Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Illinois Quinn-Rauner Dust Up For Governor Draws Big Bucks, Raises Eyebrows

Not so cordial handshake between Bruce Rauner and Pat Quinn at a debate.

Note: It’s the first election year since I hung-up my clipboard and precinct map after nearly 30 year as a McHenry County, Illinois Democratic precinct committee person.  I can’t say the blare of distant trumpets stirs this old war horse to kick down the stable gate.  But the airways are burning up with ads in one of the most expensive races for governor in the country and early voting has already commenced.  Hard not to take note of the shenanigans, or what is at stake.
Nationally, if my e-mail inbox is any indication, Democrats are in a froth and panic over the possibility of losing the Senate even though poll after poll that even Red State voters are disgusted by the Republican agenda and fed up with obstructionism.  It’s an accident of what seats are open and/or vulnerable this year and the Democrats have more to lose and a harder path to victory.  Or, according to other messages, we are on the verge of an up-set victory in key states, several governors’ races, and a handful of hot House races.  Either way everyone wants my money right now and several times a day as well as volunteer hours pounding the pavement again, manning phone banks, or joining in the begging brigades. 
Here in Illinois Senate Majority Whip and leading liberal Senator Dick Durbin will have little difficulty in turning back the challenge of self-financing dairy millionaire Jim Oberweis, a perennial state-wide candidate that the public has grown bored with despite repeated efforts to re-invent himself. 
There are only a couple of hot House races in the rigidly gerrymandered Illinois Congressional Districts.  The hottest and oddest race is in the North Shore suburban 10th District, a bastion of social liberalism that has tended Democratic recently.  In a topsy-turvy race, Republican PACs are running attack ads on freshman Democratic Representative Brad Schneider for being an uncaring millionaire and exporting jobs to China, while former Representative Bob Dold sometimes seems to be running as a Democrat emphasizing his “independence” on abortion rights, women’s health, gun background checks, and banning fracking under Lake Michigan. 
But if you are in Illinois the clash between incumbent Democratic Governor Pat Quinn and yet another Republican deep-pocket rich dude, Bruce Rauner, is painfully unavoidable.  The obscene amounts of money spent by both candidates, their national political parties, and nearly a dozen major PACs to flood TV, radio, the Internet, and social media could probably cure Ebola and defeat ISIS.
Pat Quinn, despite having the charisma of a boiled turnip, the oratorical skills of the most boring teacher you have ever been stuck with, the smug tinge of self-righteousness of a goo-goo—short for good government for those of you not versed in Illinois political slang—has been one of the luckiest politicians alive.  His career advancement to the Governor’s Mansion, in which, unlike his notorious predecessor he sometimes sleeps, is fraught with timely accidents, the disappearance of rivals, and the benefits of often not being taken seriously.  Of course there was also relentless self-promotion.
Quinn was born on December 16, 1948 in comfortable, Middle class Hinsdale, a leafy suburb of Chicago.  He was raised in a seriously Catholic family, was educated in local parochial schools, and got his B.A at prestigious Georgetown University in Washington DC.  Later he would get law degrees from Northwestern.
He briefly practiced tax law but was drawn to public service and politics.  Two years out of Georgetown, Quinn volunteered in the populist campaign of Dan Walker for governor and served Walker as a low level aid.  Walker was always at odds with party regulars and at war with the solid majorities the Democrats had in each house of the Legislature and was therefore unable to achieve most of his legislative aims.  A belligerent attitude toward the legislature became ingrained in Quinn’s political DNA
In fact Quinn first rose to public notice leading reform crusades aimed at the General Assembly.  First he promoted the so-called Illinois Initiative, a constitutional amendment to increase the ease with which public referendums could be placed on the ballot circumventing the legislature and for recalls of public officials.  The petition drive was successful, but the Illinois Supreme Court ultimately ruled that it was an “unconstitutional constitutional amendment,” and never was presented to voters.
Quinn was more successful while still in law school when he created his own organization, the Coalition for Political Honesty and spearheaded the Cutback Amendment to the Illinois Constitution, reducing the size of the Illinois House of Representatives from 177 to 118 members, allegedly as a money saving economy move.  It accomplished this by eliminating the minority seat in what had been three member districts.  Party’s could previously only nominate two candidates in each district, meaning that the minority party—Republican in Chicago, and Democrat in most of the suburbs and downstate—was generally guaranteed a seat.  The unintended consequence was the removal of large numbers of semi-independent swing voters in the legislature who often could swing the body one way or another in a genuine legislative process.  Without the minority members, the House was soon the political creature of the Majority and Minority Leaders who dictated to their caucuses and eliminated any genuine legislative give-and-take.  Since then Governors have only negotiated directly with Party leaders in each house ignoring the compliant rank-and-file in attempts to get their agenda moving.  The result has been frequent stalemate and just about everything wrong with state governance. 
But most of the public never became aware of the consequences, only counting the few thousands of dollars “saved” every year by the cutback.  Quinn was a populist hero.
On the strength of that reputation, Quinn was elected to the obscure, low profile office of a Commissioner of the Cook County Board of Tax Appeals in 1982.  By doing things like calling press conferences on Sunday afternoon when nothing was typically happening on the government beat, he insured himself TV news time and regular inches for his criticisms of property tax assessment and his campaign to get more tax payers to file appeals.
As a side line during the same years he promoted the creation of a Citizens Utility Board, a publicly funded consumer watchdog group which over the decades has fought—often successfully—the electrical and gas utilities perpetual applications for rate hikes.  The creation of this Board was Quinn’s most successful, and popular, reform effort.
Declining to run for re-election, Quinn set his sights on statewide office in 1986 running as an independent   Democrat against regular Jerome Costintino for the nomination as State Treasurer.  He was crushed.  After a short stint as one of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington’s Revenue Directors—the two classed over policy and Quinn’s habit of going around the Mayor and announcing policy to the press—Quinn ran for and surprisingly won election as State Treasurer in 1990.  He took on Republican Secretary of State George Ryan accusing him of multiple abuses and running a clout heavy office.  He made a big deal of the issuance of special vanity license plates to political donors and heavy hitters.  It became a well-publicized feud which led Quinn to challenge Ryan in 1984.  He lost.  It was another in a string of election defeats that would have discouraged any man less sure of his virtues.
In ’96 he ran for the U.S. Senate Seat vacated by the Paul Simon and lost to Simon’s protégée Dick Durbin.  He sought and lost the nomination for Lieutenant Governor in 1998. 
During that campaign some people credit Quinn for being one of the first politicians to invoke the Tea Party.  He encouraged voters to flood popular Republican Governor Jim Edgar with tea bags to protest a proposed increase in the salaries of Legislators.  He would re-visit the tactic years later in 2007 asking consumers to enclose tea bags to protest rate hikes by Commonwealth Edison.  In the earliest days of the Tea Party Movement when it was still a grass roots and somewhat bi-partisan presence, Quinn attended and spoke to rallies, polishing his reputation as a “tax fighter.”  After the Tea Party became co-opted by national Astro-turf organizations, well-funded by right wing billionaires, Quinn quietly distanced himself from the movement.
In 2002 Quinn won the Democratic nomination for Lt. Governor.  Under an unusual quirk of the Illinois Constitution, the Governor and Lt. Governor candidates did not run together as a team, but were elected independently.  Youthful, glib talking, hair-helmeted Rod Blagojevich won the Governor’s chair.  Not only were the two men not close, they barely spoke to one another.  Blagojevich gave no duties, as was customary, to his Lt. whose official responsibilities beyond being available to step in are negligible.  Quinn kept himself busy—and in the headlines—as a self appointed spokesperson for veterans and continued consumer advocacy.  Quinn made it a point to personally attend all of the funerals of service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan which took him to every part of the state and his picture on TV.
Despite Blagojvich’s battles with his own party’s Majority Leader in the House, Michael Madigan, both he and Quinn were re-elected in 2006.  Quinn began to criticize the governor as rumors of political corruption grew.  Blagojevich announced that Quinn would “not be considered a member of my administration,”  A gift for which Quinn would later become grateful.  According to Quinn, and verified in office and phone records, the two men never talked after August 2007.    
After Blagojevich was named in a multi-count Federal corruption indictment, impeached, and removed from office on January 29, 2009, Quinn became governor.  He appeared in a rumpled, off the rack suit that didn’t fit well and lugged a foot thick stack of manila file folders under his arm at his first press conference.  He promised a fresh start.  The press and public assumed he would be a place holder until the next election and that at best his reputation as a squeaky clean reformer would help restore confidence in the government.
Quinn cleaned house of most high level Blagojvich appointments and announced a series of administrative reforms.  But he quickly ran up against Mike Madigan in the House, who opposed his budget and revenue proposals and most of the governor’s other agenda priorities.   Quinn’s long time contempt for the Legislature was barely contained and he had no tools to try and negotiate.   
In the 2010 Primary Quinn unexpectedly defeated regular Democrat favorite Comptroller Daniel Hynes.  In the same election neophyte gadfly Scott Lee Cohen even more unexpectedly won a split field for the nomination as Lt. Governor.  Within days it was revealed that he had assaulted his girlfriend and was a steroid abusing body builder.  His continued presence on the ticket would have doomed Quinn, but he was muscled aside and Party chiefs, without input from Quinn, selected Sheila Simon the daughter of Paul Simon, to replace him. 
With the state still in the grips of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, -unemployment high, and the state teetering on bankruptcy, few observers thought that Quinn stood a chance in November against Republican State Senator Bill Brady.  But Brady had emerged from his own bitter primary and not all wounds within the GOP had healed.  Despite holding a consistent lead in the polls Quinn squeaked to victory by only 9,400 votes out of 3,600,000 on the strength of African American turnout in Cook County and in the St. Louis suburbs and defections among suburban Republican women.  RealClearPolitics called the race the No. 5 General Election upset in the country and Politico said it was the 7th closest gubernatorial race in American history
Few expected that Quinn would even try to run for a second full term, but would retire gracefully with getting to the top job on his own the culminating feather in his career cap.  From almost the beginning it was widely assumed that Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the daughter of the Speaker who had carved out her own reputation as one of the country’s to AGs, could have the 2014 nomination and general election pretty much for the asking.  Her father was said to regard it as his highest aspiration.  Madigan, a young mother, refused to commit to the run, or to rule it out.
Meanwhile the battles between the Governor and the Speaker only heated up over the budget crisis, taxes, and the state’s huge pension fund debts.  Gridlock was the order of the day.  Lisa Madigan quietly let it be known that she would not run unless her Dad stepped down as Speaker.  She believed the public would never trust the two of them not to collude.  With more than 30 years in power, everyone expected the Speaker would step aside and let his daughter become governor.  But the old war horse could not do it.  He announced he would run for reelection to the House and as Speaker in the new session.  Lisa announced that she would run for re-election as Attorney General.  Suddenly the way was open to Quinn for another run.
The Speaker and the Governor managed to cooperate, after some nail biting, on major social issues—the abolition of the death penalty and the passage of Marriage Equality.  They were about the only solid achievements either could claim in their legislative standoff.

Diane Rauner--the candidate's wife lends desperately needed likability to her husband's cause.

Meanwhile the Republicans saw a grand opportunity to retake the Governorship for the first time since George Ryan.  But being Republicans, a fratricidal civil war had to come first.
Narrow loser Brady tossed his hat in the ring for a second crack at Quinn as did Senator Kirk Dillard as did State Treasurer Dan Rutherford.  But early out of the gate in June 2013 was a political unknown, the very rich businessman and entrepreneur Bruce Rauner of Winnetka and several other addresses.  Rauner declared he was ready to spend $6 million dollars of his own money just in the primary.  And as a businessman with deep connections to the highest levels of the Chicago and Illinois corporate elite could expect to raise millions more, blowing his competitors out of the water.  Wasting no time Rauner began running introductory campaign commercial nine months before the primary, depicting him as a folksy, ordinary guy in a plaid shirt and zippered jacket who just wants to save Illinois.  No one had ever rolled out such an expensive campaign so early.
Despite his claims to be a self-made man who “didn’t inherit a nickel,” Rauner was not exactly born in a log cabin.  Rauner was born on February 18, 1957 in Chicago but grew up in comfortable Deerfield where his mother was a nurse and his father was a lawyer and a senior vice president at Motorola presumably pulling down a handsome salary and benefiting from stock options routinely offered to management.  He claims his first job was as a paper boy, but that was for pocket money not because his family was in need.
He attended, with no visible strain on the family, Ivy League Dartmouth College where he graduated suma cum laude in economics.  He went on to get his MBA at Harvard Business School, de rigueur for the aspiring cutthroat mogul of the 1980’s.  Upon graduation he went straight to work at the privet equity firm GTCR in 1981.  In thirty years there he climbed the ladder with single minded success and became Chairman of the Board and largest shareholder.
Most people don’t understand what a privet equity firm does.  Essentially it buys companies, either willingly offered, or often in hostile takeovers.  It then tries to “maximize share holder value” by slashing costs—usually by mass lay-offs and outsourcing as many functions as possible off shore.  Alternatively, they strip companies of value by selling off assets and real estate piecemeal before dumping the stock and letting remaining shareholders hold the bag in bankruptcy.  Vulture companies like GTCR were the engines of American economic decline while making their operators and investors very, very rich.  Just like Bruce Rauner.
Upon retiring from GTCR, Rauner set up his own smaller venture firm, R8 Capital Partners to “invest in Illinois companies.”  
About the same time Rauner started polishing his credentials as a philanthropist and do-gooder. He is the Chairman of the Education Committee of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, Co-Chairman of the Chicago-China Initiative, and Chairman of ACT Charter School.  In the later position he forced the founders of the school out in a manner similar to a corporate takeover.  He also served as Chairman of Choose Chicago, the not-for-profit that serves as the city’s convention and tourism bureau, resigning in May 2013, and as Chairman of the Chicago Public Education Fund.
In these capacities Rauner became very close to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and has served him as a personal advisor as well as a campaign contributor.  Rauner, Emanuel, and their wives have even vacationed together.  This leaves many to speculate that the Mayor prefers Rauner over Quinn, who has steadfastly blocked one of the Mayor’s top legislative priorities—a land based casino for the city and has not enthusiastically backed his plans to dismantle as much of the Chicago Public School system as possible replacing it by corporate charter schools and break the power of the Chicago Teachers Union.  Rauner enthusiastically backs all of that.  Emanuel has sunk in popularity but has no current serious challengers for re-election.  While he does not command the armies of precinct workers or necessarily command the loyalty of Aldermen and Ward Committeeman, he does command a new-style army of pinstripe patronage and deep pocket elites in the city.  The question is, how much of that clout has he privately steered to Rauner despite official, if tepid, support for Quinn.

Back to Rauner, he has backed a number of charitable projects, especially where he can get maximum credit.  Some of these double as outreach projects into constituencies generally hostile to Republicans—Blacks and Latinos.  Among them are, the  Red Cross regional headquarters in Chicago, the YMCA in the Latino Little Village neighborhood, six new charter high schools, an AUSL (Academy for Urban School Leadership which “manages” under contract several Chicago Public Schools) turnaround campus, scholarship programs for disadvantaged Illinois public school students, and achievement-based compensation systems for teachers and principals in Chicago Public Schools.


As you can see, many of these “charities” feedback on Rauner’s business interest in privatizing education.


At least one donation back-fired into a mini scandal.  In 2008, Rauner’s daughter was admitted to Walter Payton Prep, a prestigious magnate school despite the family’s mane residence in Winnetka through the “principal picks” process. The family, which owns up to nine residences, claimed a downtown Chicago apartment to qualify. Although she had top grades, she had missed several days of school due to illness and therefore did not qualify through the regular admissions process. Rauner called in a favor from his personal friend, Arne Duncan then the CEO of Chicago Public Schools. The daughter was admitted and soon after Rauner donated $250,000 to the school.


Critical articles charging quid pro quo in the admissions process and an abuse of clout unavailable to ordinary parents broke during the Republican primary and began to tarnish the image Rauner was paying a lot of money to establish.


Rauner picked a Lt. Governor running mate, Wheaton City Councilwoman City Evelyn Sanguinetti, an obscure figure with connections to the Right to Life movement in a bid to shore up support on the right where his social issues credentials were suspect.  He also hoped a female would help his support among suburban women.  At the same time Sanguinetti was unlikely to capture any of the shine Rauner thought he was due at the top of the ticket.


In the primary, Rauner’s money and rising name recognition began to swamp his opponents.  Attempts to rally behind one of them in and anyone but Rauner movement faltered when none of the major contenders would withdraw.  Brady, making his third run, rapidly fell far behind in fundraising and generated little enthusiasm from the rank and file.  Despite getting the endorsement of the Chicago Tribune when it was already apparent he was heading for a third place finish, Brady was going nowhere.


Rutherford suddenly found himself in a sex scandal charged by a former male staffer of sexual harassment, coming on to him, and groping.  Another male staffer was identified as traveling with Rutherford, including on a trip to Israel and sharing a room with him.  Rutherford indignantly denied the accusations.  He hinted at what everyone suspected that the revelations were backed and funded via backchannels by the Rauner campaign.  If so it worked.  Rutherford was done for and his political future probably destroyed.


That left Dillard around whom there was a last minute to rally behind to stop Rauner.  Despite charges that Dillard was too friendly with state employee unions, some of which contributed to his campaign—a huge taboo for a Republican—polls show that he was closing the gap in the final days of the primary campaign. 


All during the primary campaign Rauner was running to the right in an attempt to win the skeptical Tea Party vote.  It was during these days that he was telling friendly audiences that he supported a roll back of the minimum wage in Illinois, wanted to privatize Medicare, end public worker pensions, fight to repeal marriage equality, and would be a pro life governor. 


In the end Rauner won the nomination with 40.13% of the vote, less than his own expectations and lower than polls had predicted.  Dillard was fairly close with 37. 22%, Brady got 15.  % and Rutherford lagged at 7.55%.  Less than a ringing endorsement.  And Brady and Rutherford refused to make-up and make-nice in a display of party unity.


Meanwhile the lucky Quinn had sailed through his primary with only token opposition and had saved his less-than-unlimited-but-substantial war chest for the General Election confrontation with Rauner.  He had a new running mate—Sheila Simon elected to run against incumbent Republican Judy Barr Tropinka for State Comptroller, a constitutional office with actual responsibilities.  With single minded tone deafness, Quinn selected former Chicago School CEO Paul Valis, an idol of the goo-goo crowd who were already solidly behind him.  In doing so he may have snubbed the African American and women’s constituencies that saved his as four years earlier.  Rauner, who could find no responsible Blacks for key positions in his private companies and campaign, used this to charge that Quinn was snubbing the African Americans.

Pat Quinn calls in desperately needed heavy artillery to whip up enthusiasm in Chicago.


The campaign got off to a start with Quinn doing positive image ads—cutting his own Chicago postage stamp yard with a reel mower, hanging out with Ford employees from a new Chicago assembly plant and driving off with them in an SUV pointedly declaring, “I’m Driving.”


Rauner  now had to run back to the center were elections are won in Illinois by virtually repudiating his whole primary campaign beyond vague promises of deep cuts to taxes while simultaneously giving huge bumps to education spending.  He threw around numbers that no one could make any sense of while refusing to provide details.  But to reclaim the center, Rauner turned to the woman who has turned out to be his greatest asset, his second wife, Diana, an attractive but relatable middle aged woman who seems well spoken, and thoughtful and tells us that she is a life-long Democrat, but supporting her husband anyway.


Diana Rauner has made several more ads with and without her husband at her side and has taken to the hustings for her husband at women’s events assures voters that Bruce will support Roe vs Wade without explaining that he supports abortion restrictions short of abolition and that his education initiatives make him “a perfect fit for women.”  Meanwhile Rauner has also made gestures to Black and Latino voters, mostly through the endorsements of local leaders beholden to him for large gifts to their organizations or causes.   He has also aired commercials featuring endorsements by union members mad at Quinn for his attempts to deal with the state pension crisis, not mentioning his own approach to state pensions would be much more draconian. 


By late summer both campaigns were employing the most dire negative advertising against the other, with hit pieces making the most dubious claims paid for by national party groups and third party PACS that give a campaign plausible deniability if one blows up in their face. 


Both candidates have come under intense press scrutiny.  Quinn, who always relied on his squeaky clean Boy Scout image, was tagged in some relatively minor scandals, none involving personal corruption.  The most damaging was the funding of a heralded anti-violence campaign in neighborhoods beset with gun violence and gang shootings.   Quinn’s administration funneled funding through friendly neighborhood and community organizations that were ill prepared to handle it and spent the money without much, if any accounting.  It was a botched program to which Quinn was not attentive.  The headlines were nasty for a few days, and a Federal investigation undertaken, but so far no serious damage has been done to the governor personally.


Meanwhile Rauner’s business dealings have been a bottomless pit of ruthless behavior and questionable personal and business ethics.  Nursing homes under his company’s control slashed staffs and support spending to maximize profits and investigators linked the cuts directly to several patient deaths.  Rauner's cold response was a shrug of the shoulder that, “these things happen in nursing homes.”  His company made something of a specialty of outsourcing jobs, especially to China, costing lots of Illinois jobs.  Another shoulder shrug and a statement that, “All jobs don’t belong in Illinois.”  One company was looted of its assets, and when it failed Rauner’s company provided generous large bonuses to the management that had wielded the axes and kissed of thousands of employees with only a $20 gift card in lieu of separation pay.  The list goes on.


The biggest damage came from allegations made in a suit by a former female chief executive of a company Rauner set up to facilitate outsourcing.  She claimed he never provided for promised support to establish the firm and get it up and running.  He claimed she was wasting money.  When he maneuvered the Board to unceremoniously fire her, she filed suit alleging a pattern of discrimination and abuse.  Although the suit was thrown out on technical grounds, the woman’s litany of threats made by Rauner against her and her family was never refuted.  Rauner was caught several times threatening to make her “radioactive and unemployable and, most famously, quoted as saying, “She will never get another job anywhere, ever. I will bankrupt her with legal fees. I don’t know if she has a family or not, but if she does, she better think twice about this.”


When reports first surfaced, Rauner doubled down on acusations that the female executive was incompetent, further damaging her reputation just as he promise.  But the story of such brutal arrogance began to spin out of control.  Rauner tried to have reporting by Chicago Sun-Times long time Springfield bureau  chief Dave McKinley  squelched by upper management.  Rauner was a former minority owner of the newspaper and still close to top management.  After the story ran anyway and was broadcast on NBC Channel 5 by Carol Marin, Rauner attacked McKinley’s wife, a political consultant, and charged that McKinley’s reporting represented a conflict of interest.  McKinley was taken off his beat two weeks before the election and suspended “pending an investigation.  The report made a noisy resignation that ignited one of the biggest journalistic brouhahas in recent Chicago history.


The halo seems to be slipping from Rauner.  Polls show a tightening race.  Several now show what was considered impossible in midsummer in the face of Rauner’s massive spending—a small lead by Quinn statewide.  Of course the trick is something called Voter enthusiasm.  Rauner voters are said to be more enthusiastic about their candidate and Republicans are known to be willing to crawl through glass to cast their vote.  Democrats often don’t show up in non-Presidential years, and almost no one is passionate about Pat Quinn.


Both parties are hoping that referenda questions on the ballot will stir voter turnout.  Democrats are counting on enthusiasm for an endorsement of a minimum wage boost and an advisory referendum on requiring employers to provide contraceptive coverage to women as part of their health care coverage to bring voters to the polls.  Republicans hope a crime victim’s bill of rights provision will motivate law and order voters.


As for me, I may just be mild about Quinn, but I endorse him over Rauner and will cast my vote accordingly on Tuesday, the old fashion way.  I will not stand by and watch a spoiled, vindictive rich guy try to turn Illinois into a clone of Scott Walker’s Wisconsin.


This is no time for Quinn’s unbelievable luck to run out.



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