of Madigan’s candidates won.
“There were many races last night where special interests backed by Speaker Madigan failed to defeat Republican incumbents and candidates who support Governor Rauner’s call for structural reforms,” his post-election press release bellowed.
Somehow, in Rauner’s mind, it’s Madigan’s fault that some Republican hopefuls with a smidgeon of union backing lost their races to Rauner’s heavily financed candidates.
The excuse I heard afterward was that Madigan had issued his own press release pointing out the governor’s losses and the governor felt he needed to respond. Okay, I get that. Madigan didn’t have to rub Rauner’s nose in the previous day’s humiliations. But has nobody ever heard of taking the high road, or at least a road which exists in the real world?
Like I said at the beginning, accepting political reality is not this governor’s strong suit. If that wasn’t abundantly clear before the primary election, it surely became clear the day after.
And this governmental impasse ain’t ever gonna end until that stark fact of life changes.