Opinion: Gov. Rauner’s interim grade: An epic F


Daily Egyptian file photo.

By Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune

Bruce Rauner is a failed governor.

Fifteen months after the wealthy Republican venture capitalist was sworn in to his first elected office, the state he was elected to lead is in worse shape by nearly every measure than the state he inherited from his Democratic predecessor.

The backlog of unpaid bills is higher, as is the unemployment rate and the largest-in-the-nation unfunded public pension liability. We were one of just six states that showed a net loss in private sector jobs last year. Accordingly, our credit rating has continued to fall, meaning it will cost us even more than anticipated to dig out of a financial hole that’s growing at an estimated rate of $33 million every day.


Illinois still doesn’t have — and at this rate probably never will have — a budget for the fiscal year that began last July, which has put many human service providers and public colleges and universities into a financial crisis.

Now, yes, it’s quite true that Rauner didn’t create the underlying economic problems facing Illinois — those came about due to decades of irresponsible governance, some of it bipartisan, much of it Democratic.

But he’s made those problems worse.

He campaigned for office promising to “shake up Springfield.” Instead he has cold-cocked it.

By refusing to negotiate on the budget until the Democrats who control the General Assembly enact key provisions of his pro-business, anti-union agenda, he’s not only generated an unending number of heart-tugging stories of disadvantaged and disabled people suffering from a loss of state funding, he’s also created a climate of uncertainty that makes employers and credit-rating agencies wary.

Calling him a failure may sound harsh, but it’s fittingly Rauneresque.

After all, he bashed away at Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn during the 2014 campaign, branding him a “complete failure,” “a massive failure” and so on, even though, under Quinn, the unemployment rate, discretionary spending, and the number of state employees had fallen, and even though Illinois was at last making the required contributions to the state’s pension funds and whittling down the backlog of bills.


Earlier this year, Rauner whacked his wine-drinking buddy, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, by charging that Emanuel has “failed on public safety, he’s failed on schools, he’s failed on jobs in the neighborhoods, he’s failed on taxes, he’s failed on reforms.”

By the governor’s own standards, he’s failed on jobs, on human services, on pensions, on the debt and on the deficit.

He has failed to build consensus and bipartisan trust, failed to build political momentum with incremental victories and failed to show any talent for leadership over a divided government.

Sure, Democratic legislative leaders have stood squarely in his way, as they sometimes stood in Quinn’s way, refusing to OK even the most popular items, such as legislative term limits, on Rauner’s so-called turnaround agenda.

Who didn’t see that coming?

The Democrats, predictably, hung on to strong majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly in the 2014 election as Rauner was beating Quinn with 50.3 percent of the vote.

Yet the new governor swaggered into office as though he’d won a mandate that would force veteran Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and his caucus to enact a Republican wishlist of structural changes. He used his bully pulpit to brand Madigan and Democratic Senate President John Cullerton as failures and to insinuate that they’re crooked.

Swagger and insult work when you’re a CEO taking over a troubled company or, sometimes, when you’re an elected official with legislative winds at your back. But not when you’re a rookie governor holding a weak political hand.

He failed when he tried to go city-by-city throughout the state shortly after his inauguration to build local support for his agenda.

He failed last year when he paid “superstar” budget consultant Donna Arduin $165,000 for eight months of work in which she did little but help him craft a spending plan for this fiscal year that relied on $2 billion in phantom savings.

He failed in February when he put forth a budget for next year with a $3.5 billion hole in it.

He failed last month in the primary elections when he tried to unseat a Republican state senator who’d cast pro-union votes and tried to retain a Democratic state representative who’d supported him at key moments.

And he’s failing every day that he doubles down on the idea that if the state’s economic woes just get bad enough, if unfortunate people just suffer enough, Democratic lawmakers will break down and vote as Republicans.

Can he turn things around? Stop overreaching and picking unnecessary fights and start practicing the art of the possible?

Sure. He has 33 months left in this term to show himself as a statesman and visionary tactician, the author of the Illinois Miracle, instead of the foundering ideologue he has so far appeared to be.

But for now and until further notice, call him “Failed Gov. Bruce Rauner” and hope that, somehow, the title doesn’t stick.


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