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Illinois governor still won’t say Trump’s name in public, but they talked in private

Illinois+Gov.+Bruce+Rauner+speaks+at+the+Illinois+State+Fair+on+Aug.+17%2C+2016%2C+in+Springfield.+%28Anthony+Souffle%2FChicago+Tribune%2FTNS%29
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks at the Illinois State Fair on Aug. 17, 2016, in Springfield. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks at the Illinois State Fair on Aug. 17, 2016, in Springfield. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks at the Illinois State Fair on Aug. 17, 2016, in Springfield. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

By Monique Garcia | Chicago Tribune

Gov. Bruce Rauner still isn’t uttering Donald Trump’s name in public, but the governor did drop this nugget on Wednesday: He spoke to the president-elect for the first time late last week.

The Republican governor told a group of business owners gathered in Springfield to discuss his stalled economic agenda that he spoke with Trump on Friday and is confident Illinois would have a strong voice in Washington.

“I’ve had some good conversations with the new administration in Washington because I want to try to figure out if we can work together, because I want Illinois to benefit from the changes coming,” Rauner said.

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“I talked with the president-elect last Friday afternoon. We talked about working together. It was a good, good, positive conversation. I had never spoken with him before,” Rauner said. “Two of his most senior folks in his administration are good personal friends of mine, and allies of mine in politics, so we’re going to have a voice and a good relationship.”

Afterward, Rauner aides declined to name the two people the governor was talking about or to provide more details about what was said between the two, including how the meeting came to be.

Rauner has two allies with Trump ties. Ronald Gidwitz, a businessman, entrepreneur and mainstay of Republican politics, previously chaired Rauner’s campaign before leading fundraising efforts in Illinois for Trump. Nick Ayers, who ran Rauner’s successful 2014 bid for office, headed Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s campaign.

Rauner has spent the better part of the past year avoiding saying Trump’s name out loud, a political calculation designed to not rock the boat as the governor poured tens of millions of dollars into state legislative races as he works to chip away at the Democratic majority in the legislature.

The governor didn’t want to be seen as embracing the controversial Trump lest he alienate moderate voters who did not support the businessman and onetime reality TV star, but Rauner also didn’t want to speak out against him and invoke Trump’s wrath, or anger his fervent supporters.

That didn’t stop a Democratic super political action committee from airing millions of dollars in TV ads tying Rauner to Trump using a sound bite in which the governor said he would support whoever the Republican nominee for president ended up being.

It’s a fine line Rauner will have to continue to walk as Trump takes office and the governor prepares for a 2018 re-election campaign.

Since Trump’s election last week, Rauner has used the terms the “Trump administration” or “president-elect.” Asked last week if he would spend the next two years avoiding saying the name “Donald Trump,” Rauner laughed.

On Wednesday, Rauner said he was particularly hopeful about the prospects of revitalizing the state’s manufacturing sector under Trump, saying “I believe they are committed to doing that and, boy, am I with them.”

Rauner has pushed strongly for changes to the state’s workers’ compensation system for employees hurt on the job, contending that high costs have hurt Illinois’ manufacturers. He wants tougher standards for workers to prove they were hurt on the job, tying those changes and others to a sweeping budget deal that also likely would include big cuts and tax increases.

Democrats have opposed Rauner’s economic agenda, saying it would hurt working families and should be considered separately from the budget.

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(c) 2016 the Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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