The good and the bad: a year in the life of the governor of Illinois
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
I find myself liking Gov. Bruce Rauner, despite my best efforts otherwise. He’s easy to dislike. For one thing, he’s far too intransigent. More than seven months after the state should have had a budget in place, making life normal for most people who rely on state services, he’s standing like a stone wall, refusing to budge on things like taxes and reforms. What most change-oriented elected officials attempt to do in a first term, he tried to do in his first year, and the results have been disastrous.
He’s also not nearly transparent enough. He campaigned that he was going to be one of the most open governors we’ve ever seen. And yet, one only has to look at the daily schedule he provides the media to know differently. Either he doesn’t have nearly enough to do or he’s failing to list about 90 percent of what he does in a day’s time. Everyone knows he’s got one of the hardest jobs in the state, so why isn’t he more forthright about the meetings, appearances and arm-bending that’s going on?
And then there’s this: So poorly thought out has been this blockade on spending that the courts have had to step in several times and order that obligatory expenses be paid. Fortune has not shined as brightly on others. Social service agencies scaled back or closed doors because state money was not coming in. Vendors aren’t being paid. Unionized state workers are being treated like second-class citizens. And, for a while there, even lottery winners thought their luck had run out.
And, and, and.
Yet, somewhere in the middle of our chaos is a governor who sees this state for what it has become and is trying to do something about it. In the world of politics, that can be a nasty mess, a little like spitting into a gale-force wind headed right at you. He’s a modern-day “Underdog,” donning a Republican cape while tackling the cartoonish meanies in the Democratic House and Senate.
The governor didn’t accomplish much in his first year, but the one thing he did do is drive home a point that will stay with Illinoisans long after he’s gone. To wit: The business of government can’t be left to chance. It’s got to be tended and nurtured, occasionally cut back like a sprawling plant, trimmed enough to let blooms stand tall, not unruly.
Call him a dirty, rotten scoundrel, if you will, because in some ways he appears heartless. But also call him a prudent steward of public money. Illinois has had a run of governors who allowed the bull to run loose in their fiscal china shop. It finally has a guy in office who knows something has to be done, and he’s trying to do it.
I admire a man who stands on two feet and is willing to take heat for what he believes. We elected a political neophyte to run state like a business. He’s trying to do just that.
Meanwhile, he’s got three more years to stump for reforms that will make business feel more at home in the Land of Lincoln. I think he needs all three. Illinois didn’t become broke overnight, and it can’t be fixed that way either.
Dennis Grubaugh is editor and partner of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com or (618) 977-6865.