News Local/State

Capitol Insiders Provide Insight for Governor Bruce Rauner

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner presents his term limit petition in Springfield on Wednesday.

New Governor Bruce Rauner, during a campaign appearance in 2014. (Brian Mackey/IPR)

Inauguration day is time for pomp; lofty speeches; patriotic songs. But oh so soon, the time for celebrations will stop, and the difficult work of running a state will begin.

If ever there was someone prepared for such a job -- put partisanship aside here, I'm speaking strictly from a resume standpoint --  Jim Edgar would make the list. When he became governor in 1991, he'd already served as Secretary of State, a state legislator, an aide to the governor and an aide to the speaker. And yet, Edgar says he still had a lot to learn. "I gotta say, that there were a lot of things when I became governor, I just didn't know. Wasn't prepared for," said Edgar.

Rauner, Edgar says, is going to have to learn a lot. And quick. Edgar -- like Rauner-- is a Republican.  He says especially given Rauner's inexperience in government, he's going to make mistakes. But, he says, everyone does.

Edgar says what's imperative is Rauner learn from them, and that he prioritize. While an education and economic development plan are important, that can wait."I've told him, I said, 'to me the most important things for you is to get a handle on the budget, and to put your staff together,"' said Edgar.

While Rauner hasn't revealed his budget plans yet -- or even revealed if he has a plan -- he has begun filling out his administration.

He's named top aides -- at least a half dozen, including his chief of staff are alums of GOP U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk's office; many helped run Rauner's campaign.

And he's begun to announce key Cabinet positions.

"Who Rauner chooses is important," said Ron Gidwitz; Gidwitz is himself a wealthy businessman who failed in his bid for governor in 2006.  Gidwitz was a key backer of Rauner early on this election cycle.

"Nobody's going to do this all by themselves, it's all a question of picking the right people and delegating. And that's what the governor's going to do. I'm very excited given the prospects of people he's already announced and the ones he will be announcing," said Gidwitz.Gidwitz didn't say who'll be part of that next round of appointments.

I caught Gidwitz as he was leaving the inauguration ceremony to go to lunch with Greg Baise -- the head of the Illinois Manufacturer's Association.

Baise is a well-known lobbyist, and his association carries sway in Springfield. Perhaps more than ever now; the IMA was an early endorser of Rauner, and followed that up by giving $100,000 to Rauner's inaugural festivities.

Baises's recommendation for Rauner was strong leadership for Illinois.

"He's got to be able to provide clear vision; one of the problem's the state's had the past twelve years is not strong executive leadership. Legisltures can't lead. Governors can. And that's what we hope Bruce Rauner will do," said Baise.

Baise also served in former Governor Jim Thompson's cabinet.  He understands Rauner will need legislators.  Or more specifically, he needs a certain number of them.

"Always remember, it's 30 and 60. You gotta get 30 in the Senate, and 60 in the House. You always remember that, you'll be well," said Baise.

It’s the sort of advice a lot of lobbyists would probably give. On one level, it's the fundamentals of government.  Getting a measure passed in the legislature is a key stop on the road of how a bill becomes a law.  It can also be one of the most difficult, if it's a controversial bill --- like a tax hike, or cuts to services.

Nearly every legislator I talked to -- and believe me, I asked a lot of them -- had similar advice on the best, way to get that done. 

Republican John D'Amico of Chicago suggested, "I think the one thing that he can do is have an open door policy. Continue to meet with legislators and hear their concerns. "

And Democratic Senator John Sullivan(D) of Rushville said, "My advice to him is the same advice I'll tell you. And that is, that we are partners. The General Assembly is a partner in this process. And we have to work together."

Senator Don Harmon, also a Democrat, of Oak Park "Work with the General Assembly. This is going to be a necessarily bipartisan legislative session."

Rauner has won praise for reaching out, but his repeated criticism of the General Assembly also left many legislators with bruises that won't quickly fade. He'll likely draw on his skills as a business executive as they face off in negotiations. But the Better Government Association's Andy Shaw says Rauner must realize, public life is different. "He'd better understand that government transparency is a lot different than business secrecy," said Shaw.

To that end, here's one last piece of advice, from someone who has spent the better part of a decade following every twitch of Illinois government and politics -- me. 

Bruce Rauner, you've said you don't care about winning re-election; that getting the state on track is your objective, no matter what it means for your politics future.  My advice? Be open with the media about what you're up to. By being honest with the press, you're being honest with the people of Illinois.

I realize you're looking at a huge budget hole, but that's my two cents.