New hands on deck

New hands on deck

Unhappy with being bested in the state's budget/tax battle, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is shaking up his staff.

The Democrats' clear victory last week over Gov. Rauner on the state tax and budget issue has shaken the political landscape in Springfield.

While Democrats, led by House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, are taking their victory laps, Republican Gov. Rauner is making dramatic changes in his governmental team.

There are always competing explanations for the kind of personnel changes over which Rauner now presides. Whatever the explanation — people thought it a good time to leave voluntarily or they jumped out of a window to avoid being pushed — there's lots of movement.

That's important because just as policy, obviously, is policy so, too, can personnel be policy.

How deep the changes will go remains to be seen. But even if they stop now, they are still significant.

Gov. Rauner has a new chief of staff. Kristina Rasmussen is leaving the Illinois Policy Institute, a free-market-based think tank, to take over for Rich Goldberg.

Goldberg was notable for the headlines he drew for his sometimes-combative interactions with Democratic legislators, to the point that some of them publicly described him in obscene terms.

Also joining the Rauner administration as a deputy chief of staff for policy will be Mike Lucci, another recruit from the Illinois Policy Institute. Laurel Patrick, who once worked for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, will take over the governor's communications office.

What does this mean? It's impossible to say because only time and events will tell.

The speculation, of course, is intense. One prominent news outlet suggested the personnel changes "could further signal a new, aggressive tone from the first-term governor" or that Rauner "might be attempting to shore up his conservative base" ahead of the 2018 election.

But the use of the words "could" or "might" also imply "could not" and "might not." They're weasel words that can go both ways.

Democrats also are feverishly speculating. Gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker portrayed Rauner's administration as one that is in meltdown mode and bent on embracing an "extreme right" agenda. Pritzker also suggested it means that a "stubborn Rauner is in no way ready to compromise" with Democratic legislative leaders, principally Speaker Madigan.

Effective compromise, obviously, is in short supply in Springfield. But that no-compromise stance paid off big for Madigan last week when he shoved the Democrats' budget, complete with $5 billion in tax hikes, down Rauner's throat by leading an override of Rauner's veto.

Given Madigan's new working supermajorities in both the Senate and House, it's hard to imagine the speaker will be any more inclined to settle his policy differences with the governor than he was during the horrendous two-year budget standoff.

So what's the governor to do?

Some fresh blood may help. But from a policy perspective, it's hard to see Rauner suddenly embracing the same failed political status quo that he blames for the state's effectively bankrupt status. The governor believes deeply that business as usual is killing Illinois and that change is mandatory to jump-start a lethargic state economy.

If he's hoping to shape a more effective political message, one designed to prompt voters to contact legislators and demand changes, that, too, is understandable. But what's more powerful — effective messaging or an intransigent Madigan who is determined to make Rauner a one-term governor? The answer to that question is obvious.

Illinois remains mired in political quicksand. Even with new hands on board, Rauner's challenge remains the same as it's been since he took office in January 2015.

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Sid Saltfork wrote on July 13, 2017 at 3:07 pm

Circle the wagons?

It may require some republicans to present themselves as candidates for governor in the primaries.  Another face with a different stance may be due.  Don't drive a beat up van, or ride a Harley, or wear Carhartts.  Show up in a business suit, and tie.  Present a willingness to cooperate.  Address the needs of the Middle-Class.  Don't suggest stealing from others in the state.  Present a need for bipartisanship in addressing the state's problems.  Present a plan for essential spending only.  No recreational, beautification, or assorted wants spending.  Present a priority in paying the state's vendors, pension programs, infrastructure, education, and Medicaid.  Present a candidate for unity in slowly solving the state's mess.