July 15, 2015



Bruce Rauner for president? The thought makes many Illinoisans cringe, but it's not implausible. Rauner could be a contender in 2020 if he is re-elected as governor in 2018.

That's Rauner's game plan. His task is simple: He need not govern, unlike his fellow Republican governors in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. They have Republican state legislative majorities. They must propose and enact, bear the consequences, and face the voters' wrath. Not Rauner. All he need do is propose.

Rauner must create the perception that the General Assembly's lopsided Democratic majorities are misgoverning and that he stands athwart the abyss. He is against tax hikes and prevailing and minimum wage hikes and for a balanced budget, pension, tort and workers' compensation reforms, right to work and term limits. None of those initiatives will pass. Rauner is not hesitant to excoriate public sector unions, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton. He's acting like a Republican, and he's keeping his campaign promise to "shake up Springfield."

Rauner's anti-tax, anti-union agenda is going nowhere. The question is whether he is going somewhere. For the governor, Springfield's gridlock is a win-win-win situation. First, he cannot be blamed for his failure to implement his agenda; the Democrats won't allow it. Second, he won't incur the wrath the state's pro-Democratic voters -- the unions, the liberals, state workers -- by enacting his proposals, as did governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio and Rick Snyder of Michigan. People don't get mad about something that didn't happen, and he is smartly positioning himself so that, if there is a state government shutdown, he can blame Madigan and the Democrats for not passing a balanced budget. Rauner learned from Newt Gingrich's mistakes. Third, he is grabbing the attention of the national Republican base. It's beginning to dawn on conservatives nationwide that Illinois has a governor who is not in the mold of Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar or George Ryan -- in other words, not a compromiser and not a capitulator.

Rauner also has the resources to go on television, reiterate his promise to "shake up Springfield" and castigate the Democrats for failing to help him do so. He's been running television ads in prime time for the past 2 months. Rauner clearly understands that he must stay on the offense, keep on message, portray the legislature as obstructionary, and keep the Democrats on defense. So far, he has been extraordinarily successful.

Money is no object. Super-rich business tycoons, led by Sam Zell, funded Rauner's Turnaround Illinois political action committee with $11 million, and Rauner added another $500,000 of his own. The committee already has spent $2 million on a spate of ads featuring the governor. That "Super PAC" money, by statute, can only be used for "advocacy," not to elect Republicans in 2016. A "Super PAC" cannot endorse, but it can attack. Rauner's campaign committee had $20 million on hand as of April 1, money that he can give to Republican candidates. The committee is being readied for 2016, when it will "advocate" the defeat of a multitude of Democratic legislators, blasting them as tax hikers and as part of the failed "Springfield culture." It also will "advocate" on behalf of Leslie Munger, Rauner's appointee as state comptroller.

With Rauner as governor, there is now fund-raising parity. If the Madigan-Cullerton combine can raise $15 million to $20 million from special interests each election cycle, the Rauner machine can equal or exceed that.

There are two pre-conditions to Rauner's success. First, the Democrats' super majority in the General Assembly must do something dastardly or stupid, like raising the sales tax or the income tax. The Democrats' majority is 39-20 in the Senate and 71-47 in the House, so they can pass their "balanced budget," even in overtime, as they have a majority of more than 60 percent. Rauner has masterfully shifted the playing field. His proposed 2016 budget cuts spending by 5 percent, which supposedly will balance revenue and expenditures, while the Democrats' budget cuts spending by 2.5 percent, which leaves a $5 billion shortfall. Rauner is challenging the Democrats to either pass his budget with significant social service and education cuts and no tax hikes or to pass their budget with no cuts and a tax hike. Either way, the Democrats are in a bind.

If the Democrats accept Rauner's austerity budget, they will inflame their "social welfare" base and the multitude of vendors and beneficiaries thereof. "We are an essential service," they will wail, but they won't be able to attack Rauner as a heartless Scrooge if the Democrats sign on to his budget. If the Democrats insist on higher spending, they will have to raise taxes, and they will have to pass the hikes with only votes from Democrats. If they don't balance the budget, the government will shut down and they will be blamed. If they pass a budget with tax hikes, Rauner can veto it, which means that every Democratic legislator will have to vote to override the veto, which requires a three-fifths vote.

The media and the liberals will decry Rauner's obstinacy and blame him for the government shutdown, but the governor is again in a win-win situation. He will simply aver that he promised to oppose any tax hikes, that he's keeping his promise, and that if the Democrats want their budget, they can override his veto. If the government shuts down, it's the Democrats' fault. The goal is to make every Democratic incumbent attackable in 2016 as "pro-tax."

The key for Rauner and the Republicans is to have no complicity. In the past Madigan, who has been the speaker for 31 of the past 33 years, has demanded that Republicans sign on to tax hikes. Thompson, Edgar and Ryan capitulated. Income tax hikes were passed by a bipartisan majority, which meant that the Republicans were as culpable as the Democrats, and if Republican legislators vote with the Democrats to raise the state income tax, as they did in 1983, 1987 and 1991, the issue is off the table. If the Republicans sign on, as Madigan insists, it's checkmate. Rauner wants no checkmate in 2016.

The Democrats' "solution" of passing a fiscal year 2016 month-to-month budget is a tactical Rauner victory. It keeps state employees and vendors paid, but each month's expenditures are at least 10 percent more than each month's revenues. Fiscal year 2016 ends on June 30, 2016. By next May, the whole year's budget will have been exhausted in 10 months.

The second pre-condition is recruitment. To defeat a "pro-tax" Democrat on the ballot, there has to be a Republican on the ballot. In 2014 there were 118 contests for state representative and 20 for state senator, and the Democratic candidate was unopposed in a third of the contests. Dangling $11 million in indirect support may encourage a lot of ambitious Republicans to run for the General Assembly.

However, there needs to be a "reality check." Potential Republican legislative aspirants are not going to get cash from Rauner, in the manner that Democrats get cash and in-kind services, mailings and staff from Madigan and Cullerton. In 2014, for example, in the northwest suburban Park Ridge/Des Plaines 55th Illinois House District, Democratic incumbent Marty Moylan got almost $1 million of in-kind services from Madigan in the form of mailings and staff. Rauner's political action committee can't do likewise. It will send out nasty anti-incumbent mailings. Nothing more.

That makes recruiting difficult. Every aspiring politician wants to run on other people's money. An example is the Northwest Side 10th Illinois Senate District, where Rauner's recruitment has been fast and furious . . . and unfulfilled. The incumbent state senator is Democrat John Mulroe, and the state representatives are Rob Martwick (D-19) and Mike McAuliffe (R-20).

McAuliffe represents the west half of the district, which takes in most of the 41st Ward, Rosemont, Norridge, Harwood Heights and some western suburbs. Martwick's district contains the 45th and 38th wards. McAuliffe will vote against any tax hike; Martwick won't.

Martwick said that he doesn't want to vote to raise taxes, but he noted that the states adjacent to Illinois have higher per capita sales and income taxes than Illinois. Martwick said that restoring the temporary" 2013 personal and corporate income tax increase, which lapsed on Jan. 1, would generate $3.2 billion, partially closing the budget hole.

Mulroe was elected in 2010, defeating Brian Doherty 30,087-24,203, and he was unopposed in 2012. Martwick was elected unopposed in 2012, succeeding Democrat Joe Lyons, and he was re-elected unopposed in 2014. Neither is very well known, neither has much of an organizational base, and each could easily be defined with the expenditure of $200,000-plus in negative ads and mailings as a tax hiker and a Springfield insider. As of April 1, Mulroe had $380,137 in cash on hand, and Martwick had $112,461. Mulroe ally Mary O'Connor lost her re-election bid for 41st Ward alderman earlier this year, so Mulroe has no precinct operation.

No credible Republican candidate has surfaced. Harwood Heights Mayor Arlene Jezierny and Trustee Mike Gadzinski won't oppose Mulroe, and losing 45th Ward aldermanic candidate John Garrido won't oppose Martwick.

The same problem exists in Moylan's district. The Republicans can't find a candidate.

Rauner is positioning himself for re-election in 2018. As for 2020, Rauner needs Hillary Clinton to win in 2016. If a Republican wins in 2016, Rauner can forget the presidency. He won't be around in 2024.

This much is clear: Madigan, long the undisputed genius of Illinois politics, has met his match.

Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.