As the Senate’s two leaders tried again to find the votes to pass their “grand bargain” last week and end the state’s two-year governmental gridlock, Governor Bruce Rauner began spending more than a million dollars on two new TV ads that portray him as an everyman hero in the fight for Illinois’ future.
“Illinois is broke and broken,” Rauner says to the camera while standing in a well-kept garage and wearing a plaid flannel shirt. “And the politicians that got us into this mess, their solution is this,” Rauner says as he holds up a roll of duct tape. “Higher taxes,” he says as he yanks out a piece of duct tape. “More spending,” he says with another jerk on the roll. “No real reforms,” he says as he takes one more strong pull.
“After decades of ignoring problems, it’s time someone fixes ’em,” the governor says. A list of bullet points appears on the screen in front of a line of tools neatly arranged against the garage wall as Rauner says: “Our balanced-budget plan freezes property taxes, caps spending, creates jobs, and puts term limits on politicians.”
Rauner is then shown sitting on a chair in the garage. “Our plan brings real reforms to Illinois,” he says as he grabs the roll of duct tape. “Their duct-tape solutions won’t work anymore. We will fix Illinois together.”
The second, shorter ad, begins with Rauner peeling off duct tape from a piece of glass over the camera. “Springfield politicians don’t want you to see what they’re up to,” the governor begins, wearing the same flannel shirt in the same garage. “’Cause their duct-tape solutions just cover up Illinois’ problems. They don’t fix ’em,” he says with a smile on his face. “Fix Illinois,” an announcer says.
The governor’s people firmly believe that they have staked out a comfortably poll-tested platform. “What we oppose, the public opposes,” a Rauner official said last week. “What we support, the public supports.”
The public hates tax hikes, and Rauner is gearing up for the 2018 campaign with a message that he saved the state from ruinous Democratic tax increases even though he hasn’t gotten his demanded reforms – which include the mentioned balanced budget, property-tax and state-government-spending freezes, and term limits.
The trouble is that he’s never once proposed a balanced budget and can’t get anything else passed. Rauner is heading into a re=election campaign without much of anything to show for his time in office. Hence, the duct-tape ads.
Team Rauner is also still opposed to whatever comes out of the Senate’s negotiations because the proposals don’t meet its demands.
Talks have reportedly faltered over a “five and five” proposal to raise the income tax for five years and cap property taxes for the same amount of time. The Senate Democrats are also still refusing to specify major budget cuts (which the governor has refused to do as well), and a dispute has developed over the latest education-funding-reform bill.
Should the Senate’s plan go down in flames yet again, the Democrats will undoubtedly say that Rauner never actually wanted a deal to begin with. They’ll claim in unison that his Turnaround Agenda was, in reality, a mere ploy to achieve Rauner’s “real” result, which is the slow but very deliberate destruction of “weak” universities and social-service programs and the crushing of unions and “the middle class.” And they might possibly even get some backup from a clearly furious Senate Republican leader, who lashed out at the governor and his chief of staff in March for declaring through an unnamed source in a newspaper article that the grand bargain was dead.
Rauner will continue to counter with a campaign based on running against the Springfield “status quo,” and in particular the overwhelmingly unpopular House Speaker Michael Madigan. But after over two years in office, a kabillionaire who conspicuously drops his “g”s and dons the costumes of the working class in expensive TV ads to claim he’s on the common man’s side may be finally be wearing thin. The governor’s 58-percent job-disapproval rating in the latest Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll didn’t appear out of nowhere.
Instead of constantly worrying about his own political future by producing yet another round of expensive TV ads far away from election day, the governor ought to find another way to improve his state’s future. He has a Republican Senate leader who is firmly committed to getting us out of this horrific ditch. Instead of undercutting her at every turn, he ought to be helping her across the finish line. Doing otherwise will only prove the Democrats’ point that he doesn’t really want a deal.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and CapitolFax.com.