by Dave Roeder, Innovation Illinois Research Fellow
in The Belleville News-Democrat 10/20/16
With any luck, the nation will awake on Nov. 9 from a months-long nightmare in which its campaign for president turned into a Jerry Springer episode. If logic and decency prevail, Donald Trump will be sent back to hawking real estate, wine, wallets, fake universities, or anything else worthy of his name.
As a failed candidate for president, he could no longer be a clear and present danger to the country, especially the aspirations of its middle class. But here in Illinois, we’ll still have our issues after the election with what can be called our mini-Trump.
It’s Gov. Bruce Rauner, who operates differently from The Donald while still sharing many similarities. No one would accuse Rauner of harboring Trump’s boorish and sexist nature, but he governs the way a President Trump might.
Consider the main event of Rauner’s first two years in office, the lack of a state budget and the reduction of services unimportant to those in his social circle. Couldn’t you just see Trump, who has mused about the advisability of the U.S. Treasury not paying its debts, forcing a federal shutdown?
Both are privileged men with little understanding of compromise and building coalitions. While Trump uses Twitter to take down his enemies, Rauner taps his fortune to saturate the state with ads casting foes as corrupt.
Both men campaigned on platitudes, not policy, so you couldn’t be sure of what you were getting. Rauner sold a vision of the state facing economic decline and fiscal hardship. He beat an incumbent who presided over higher business investment, lower unemployment and better state budgets that cut the backlog of overdue bills and won praise from the bond-rating agencies.
The record couldn’t stand up to Rauner fanning flames about an income-tax increase, even though Illinois’ flat rate still compared favorably with the sliding rates of other Midwestern states. When Rauner said he’d “bring back Illinois,” it was his version of Trump’s “make America great again,” fakery built on falsehoods.
By standing down and never negotiating with the Legislature over a responsible budget, Rauner has let part of the tax increase lapse and pushed the state back into decline. Business leaders can’t stand uncertainty over taxes and escalating public debt, so they put off investments in Illinois or bypass the state altogether. Unemployment is rising under this governor, who is now creating the economic rot he campaigned against.
Trump and Rauner both are taking unique tolls on democracy. Trump’s obsession with sex, lies and insults has debased the national discussion about the presidency, while Rauner has purchased the Illinois Republican Party outright, personally accounting for nearly all the $21 million it has reported raising in this election cycle, mostly for targeted legislative races.
More millions for GOP causes have come from Rauner’s fundraising circle–real estate executive Sam Zell, hedge fund manager Ken Griffin and Richard Uihlein, chief executive of packaging company Uline Corp. Uihlein’s views on small government didn’t prevent him from playing the tax incentive game when he moved his corporate headquarters from northeast Illinois to southeast Wisconsin.
Their money is paying for commercials now airing for Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger and for term limits, when there is nothing about that issue on the ballot. It’s more about spurring Republican turnout than actually getting a reform initiative passed.
There should be an element of “voter’s remorse” involved with Rauner. In the 2014 election, people bought a four-year contract on the bill of goods he sold, yet they also endorsed a higher minimum wage and raising taxes on million-dollar incomes. Rauner is against both things.
In a presidential year, the electorate is sometimes a little more attentive. After they decide if Trump’s going back to the private sector, Illinois voters going down the ballot will face head-on the Rauner oligarchy and how much stronger they want it to be.