Rauner’s staff shake-up more than insider business


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Gov. Bruce Rauner’s second major staff shake-up in less than two months is more than just a matter of inside baseball, lawmakers and observers said Thursday.

But with the announcement late Thursday afternoon that the four legislative leaders had reached an “agreement on principle” on school funding reform, it appears the latest changes did not derail a solution to the major issue facing state government at the moment.

Still, the exit of four communications staff just weeks after they were hired doesn’t inspire confidence in the Rauner administration as it embarks on a re-election effort, said retired University of Illinois Springfield political scientist Kent Redfield.


“Good staff is largely invisible,” Redfield said. “If the staff is the story, that takes away from being able to focus on the message and the policy. Staff chaos becomes one more negative thing that fits into the narrative that Rauner isn’t up to the job.”

Late Thursday evening, Rauner’s office also announced that general counsel Dennis Murashko also was leaving at the end of August, “to pursue opportunities in the private sector.”

Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, has worked as a chief of staff to two central Illinois congressmen before service in the House.

“I think the communications staff that left, that was the right thing to do,” Butler said. “Obviously, they made a major misstep in the statement they put out the other day. I think they were held accountable for it.”

Butler said that turnover is part of the business and that it is “not out of the realm of possibility for anyone that gets hired into either a public or private job that it’s just not a good fit. Obviously, that’s what happened this week.”

Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, one of the negotiators on school funding reform, said there is cause for concern as Rauner and state legislators head into the 2018 election campaign.

“We have approached the period where we’d like to see a first-term governor hitting his stride,” Barickman said. “Significant turnovers is obviously not that. That politically causes concerns. On issues of policy, having a strong and effective governor is clearly important to advancing a Republican agenda.”


Barickman said as Rauner replaces staff, he should look for people with hands-on experience in Illinois government.

“This is a time he could look to people who have been around the Capitol and the legislative process,” Barickman said.

Rauner ran as an outsider to Illinois politics and first brought in senior staff more familiar with Washington than Illinois, Barickman said.

“Illinois politics is its own breed,” he said. “I think he could benefit from some senior staff who have established relationships with the legislative branch.”

Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights was one of the Republicans who broke ranks with Rauner in July and voted for the budget. He said staff changes can appear to be inside baseball to the public, but turnover can make lawmakers’ jobs more difficult.

“Changing personnel makes it difficult to understand what the governor’s policies are and what he’s going to do and who you have to talk to,” Harris said.

Like Barickman, Harris said that initially Rauner brought in skilled people, although their backgrounds were more about Washington than Illinois.

“They were quality people who didn’t have any depth of experience in Illinois state government,” he said. “It helps to have experienced folks working for you who know the background of the government they are working in.”

Although the leaders said they reached agreement on principle on a school funding reform compromise, Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said the staff turnover underscores a problem Democrats have had trying to negotiate a compromise.

“We’ve been struggling to understand what the governor’s position is on school funding for months now,” Manar said before the leaders’ announcement. “Further turmoil in the governor’s office, which has been occurring for months now, makes it very difficult to have a serious negotiation with him.”


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