Friday, January 2, 2015

Is Rauner headed down political path reminiscent of Blagojevich era?

Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner may want to believe he’s unique and special and is Illinois’ political savior, but there’s a part of me who wonders if the next four years are going to turn into a fracas that will make the Rod Blagojevich years seem meek and quiet by comparison.

Because the overbearing way Rod Blagojevich tried to run state government is what is popping into my mind when I see the tactics being used by Rauner these days.

BY TACTICS, I’M referring to that memorandum from his budgetary staff that Rauner made sure was publicly distributed. The one headed “Sins of the Past and Dishonest State Budgets.”

It shows that the cheap rhetoric we heard during the campaign season in which he tried to make Pat Quinn out to be a venal, corrupt hack is going to be the same line of logic he’s going to continue to spew.

“Illinois’ massive budget hole is the direct result of previous governors and General Assemblies giving away benefits they knew the state couldn’t afford, deploying fundamentally dishonest budget practices and kicking the can down the road,” the memo said.

We’re probably going to continue to get accounts of how everything that goes wrong during the Rauner Administration (which we’re 10 days away from now) is somehow Pat Quinn’s fault, and how the way the General Assembly can help to resolve problems is to shut up and do what the governor tells them to do.

THAT MAY WELL be the way a corporate CEO can get away with behaving, because if their company goes out of business due to management ineptitude it’s just themselves who get hurt.

Government isn’t business, and can’t be run in the same way. It has responsibilities that need to be fulfilled, even if certain ideologically-inclined people think the way to balance a government budget is to cut the services they’d prefer not to offer.

It doesn’t work that way.

It’s not just the memo that grates on my nerves these days.

THERE’S ALSO THE Crain’s Chicago Business report this week that points out the $20 million (and possibly growing) fund Rauner has created in his campaign operation. Rauner says he’s not saving now for a 2018 re-election bid. The money will be spent to have a partisan political operation to influence government officials to go along with his desires.

The money is coming partly from Rauner himself (he’s been elected governor, and is still spending his own cash on his campaigning), but also from business executives Ken Griffin and Dick Uihlein – who gave massive amounts of money to the election last year.

That money could wind up paying for future media campaigns meant to sling mud at legislators who don’t go along with the governor’s desires. Which would mean the ugliness of the 2014 election cycle could well become the style of governing for Rauner – “Shut up and do what you’re told, or else!”

If that becomes true, it won’t be long before we all (even those of us who were eager to dump Quinn from office) start counting down the days until the November 2018 election when this Rauner term would be over.

NOW HOW DO I bring up a Blagojevich comparison?

Let’s recall the ugly relations that developed between Blagojevich and a General Assembly that theoretically should have been aligned with the former governor.

We all heard stories of how Blagojevich felt compelled to put his foot down on the neck of Democratic leaders, including Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who snubbed him when he was a mere legislator from the Lincoln Square neighborhood back in the early 1990s.

But that attitude of wanting to let the legislators know who the “boss” truly was created the tensions that rose to outright hatred so that when Blagojevich encountered his legal problems, his alleged allies were more than eager to go along with the notion of impeachment.

I COULD ENVISION Rauner becoming so overbearing that the political people in Springfield will look for excuses to turn on him.

Heaven forbid he should ever do anything in coming years that actually attracts the attention of federal prosecutors. Because he could create a mess of people eager to believe the worst – which is actually the last thing we need in Chicago and Illinois.

Rauner needs to be reminded that as governor, he is head of the executive branch of government – which is equal to the legislative and judicial branches. It’s not like he’s the mayor of Chicago who can get away with such strong-arm tactics. The opposition will speak up.

Being governor is nice and has influence, but it doesn’t make him the king. We all know that only Mel Brooks as Louis XVI is the King, and it’s good for him.


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