- Jamie Ramsay
Bruce Rauner released an ad in October that neatly summarizes his tenure as Illinois governor. The campaign commercial features the Republican governors of Wisconsin, Indiana, and Missouri, boasting about how awesome their state economies are, and sneering at Illinois for its financial disarray and economic doldrums. Rauner's state is an ineptly governed disaster zone . . . but it's not his fault! The GOP governors claim that house speaker Michael Madigan is at fault.
That's Rauner's go-to strategy: he celebrates the misery of his constituents because he's convinced himself that he can blame that misery on someone else. That game plan hasn't worked all that well so far. Rauner is so despised that even the conservative National Review named him the worst Republican governor in America. As of the beginning of November, according to a Morning Consult poll, Rauner was the fifth-least-popular governor in the country, and the least popular first-term governor, with 30 percent approval and 55 percent disapproval. Those dismal numbers rival President Trump's.
While Rauner has mostly eschewed Trumplike open race-baiting and bigotry, in other respects his 2014 election presaged the nation's current orgy of farcical mean-spirited incompetence. A billionaire equity fund manager, Rauner had no political experience to speak of before he ran for governor. Like Trump, he made vague promises that his experience in the private sector would magically allow him to get things done, shake things up, and make government work like a business.
Admittedly, Rauner, unlike Trump, was at least a successful businessman. But running a business and running a government are, it turns out, very different. Among other things, when you screw up a government, a lot more people suffer. Rauner figured he could waltz into Springfield and unilaterally slash taxes and kneecap unions. When Democratic lawmakers pushed back, Rauner threw a tantrum that has now lasted for three years and shows no signs of abating. He refused to sign a budget, and unable to make payments, the state was forced to rack up $14.5 billion in debt. The state's bond status was almost downgraded to junk. State universities have had their credit dropped to junk status as well. Northeastern University had to force teachers and staff to take furlough days, and tuition resources for poor students were slashed. Public school budgets and resources have been cut too; so have social services such as mental health services for teens. Thanks in part to the disarray, Illinois had the dubious distinction of losing more residents than any other state in 2016.
Through it all, the obscenely wealthy Rauner squats amid his piles of money and blames everyone but himself for beggaring his state. He whines that it's the fault of Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, or of Mike Madigan, or of Chicago teachers—whom he called "virtually illiterate" in an e-mail. Nobody is fooled, and unless Illinois is very, very unlucky, Rauner will be out on his ass in 2018. His successor will inherit a weaker, meaner, broken state, but Rauner won't care. Immiserating children is a small price to pay for the chance to smugly say it's someone else's fault. v