“He was a god in that district,” a high-level Rauner guy told me about state Senator Sam McCann’s poll numbers from before this year’s Republican-primary campaign began.

Benchmark polling taken months ago showed McCann (R-Plainview) had a voter-approval rating of about 70 percent. McCann “really was everywhere” in the Downstate district, attending events all over the place throughout his tenure, the Rauner official admitted.

Looking at those initial numbers, “you’d have to be crazy” to take McCann on, the official said. But the governor had threatened to punish any Republican who voted with AFSCME on a now-infamous bill that would have barred a state-employee strike and instead forced binding arbitration. McCann was the only Republican to vote against Rauner, so a massive game plan was devised.

What followed was the most expensive Republican legislative-primary race in the history of Illinois. In the past, the million dollars or so raised and spent by and on behalf of McCann would’ve dropped jaws everywhere. But McCann’s million was less than a quarter of the race’s $4.2-million grand total.

Even so, McCann defeated his Rauner-backed opponent, Bryce Benton, by more than 5 points.

Illinois Republicans have long complained that House Speaker Michael Madigan’s campaign organization doesn’t just beat you; it destroys you. Madigan doesn’t set out to merely win; he wants to make sure he doesn’t ever have to deal with you again.

Madigan’s own Democratic primary race was a good example. He posted yard signs all over his district urging his constituents to vote against “convicted felon Jason Gonzales,” and his cable-TV and direct-mail ads ceaselessly pounded home that very same message. His captains also reportedly had volunteers holding those signs at the entrance to voting locations.

Gonzales is, indeed, a convicted felon. But that happened two decades ago, and he was pardoned by former Democratic Governor Pat Quinn. To hear the Madigan campaign tell it, however, you’d think the guy just walked out of prison.

Or take a look at what Madigan did to Katelyn Hotle. The House speaker’s operation dropped at least nine negative mailers on the little-known, lightly funded candidate in the Quad Cities-area Democratic primary to replace retiring state Representative Pat Verschoore (D-Milan). The gist of the attacks was that Hotle, a Rock Island city-council member, profited personally from her shoddy government service, but none of it was true.

They also smeared Hotle in the media for being a “plant” of Governor Bruce Rauner. Why? The only real explanation is that she was the lone female in a four-way primary, so she could do well on demographics alone and they had to take her out. For good.

“How do they sleep at night?”

It’s a question I’m asked a lot these days. The inquirers always wonder how Governor Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan, and their more full-throated enablers on both sides can live with themselves as they watch big chunks of state government’s responsibilities crumble before their very eyes during the months-long governmental impasse.

As far as I can tell, they’re sleeping pretty well. And both sides appear to be using almost the exact same coping strategies.

A name from the past has been leading the charge for Jason Gonzales’ Democratic-primary campaign against Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Blair Hull, the hugely wealthy but unsuccessful 2004 Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, directly accounts for $100,000 of the $300,000 that the Illinois United for Change PAC has raised since late January (and maybe double that, because it’s unclear who controls a company responsible for another $100,000). The independent-expenditure committee has so far reported spending money only on Gonzales.

I was able to reach Hull through an intermediary to ask him why he decided to get involved against his fellow Democrat Madigan in the primary. He would only communicate by e-mail, and didn’t respond to a follow-up question.

Hull said he believes Gonzales gives the state “an opportunity for a fresh start” and predicted his candidate, an entrepreneur who received an MBA from MIT, would be a “true statesman” in the General Assembly.

There are always two audiences for formal gubernatorial addresses: legislators who actually attend, and everyone outside the Statehouse who watch it or read about it later.

Governor Bruce Rauner’s budget address last week seemed far more designed for people outside the building, most of whom don’t really care about the intricacies of government finance. Most do, however, want to see everyone finally get along and end this eight-month governmental impasse, despite what you may read in online comment sections.

That’s probably why Rauner barely even talked about the budget. It’s no surprise why. For the first time since Illinois became a state in 1818, a governor has submitted a budget for the next fiscal year without having passed a budget for the current fiscal year.

The failure is not just an embarrassment. Tens of thousands of the most vulnerable Illinoisans are paying dearly. No budget means the state can’t help homeless teens, assist women with the trauma of a brutal rape, or help addicts kick heroin.

Tens of thousands more may have to drop out of college because state universities and a special scholarship program aren’t being funded. The majority African-American Chicago State University is perilously close to shutting down, as are Western Illinois University and Eastern Illinois University.

Even Rauner’s lines that some described as an “olive branch” to the Democratic legislative majority seemed aimed more at the folks back home.

Why? Well, words, even very kind words, are not going to be enough to get this done. The sides are simply too far apart, and now that election season has cranked up again, I’m not sure how this thing is going to be resolved.

Almost right from the start of his address last week to the Illinois General Assembly, President Barack Obama seemed to admit – discussing the need for a more-civil politics – that he probably wouldn’t sway his audience, which has been bickering amongst itself for over a year.

Obama talked about his first Illinois Senate speech, after which Republican Senate President Pate Philip “sauntered” over to his desk, slapped him on the back, and said, “Kid, that was a pretty good speech. In fact, I think you changed a lot of minds. But you didn’t change any votes.”

Frankly, after months without any progress in Springfield, I’d settle for a few changed minds. But I’m not even sure a single mind was changed. Instead, the speech gave people on both entrenched sides just enough ammo to bolster their cases against the other.

Predictably, Obama weighted the argument in favor of his own policy views, bringing up his support for union collective bargaining, which Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has repeatedly attacked.

But he threw just enough bones at the Republicans to allow them to issue statements such as the one from GOP state Representative Barb Wheeler: “The president reiterated what the governor and others have said before, [that] without compromise we cannot govern.”

Last week, a reporter said to Governor Bruce Rauner that Secretary of State Jesse White had suggested that Rauner bring in former governors, including George Ryan, to help break the long governmental impasse that has prevented the state from having a budget for more than seven months.

Rauner laughed and said, “Uh, wow.”

The governor clearly did not take the suggestion seriously.

“I’m not gonna talk about the failures of the past that created this mess,” Rauner said through chuckles. “I focus on the future. I don’t live in the past. We’ve had failure in our elected government for decades. This mess didn’t happen overnight. And what we’re not gonna do is reproduce the dynamic that created it.” The governor laughed throughout most of that last sentence.

Bringing in graybeards has been tried before without success. Governor Rod Blagojevich asked former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and then-Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard to town to help him pass his massive construction proposal that Speaker Michael Madigan refused to agree to. It didn’t work. The two men left town as soon as they realized how hardened Madigan’s position had become against Blagojevich.

While former governors have been through similar troubles, nothing really compares to today’s self-inflicted disaster. Madigan and Blagojevich played hardball, but the game is exponentially meaner now.

Every time Governor Bruce Rauner gives a major speech, social media (and even mass media) light him up over the way he drops his “g”s at the end of words.

He’s workin’ and doin’ his best and shakin’ up Springfield, or whatever.

Last year, after his first State of the State Address, Illinois Public Radio even interviewed a language expert about whether he was doin’ this on purpose.

It does seem contrived. Rauner was educated at Ivy League schools, after all, and worked in some of the highest echelons in business. If you listen to any of his speeches in the years before he ran for governor, you’ll notice that he talked back then like an educated Midwesterner.

Governor Bruce Rauner blew a perfect opportunity last week to finally drive a public wedge between Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan, to clearly put Madigan on the defensive, and to maybe finally make progress on an important issue that might save the state a billion dollars a year.

But he badly bungled the rollout of a deal with Cullerton on pension reform. Instead of describing the agreement for what it really was, Rauner greatly exaggerated its scope and portrayed it as a big defeat for AFSCME and other unions.

In reality, the deal with Cullerton (and there is still a deal with Cullerton, despite what you might be reading elsewhere) is narrow in scope and elegantly designed to put Madigan in a truly tough position.

A lot of folks have taken to calling Bruce Rauner “Governor 1 Percent” because of his immense personal wealth. Rauner himself told the Chicago Sun-Times during the 2014 campaign that he was in the top one-tenth of 1 percent of income earners.

But, right now anyway, he ought to be referred to as “Governor 1.4 Percent.”

Stay with me a bit and I’ll explain.

I sat down for an interview last week with Rauner. As he does with just about every reporter, the governor blamed House Speaker Michael Madigan for stifling his beloved Turnaround Agenda. Rauner said he was “frustrated” with Madigan for saying that the anti-union, pro-business reforms were “unrelated to the budget.”

“For example,” Rauner said, “if we can get business regulatory change so I can recruit manufacturers here and more transportation companies here, and more businesses here, we can generate billions of new revenue without raising tax rates. That’s directly tied to the budget.”

“Billions?” I asked.

“Billions,” he replied, while promising to send me a detailed analysis.

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