Illinois voters get change with Rauner victory, but political fights ahead
For more than a year, Illinois voters have been absolutely bombarded with talk of just how bad things are in the state. From financial chaos to mismanagement to uncertainty over billions in unpaid retirement bills, those lines were repeated over and over.
Gov. Pat Quinn kept insisting the state is making a comeback under his leadership. Bruce Rauner said he’d bring change to a backwards political culture and rescue the bottom line, but he rarely gave details of how he’d “bring back Illinois.”
In the end, though, voters went with Rauner and promise of change. The Republican’s victory speech sounded a lot like his stump speeches: Talk of better schools for all, term limits for lawmakers and a better day for working people.
“The voters have asked for divided government for the first time in many years,” Rauner told supporters last night, hinting at the political fights ahead. “We’ll have a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature.”
You can hear both Rauner and the Republican crowd try to make sense of how the next few years might work. They applaud bipartisanship. But boo the Democrats they’ll have to work with.
“I called Speaker Madigan,” Rauner said over jeers from the crowd. “I called President Cullerton. And I said to them, ‘This is an opportunity for us to work together.’”
Rauner said he wants to change the structure of state government and make a “booming economy.” He said that way, the state can be more compassionate for its neediest citizens.
He used the word “compassionate” several times Tuesday night, although he had not used it much at all during the campaign. Rauner wants to be “compassionate” through tax cuts, which has many Democrats worried about how he’ll pay for his plans.
For those listening to Rauner at his election night party, their support didn’t necessarily come from one particular conviction, but from a wide-ranging interest in a different way of doing things.
“I’m not here for politics. I’m not here for social issues. I’m here because Bruce absolutely needs to change the way we do business in Illinois,” said Michael Lapidus, who was vocal about his frustrations with his own party.
Lapidus said the Republican Party can’t seem to find its focus in spite of its big victories across the country Tuesday.
“Sometimes the Republican Party gets so bogged down in these right wing, one-issue platforms and that’s not who we are,” he said.
But this whole portrayal of Bruce Rauner’s vision for Illinois - his policies that are seen as pro-business - they’re precisely what worry John Unwin from north suburban Skokie, who attended Pat Quinn’s election night party. Unwin says he struggles with the phrase, “running government like a business.”
“Illinois is a complicated state. It’s post-industrial and it has a lot of social problems. We need someone who can start developing it from the bottom-up. Not from the top-down,” Unwin said.
And this gets into why so many Democrats aren’t buying what Rauner is selling. It plays into what Pat Quinn tried to tap into in his TV ads, portraying Rauner as a selfish millionaire who would hurt everyone else just to help himself. Unwin even attacked Rauner on the candidate’s strong suit.
“If I had to trust somebody with my wallet, I would trust it with Pat Quinn over Rauner,” he said. “I’m not casting aspersions, but for me, I feel more comfortable with Pat Quinn.”
Gov. Quinn made only brief remarks to his supporters in saying he wasn’t conceding. He said he’s been in close races before and all the votes needed to be counted before he’d give up. But the vote gap will be hard to close. At the end of the night, some of Quinn’s supporters said they were drained and that the anger and frustrations of the loss will come when the morning hits.
Until that anger comes, they’ll likely still be trying to figure out what Bruce Rauner will do with the power of the governor.
Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.