No. 42 - What Will Bruce Rauner Do?

Jan 1, 2015

Bruce Rauner
Credit Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

“I just wanna save our state,” Bruce Rauner says in a matter-of-face tone, his wife Diana’s hand resting on his khaki-clad knee. He shakes his head side-to-side, at once casual but firm: “I’m not runnin’ ’cause I want a political career.”

This is the Bruce Rauner you likely have “met” on your television screen. He’s friendly. Pragmatic. Warm. A family man.

Normal. Just like you. Except that this guy, uninterested in a political career, was in the midst of spending more than $27 million to launch one.

It’s likely you also “met” another Bruce Rauner over the many months that campaign ads overwhelmed TV sets leading up to the November 4 election. He’s sullen. Angry. A greedy businessman.

This Bruce Rauner — presented by Gov. Pat Quinn’s campaign and its union allies — is callous about factory workers losing their livelihoods. He’s indifferent to the woes of parents suddenly unable to afford heart medicine for their newborn babies, while grinning over millions in profit he’s making from the drug’s price increase.

Voters were presented with additional incarnations of Bruce Rauner since his entry into the political fray: he was a union-busting crusader during the primary race for the Republican nomination.

Bruce Rauner the Harley-rider. Bruce Rauner the businessman — successful at everything he’s ever done. Bruce Rauner the education activist and philanthropist. Bruce the bully. Bruce Rauner, the tall Swede, who spends his Sundays connecting with parishioners at Chicago’s mighty African-American churches.

And finally, the latest public face of Bruce Rauner, the one freed from campaign shackles, the one who, since besting Quinn in the governor’s race, has unceasingly talked up his commitment to making Illinois competitive and compassionate.

But what about Bruce Rauner, 42nd governor of Illinois? Who will he be?

It’s a question that nobody, not even Rauner himself, can answer yet, despite the careful months, possibly even years, of planning and prepping. “Being governor of Illinois is not a job that — I don’t think anyone is prepared to be,” says former Gov. Jim Edgar, who served as a lawmaker and secretary of state before he became governor. “But I gotta say that there were a lot of things when I became governor, I just didn’t know, that I wasn’t prepared for.”

While Edgar came into the office with a deep resume from the public sector, Rauner has none of that. As he often bragged on the campaign trail, he has never run for office, not even for a student council position. While Edgar says that will likely make Rauner’s transition to his new role more difficult, he says it’s not a disqualifier to success. Quinn, after all, had spent much of his adult life in, or running for, office, and this is where he faltered.

But I gotta say that there were a lot of things when I became governor, I just didn't know, that I wasn't prepared for.

As governor, “you’ve got to execute, and you’ve got to carry through your responsibilities,” Edgar says. “Just making sure the departments carry out your directives, and there’s kind of an overall game plan. And all that’s kinda been lacking.”

Carrying out the management and administrative responsibilities of the governor is where Rauner’s supporters say his experience as head of the wildly successful Chicago-based private equity firm GTCR, which according to its website has invested more than $10 billion since 1980, could prove beneficial. During the campaign Rauner tried to simultaneously distance himself from GTCR deals that resulted in unsavory litigation, while also claiming credit for his hands-on leadership there. Still, there is no doubt Rauner has been admired for his executive skills.

“There are so many things a governor does that doesn’t have anything to do with the legislature, or has anything to do with legislation. A lot of administrative duties,” Edgar, who is a member of Rauner’s transition team, says.

Carrying them out is not a job for any one person; it’s the duty of an entire administration. Who Rauner chooses to fill top posts will be an initial indicator of his priorities and recruiting abilities. Will, as he suggested during the campaign, he heavily recruit from other states? Or will many of his hires come from current Capitol denizens, despite his regular criticism of Springfield’s culture? And of course, even the highest state salaries will surely pale in comparison to the lofty ones Rauner could use to recruit top candidates at GTCR.

“What every new governor comes face-to-face with is, it’s about staff. And who he or she surrounds himself with,” says Al Grosboll, who was a top aide to Edgar. “The most important thing for the Rauner administration is they have to find the right balance, and a balance they’re comfortable with, in ... bringing in new people with fresh outlooks, people who come from the Rauner campaign and understand what he wants, and at the same time balancing that with people who understand state government and know how to make it run.”

It could be tempting for Rauner to completely clean house. After all, Democrats have had the past dozen years to dole out positions to fellow Democrats. But Grosboll says the last time the governor’s office was transferred to a new party, in 2002 when Democrat Rod Blagojevich grabbed the reins from Republican George Ryan, Blagojevich made that mistake.

“They came in and just across the board started getting rid of people. And many of them were not Democrats or Republicans. They weren’t, you know, pro-Rod Blagojevich or anti-. They were just people who spent their lives helping to keep government running smoothly. … They were middle-management people.”

The sooner key choices are made, the sooner top staff can go about formulating policies and strategy. It’s likely that Rauner had ideas about who he wanted for key posts even before actually winning. Former Congressman and recently-retired Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard, who says he has no interest in serving in the Rauner administration itself, says the governor elect wasted no time in asking him to be on the transition team; Poshard says Rauner personally called him on Wednesday, November 5 — the very next day after he declared victory. It was also the day Quinn conceded. It wasn’t their first time talking. Poshard, a Democrat, says Rauner traveled to SIU in Carbondale last summer to visit and to talk about higher education and labor issues. It’s worth noting that Rauner’s reaching out apparently did the trick in convincing Poshard of his worth, although they disagree on policy. Rauner has “the potential to be hugely successful,” Poshard says.

Yes, Rauner has long been planning for this. By all indications, he is exceptionally competitive, driven and disciplined. His campaign schedule often had him making a dozen stops on weekends, a pace that over the summer resulted in his dropping ten or so pounds from his already long and lanky frame. That full-steam-ahead approach appears to have continued since, with Rauner, at the time of publication, forging ahead with a plan to speak with every member of the General Assembly.

“I don’t think he’s looking for ‘yes-people,’” says Rep. Jack Franks, one of the Democratic legislators Rauner named during the first debate between he and Quinn when asked to cite a member of the General Assembly from the opposite party he’d want to work with. “That was a big criticism I had of Gov. Quinn as well as Gov. Blagojevich. Often times if you disagreed with those gentlemen, they took it quite personally, and then it was difficult to work with them afterwards. They were just looking for validation, instead of saying, ‘wait there might be another way.’ I think Gov.-elect Rauner has a much different perspective. I think he wants people who challenge him.”

Rauner may have the leeway to be more open, however, because of his refusal during the campaign to take a position on an array of policy issues, a tactic that was a source of frustration for journalists, activists and presumably some voters. Likewise, because he didn’t respond, they won’t be able to accuse him of flip-flopping when he is forced to take a stand as governor.

Regardless, Franks says Rauner will not be able to go about this leadership role as if it were his own private company. “Government is a lot different. You have to have a much different ability to interact with people and to be collaborative and collegial. He’s not the boss here. We are coequal partners in government, and I think that Gov.-elect Rauner understands that this isn’t a company where he can dictate what happens, and if someone challenges him, he can fire them. That’s not like that anymore. Now he has to work with other people. And I think he does get it. I think he’s going to spend time in Springfield. I think he’s going to work the legislature. I think he’s taking the time to get to know the members of the General Assembly. And I have to give him a lot of credit for that.”

There are two legislators whom Rauner must work with more than any others: House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both of whom will continue to lead caucuses in the next General Assembly with enough Democrats to override a veto from Gov. Rauner. However, it’s doubtful the Democratic leaders will again use their large majorities to pass controversial measures, as they did with the 2011 tax hike. With a Republican in charge, they’re sure to demand Republican votes — chalk up another task on Rauner’s “to do” list.

Rauner’s relationship with Cullerton and Madigan is rooted in mud. He continually attacked them as corrupt failures in campaign ads — a joke around the Capitol imagines Cullerton and Madigan taking a long, hard look at those brochures before heading into future negotiations with the new governor. Still, it took less than two weeks for the three men to come together in a meeting described as “cordial” and “forward-looking.” By contrast, Edgar says despite having known Madigan before he became governor, it took four months before the speaker would sit down with him.

“It’s important that there is a working relationship between the various leaders. That there’s trust. Trust is probably the most important to get things done in Springfield. And I think for the last decade or so, trust has not been in abundant supply,” Edgar says. “And that has caused a big problem. Even when you had one party in control, they had difficulty working among themselves because I think there was a lack of trust.”

Though Edgar calls the meeting between Rauner, Cullerton and Madigan a “huge accomplishment,” early indications of cooperation could dissipate quickly after Rauner’s January 12 inauguration. By then, Rauner will be leading a state suddenly on the way to lose $1.9 billion in revenue in six months’ time. Rauner made a bevy of promises on the campaign trail, many of which are predicated on the state giving more cash — to schools and universities, to infrastructure needs, to keep open the Murray Developmental Center, to prisons, to the Department of Natural Resources — while he also vowed to freeze local property taxes. To some it’s confoundingly incongruous.

Poshard believes that Rauner is “convinced that with certain business practices in mind, for the state, and the incentives you might give the business side, that the economy can improve and revenues will be generated to the state in order to make up for those sort of things.” The retired SIU president says he believes Illinois should make permanent the 2011 tax increase. “I think I told Mr. Rauner, ‘I don’t know how, given the holes in the budget already, that the economy can improve rapidly enough to take care of those kinds of things,’” Poshard says. “Every governor-elect, when they become governor, will adjust to the office. There are some things that are espoused during a campaign that once a person takes office, they find to be unrealistic.” So despite his campaign promises to roll back the income tax rate in four years’ time to 3 percent, Rauner may well reverse.

While Rauner shies away from specifics, he did crack open the door during the campaign to bringing Illinois’ income tax up again, assuming it already dropped as scheduled to 3.75 percent. He also says Illinois needs to keep up with the times and begin to tax some services.

Either could quickly dampen Republican legislators’ excitement at once again having their party in control of the governor’s mansion. For years, the GOP’s minority status has allowed it to vote against revenue increases and to criticize Illinois’ budgets from the outside. Now, they’ll be asked by Rauner to share that politically itchy jacket and take those tough votes.

Rauner’s vast wealth may give him an edge. Republican leaders are already in his debt, given the millions Rauner poured into the state party and legislative races. At his first Statehouse news conference, in mid-November, Rauner brushed aside the notion of creating a political action committee. But he has previously hinted at interest in remaining a player — when his term limits initiative failed to make it on the ballot, he said he would work to elect legislators in support of the concept. He told WLS radio in 2013, “We’re gonna raise a PAC; we’re gonna raise a fund dedicated to the state legislature, members of both parties who take the tough votes.”

Republican lawmakers uninterested in challenges may well find themselves voting in ways they’d never have imagined, out
of sheer self-preservation.

Likewise, Rauner’s wealth may leave him free, as Bradley Tusk — a chief deputy to Blagojevich in the early years — put it, to do things dramatically differently. “A lot of people run for office … they need a job,” Tusk says.“But if you’re Rauner … you gotta go into it two feet first, not care about approval or what enemies call you. And if you do that well, the voters will respond.” Tusk says that’s how another former boss and famously wealthy(-ier) politician did it — New York’s former mayor, Mike Bloomberg. Though many, including Edgar, have lamented Rauner’s lack of government experience and say it could cause him problems as he attempts to navigate the bureaucratic minefield that is state government, Tusk says it could be an advantage. “There’s value in being naïve,” he says.

Bloomberg hasn’t made Rauner’s list of political role models, though he says he has often looked outside Illinois for inspiration: Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker, Michigan’s Gov. Rick Snyder, and Indiana’s previous governor, Mitch Daniels. Each of them made minimizing union strength a top priority.

The office of Illinois governor, regardless of who is in it, is regarded as one of the nation’s most powerful. Edgar says that is because of the amendatory veto.

Instead of outright rejecting legislation approved by the General Assembly, a governor can modify it. But the office has its limitations. Daniels moved to privatize Indiana’s prisons; Illinois law expressly forbids that. Whereas Daniels upon taking office immediately issued an executive order essentially stripping state employees of their collective bargaining rights, Edgar says Illinois’ executive orders must be far more limited in scope. Rauner cannot follow Daniels’ lead and single-handedly make Illinois a right-to-work state. Rauner would require the General Assembly to pass a law if he’s to make good on his campaign proposal of creating right to work areas or “opportunity zones,” where municipalities could decide if workers should be forced to pay union dues. He’ll be just as hard-pressed to go that route —Democrats continue to be unions’ traditional allies, but with state facilities the major employer in some downstate districts, many an Illinois Republican count labor as a friend, too. It was a Republican, former Gov. James R. Thompson, who gave Illinois’ public employees the right to unionize.

Already, unions are on edge about Rauner, to say the least. Rarely has labor been so unified as it was in its failed mission to topple Rauner’s candidacy. “He signaled from the beginning that he had this unalloyed hostility toward labor unions, and we were shocked, frankly. I’d never seen a candidate who … just generalized … and assaulted labor union in the way that he did,” says Roberta Lynch, the new director of AFSCME Council 31, Illinois’ largest public employee union. She represents 40,000 state workers who will soon call Rauner “boss.”

While Rauner did move away from his early consistent bashing of “government union bosses” after the primary, fears and hostility from labor will not quickly ease. Already Lynch says she’s disappointed in the lack of union representation on Rauner’s transition team, and that while Rauner has been making calls to prominent players in government, he had not, as of this writing, called her. When asked if she’ll be able to trust him, Lynch responded, “I don’t know.” Still, she’s careful to take a wait and see approach.

Such campaign wounds will have little time to be soothed, and in fact, could soon get irritated. A law passed after the 2010 election bars a collective bargaining agreement from lasting more than six months past a governor’s term, which means AFSCME’s current contract with the state expires June 30. That may sound far away, but negotiating the contract takes months.

It’s a huge deal, says Edgar, and Rauner will be the driving force.

Edgar says Rauner will be well-served to move away from campaign mode and to focus on being governor to all of Illinois, and to realize that running government is not the same as running a business.

“I think there are some things he’s going to get involved in he never dreamed he’d ever have to get involved in. And I think he watched what’s happened with the last three governors, and that hasn’t been real good. I think he wants to change that. I think we’re going to have a change. That’s why people voted for him. They realized we needed a change,” Edgar says. “He’s been given a huge opportunity, and you need to make sure you don’t abuse that opportunity, and you don’t waste it.”

Illinois Issues, January 2015