Gov. Bruce Rauner has said for the past several days that
he’s open to just about any sort of compromise in order to get school funding
reform signed into law.
For example, he recently told Amanda Vinicky on Public
Television’s “Chicago Tonight” program that there was nothing on his
list that he had to have. “Nothing,” he said when asked to clarify.
“Absolutely nothing has to happen. The only principle we should be guided
by is what’s best for our children, what treats them all the same so they have
the best chance they can at the American dream.”
That could be a very big caveat. It more than just implies
that he intends to stick to his guns on stripping money from the Chicago Public
Schools, which he contends is given special treatment in the education funding
reform bill he vetoed. The Democrats will most definitely not like that.
But even if the negotiations among the four legislative
leaders do produce some progress, some folks are still doubtful that Gov.
Rauner can bring himself to sign the bill, or that his new staff can get him to
stick to his word.
If you go back to 2015, you may remember that after weeks of
negotiations over a stopgap budget and after a tentative deal had been reached,
Rauner decided during the ensuing weekend that he had some additional demands
that would clearly be unacceptable to the Democrats. His top staff fought back
hard, insisting that he couldn’t back out after accepting terms. Rauner signed
More recently, near the end of June, you might recall that
Rauner’s office publicly berated the Democrats for not officially transmitting
the Chicago gun crimes bill to his desk in order to deliberately deprive the
governor of a “win.” The Democrats denied they had any such
intentions and the legislation was quickly sent to Rauner. The governor’s staff
set up a press conference for the very next day and Chicago’s police
superintendent came down to the Statehouse for the signing ceremony.
Just before he was set to sign the bill, however, Rauner
blew up at his communications staff over a single sentence in a Chicago Tribune
article which detailed his battle with Mayor Rahm Emanuel about the sale of the
Thompson Center. As it turns out, Rauner had misread the sentence, but the
blowup was “like nothing I had seen before,” said one person who was
And then the governor reportedly had second thoughts about
signing the gun bill, other sources say. Mind you, this was just before the
signing ceremony was supposed to begin.
A task force inserted into the legislation to help the
Illinois State Police combat violent crimes was what reportedly set him off.
Sources say he flip-flopped and wanted to veto the bill. Again, this was
minutes before he was set to publicly sign the thing with Chicago’s most senior
cop on his way to town.
His top staff had to intervene again and eventually
convinced him to calm down and sign the bill.
Most of those staffers had been with Gov. Rauner since the
campaign. They’d learned over the years how to deal with him and, since they
helped get him to the governor’s office, Rauner trusted them enough to
eventually listen. But Rauner fired some of them when he brought in far-right
Illinois Policy Institute staffers and the rest quit in disgust.
Nobody on his current upper echelon staff has a similar
personal history with Rauner. And so far, nobody on that staff appears to have
the ability to steer him in the right direction. They’re letting Bruce be
Bruce, and that has its consequences.
Rauner’s former staffers negotiated what started out as a
quasi “sanctuary state” bill for illegal immigrants to a point that was even
further to the right than where the governor wanted to be. While he is expected
to sign the bill as I write this, Rauner hedged publicly about it during an
appearance on the Fox News Channel and proponents couldn’t get him to firmly
commit to make it a law.
So, there’s naturally some informed doubt that the governor
will be able to bring himself to sign something as big and important as an
education funding reform bill. The governor publicly denied last week that the
First Lady has become more involved in his administration, but by all accounts
she most certainly has and she now may be the only hope of keeping him on
track. This piece of legislation will forever define him, one way or another.
If it’s passed over his veto (in whatever form), he may never live it down.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and
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