Editorial | For the Republicans: Bruce Rauner

Editorial | For the Republicans: Bruce Rauner

To survive and prosper, Illinois must change, and Gov. Bruce Rauner, who is seeking a second four-year term, is the only Republican who can make that happen.

It's been a rough three-plus years since Gov. Rauner was sworn into office in January 2015, a period marked by a bitter budget standoff, political feuding and incessant power struggles between Republicans and Democrats that the GOP mostly lost.

Change is expected to be difficult, but not impossible. Unfortunately, to this point Illinois is proving to be the exception to that rule.

Voters in 2014 elected divided government — Republican governor and Democratic Legislature — with the very reasonable expectation that they would recognize their duty and amicably settle their differences in the best interests of the public. Instead, for the most part, Gov. Rauner proposed, and the Democratic Legislature disposed.

Despite some advances in education funding, procurement and government consolidation, not much positive has happened.

Of course, problems that are ignored don't go away. Instead, they just get worse. That's why Illinois is even in more desperate shape now than it was then.

So why Rauner?

He's running to win a second term in the November general election. But to do so, he must defeat state Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Wheaton conservative who's challenging him for the nomination because Rauner is insufficiently ideologically pure, particularly on the abortion issue.

Rauner enraged abortion opponents when he — mistakenly in our view — signed legislation providing for taxpayer-funded abortions. In doing so, Rauner was blind to the moral imposition he put on taxpayers who find the practice abhorrent.

But Rep. Ives is not the answer because she's not running to win — she's running to make certain that Gov. Rauner doesn't win. She hopes to either pull off a miracle in the primary and defeat him or inflict enough political wounds in the process to make certain Rauner loses to a Democrat in November.

Given that Illinois is an overwhelmingly Democratic state in which even the best GOP candidates run uphill, it would be no great surprise if she achieved her goal.

But to what end — to restore the same cynical politics-as-usual practice in Springfield, a place where insiders like Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan decide what does — and doesn't — happen?

Gov. Rauner merits renomination because, unlike Democrats led by Speaker Madigan, he recognizes that Illinois will continue its steady decline if it maintains a second-tier economic status that features regular tax increases, embraces slow economic growth and encourages people to leave the state in search of greener pastures.

In economic terms, Illinois trails all of its neighbors, putting the state at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting businesses looking to locate in the Midwest.

Consider this, Illinois' decline will soon result in losing another member of its U.S. House delegation — perhaps two. That loss of clout in Washington will put Illinois further behind the eight ball.

What can be done to stop and reverse this free-fall?

Gov. Rauner has argued persuasively that the state must boost its economy and contends the best way to do so is to be more welcoming to job creators. That requires, among other things, modification of workers' compensation laws that reduce costs for employers, particularly manufacturers.

Democrats respond that Gov. Rauner, for reasons known only to him, wants to destroy the middle-class. His response to that absurd charge is to note that if Illinois were to adopt workers' compensation laws like those in the solid Democratic state of Massachusetts, it would be a tremendous improvement.

Gov. Rauner's major political problem is that his proposals would have a negative impact on two of Speaker Madigan's biggest campaign contributors — organized labor and trial lawyers. They like the status quo because it works for them. But, clearly, it's not working for the people of Illinois.

Rauner critics argue, with some credibility, that, given Speaker Madigan's continued opposition, the governor will continue to spin his wheels and nothing will get done.

That could happen. Speaker Madigan outlasted the Republicans on the budget and tax issue last year, putting in place another in a long series of deficit budgets and raising the state's personal income tax to 4.95 percent.

There's no minimizing Speaker Madigan's politically driven resolve, and there's no guarantee that he wouldn't continue to do what he's always done.

The reality is that Speaker Madigan will preside without opposition — making matters far worse — if Rauner is not in the picture.

Rauner hasn't succeeded in smashing the political status quo. But he's given his best effort and will continue to do so if given the chance. An Ives-led ticket would ensure GOP destruction in November, relegating the GOP to the bystander status of the Blagojevich-Quinn years. With Rauner, those who want to bring real change to Springfield would at least stand a chance.