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Rauner’s gonna miss JBT more than he may know

Monday, Dec 22, 2014

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

There’s little doubt that the late Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka would’ve continued her straight-talking ways during a Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner administration.

Topinka was “good copy” for reporters. When she criticized a budget or a fiscal position, we listened.

Other Statehouse denizens respected her fiscal smarts as well. If she attacked a proposal, legislators and everyone else under the dome took note.

Rauner showed great deference to Topinka after the election, officing in her Statehouse suite and giving her chief of staff the authority to hire most of his new employees. I don’t think there’s any question that he grew to truly admire the quirky redhead.

But Topinka had called for a far more gradual reduction to the state’s 2011 income tax hike than Gov.-elect Rauner has said he wants. A particularly brutal package of budget cuts or one-time gimmicks proposed by Rauner next year wouldn’t have gone down too well with her. Rauner would’ve had to take her opinion into account before unveiling his budget, or suffer the consequences afterward.

She was also much more liberal than Rauner admits to. Topinka was expected to help build bridges between Rauner and organized labor, as well as to Democrats and left of center groups she worked with over the years and who have not yet become comfortable with the idea of a Republican governor.

Yes, many of us lost a friend this month, but we also lost an experienced, respected politico who could counsel the new and inexperienced governor about how to be a more effective leader, and one who could help nudge him, publicly or privately, to stay on a more humane and fiscally responsible fiscal path.

And with Topinka’s post-election passing, I don’t see any of Rauner’s fellow Republicans out there with the power or credibility who will also have the guts to stand up to the guy.

Some holes can be patched here and there. Both Republican state legislative leaders have ties to unions, for example. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno is a former social worker who has championed human services causes.

But neither of those leaders have yet to show much independence from Rauner, whose money had a major impact on House races this year and could have an equally big impact on 2016 Senate races.

For instance, Gov. Quinn, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have all forcefully argued for a special election so that Rauner’s pick for Topinka’s replacement won’t serve beyond a 2016 special election. A four-year appointment by Rauner, they all argue, is just downright undemocratic.

When the topic was first broached, Rauner claimed such an election would be unconstitutional, but the Illinois Constitution clearly says that the appointee serves until the successor is elected and qualified “as may be provided by law.”

The next day, the two legislative leaders, Radogno and House GOP Leader Jim Durkin, released what higher-ups in the attorney general’s office derisively dismissed as a “half baked” legal opinion about why a special session would be unconstitutional.

The opinion deliberately left out crucial words in important constitutional passages, defied logic by claiming “as may be provided by law” passage didn’t allow the Legislature to actually do anything, and ignored committee reports from and debate at the state’s Constitutional Convention which made it abundantly clear that the Legislature has the authority to act.

Not only did that opinion bode ill for the incoming Rauner administration (with one person at the attorney general’s office saying it reminded her of Rod Blagojevich, whose lawyers would often pull legal arguments out of thin air to counter the attorney general), it also showed an astonishing servility by the two GOP legislative leaders.

I don’t know whether Comptroller Topinka would’ve wanted a special election to replace her in 2016, rather than allow her successor to serve four years until after the regularly scheduled 2018 election. None of us do. She had her partisan leanings, so she might be wary of holding a special election in a presidential election year, when Democrats do much better than off years. But she was also a small “d” democrat and a four-year appointment sure doesn’t feel democratic to many folks.

I do know, however, that Topinka never would’ve signed her name to an obviously bogus legal “argument” like the one released last week.

“There’s a hole in the hearts of the people of this state,” Gov. Quinn said at Topinka’s memorial service last week. That’s true. But there’s also now a gaping hole in the government which assumes power next month.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

32 Comments
  1. - Wordslinger - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 9:50 am:

    That “legal analysis” was just awful; a deliberate con job for small-time political gain. I’m surprised the legislative leaders signed on to it.


  2. - Demoralized - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 9:55 am:

    I’m not convinced that the Speaker is going to go forward with supporting a special election. But, if he does Rauner and the Republicans will be backed into a corner. It won’t look very good to oppose an election. Quinn did his part with his actions. He didn’t do what we all feared he might. He showed restraint and did a good thing. If there is a movement towards a special election Rauner should do the right thing also and support it.


  3. - Del Clinkton - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 9:56 am:

    Anything is Unconstitutional to “conservatives” (NOT Republicans) when it serves their purpose.


  4. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 10:03 am:

    ===And with Topinka’s post-election passing, I don’t see any of Rauner’s fellow Republicans out there with the power or credibility who will also have the guts to stand up to the guy.===

    Wow. Great stuff there.

    What really is lost is this idea that when Rauner, like Edgar, like Ryan, like even Thompson, took over the ILGOP, Rauner isnt about everyone pulling in the same direction. Nope. It’s Rauner picking the direction, and the threat of what WILL happen if the Leaders decide to oppose the move.

    The difference will lead to a different type of monolithic GOP;

    The “Grand Ole Rauners” are willing to be lemmings, dressed in pristine Carhartts hoping that Rauner doesn’t decide to forsake the Caucuses.

    It’s real.


  5. - VanillaMan - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 10:05 am:

    If Rauner comes at us unfiltered - he is going to discover where his leash ends. That won’t be good because it allows his political opponents to stand one step away from the edge and taunt him.

    Rauner needs to keep his allusions in order to deal with the overwhelmingly Democratically controlled state and government. He has to be a magician and prevent his opponents from exposing him or Illinoisans will laugh and begin to ignore him as governor.

    An important part of his new role will be having powerful allies in state government respected enough to be listened to. Rauner cannot be a solo act - Topinka would have been an effective and credible partner.

    Someone has to stand up and help this new governor. Someone credible and someone considered capable on the issues Rauner will be facing. There isn’t anyone from the Illinois GOP who had what Topinka had at the ready. Perhaps someone could grow into that role, but it would have been best if we didn’t have both a governor and his allies vying for legitimacy at the same time.

    This is what Rauner needs to do:
    He needs to put Glenn Poshard in his office and let him become a partner in governing during this term. Rauner needs to stop pretending that he can do this job right off the bat and stop believing what his yes-men and women are saying. Bruce needs Glenn to give him the advice he needs to establish a working relationship with the Ruling Party of Illinois to get things done.

    The bar is set very low here.
    What Rauner has to do is just stop the fiscal bleeding using ways that won’t be partisan or divisional politically. Because being a Republican in Illinois means deflating the GOP boogeymen myths which abound here first.

    Without Topinka, Rauner needs to get someone like Glenn Poshard or another moderate Democrat with gravitas to help the new governor weather his first years in office.


  6. - DuPage Dave - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 10:10 am:

    Everything said about Topinka is quite true. But somehow I’m thinking that Rauner isn’t wanting relationships smoothed over or bridges built. He seems to want to have a battle with the enemy. My guess is that going to war with state employees will be the first and biggest part of his plan to shake up Springfield.


  7. - T.S. - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 10:12 am:

    And without Topinka’s middle-of-the-road perspective, Rauner chances of being lured into a few Madigan-constructed traps increases. Minimum wage and a Comptroller’s Special Election might be examples of this. Madigan may be shunning this upcoming Special Session because he would prefer to pass a minumum wage increase and a comptroller’s special election early next Spring while Rauner is in office. Let him veto a highly popular minimum wage increase or deny the voters a chance to pick an statewide office holder by nixing a special election. That might drive Rauner’s approval rating down early in his administration.


  8. - Levois - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 10:14 am:

    This column helped me realize that Topinka is one of a kind. It may be a while before anyone like her emerges in this state.


  9. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 10:15 am:

    - VanillaMan -,

    You are 100% right about one thing;

    There isn’t a person that is seen as the “counter-voice” in the Rauner Crew, because there is yet to be the “Devil’s Advocate” being touted, the “counter voice Rauner listens to before moving forward”

    It’s not about winning against the counter argument, but it is about strengthening your own argument by answering the counter points before they seek public consumption.

    It’s what Rauner wants, lots of “yes”es and defending to the hilt, no matter the optics.


  10. - VanillaMan - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 10:16 am:

    Anything is Unconstitutional to “conservatives” (NOT Republicans) when it serves their purpose.

    Nonsense. You got that completely backwards. You are thinking like a liberal who believes in constitutional interpretations. We don’t do that. Conservatism isn’t that flexible. We don’t believe in constitutional interpretations because that wouldn’t be honoring the constitution.

    It is what it says it is.


  11. - Del Clinkton - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 10:26 am:

    Please explain the correlation between “liberal” and “constitutional interpretation”. Specifically. Cite sources. Etc, etc.


  12. - Demoralized - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 10:31 am:

    ==We don’t believe in constitutional interpretations because that wouldn’t be honoring the constitution.==

    You are being snarky right?


  13. - VanillaMan - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 10:35 am:

    I’m not afraid of Rauner racing out of the Mansion at full gallop and then snapping his neck when he discovers the limits of his leash. He needs to know where it ends in order to focus on what he can do within its perimeter of power.

    What Rauner needs to do is demonstrate that he is comfortable and functioning as a governor first. He needs to carefully find out where his limits are.

    If the new governor needs to be publically humiliated - then get out there and experience it right away. It needs to be done. Best to do that right away and let us forget about it during the rest of the term, than to keep doing it.

    I don’t care if Rauner’s team is full of inexperienced experts going into office. Those people will be exposed with every public flop. I care if Rauner keeps them around him and they remain ignorant.

    I don’t think the GOP in Illinois could run a school board, let alone the State. If they don’t see that too, then they will eventually. It would be better for them to learn that right away, then to never learn it.

    This will be a bipartisan administration or it will fail. Anyone thinking the GOP will be in control doesn’t understand Illinois or the concepts of control. This is a BLUE state. Even a successful Rauner administration won’t change that. The largest geographical center of power in Illinois has had one-party rule longer than anything which ruled China, the Soviet Union, France during the 18th Century, the Windsor family in Great Britain, or Castro in Cuba. Nothing beats the Democrats in Chicago and Cook County in political power since the invention of the Guttenberg printing press.


  14. - Walker - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 10:38 am:

    Timely and insightful column.

    Exactly what should be on the minds of those who care about improvement of the state.

    There is no replacement quite like JBT.

    Good to mention Radogno’s strengths, which might shine through, though she will be highly dependent on Rauner’s campaign funding for her caucus.

    If we want a fair and semi-independent critic of budget proposals, maybe the guy who promised to sue over falsely “balanced” budgets, Tom Cross, could play a good role as Comptroller. He’s also more socially liberal than his average caucus member, and can work well across the aisle.

    If we want a Republican with substantial professional financial skills, who has been shuttled to the bench this election cycle, Darlene Senger should not be overlooked.

    If we want to seriously focus on consolidation, then perhaps Rauner can come up with a professional manager from the private sector who made a career of doing just that — and make it a “temporary” and non-political role by design. There is nothing that says we cannot consolidate some operations de facto, while maintaining legal boundaries only between constitutionally defined roles.

    Of course, that’s focusing more on skills for the job, less on politics. One can always hope.

    BTW, a serious review of what can safely be combined in the two constitutional offices, while maintaining required financial checks and balances, is more on the order of $4Million, not the $12Million that politicians have taken to quoting. At least that’s what it looked like about 5 years ago. Amazing how numbers balloon during political campaigns.


  15. - VanillaMan - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 10:41 am:

    Explaining a constitution to a liberal is like explaining science to a Trekkie.


  16. - Norseman - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 10:51 am:

    I felt bad for the GOP staff attorneys. I know they’re better than to issue the interpretation the leaders put out. Sometimes you have to take one for the team. That’s why I was surprised Cullerton let his attorney come out with such a damning analysis on pension reduction efforts.


  17. - Wordslinger - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 10:53 am:

    Sure seems like there’s been quite a bit of constitutional interpretation by the courts since 1789.

    But who am I to question someone who thinks “the Windsor family” rules Great Britain. Might want to look up the Glorious Revolution of 1688.


  18. - VanillaMan - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 10:56 am:

    Yeah - focus on that and ignore everything else.


  19. - Del Clinkton - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 10:56 am:

    @vanillaman

    “Explaining a constitution to a liberal is like explaining science to a Trekkie.”

    That’s the best you can do. An ad hominem attack. Got it.


  20. - VanillaMan - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 11:08 am:

    I’m still not explaining it to you.


  21. - Demoralized - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 11:10 am:

    Guys, VMan is yanking your chain this morning.


  22. - A guy... - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 11:10 am:

    Like Bruce, I will miss Judy. I predict that there may be some underestimating going on in the comments today. He was working with Judy and Nancy is very involved in the transition. Some of the process is already in place philosophically. Judy likely lived long enough to make a last impression for how to go forward. Her best work may still be in front of us. It’s Christmas week. Let’s at least allow for that possibility.


  23. - Walker - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 11:12 am:

    VMan: with respect

    Having been a serious student of the writers of the constitution, and their personal views expressed in diaries and letters, (and in newspaper columns like The Federalist), — I have yet to find any “original intent” that companies or corporations have the right as “persons” to protected Free Speech. You?

    Please take a breath, and realize that both sides reinterpret original language to express current ideas. That has been going on significantly since at least the 1820’s. Some of what the most conservative critics of the courts assume was “original”, was unheard of among the actual drafters.


  24. - Archiesmom - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 11:20 am:

    This post and the thoughtful analysis presented in it is exactly why one should subscribe to Capital Fax. Thanks for putting into clear words a subtle but powerful behind-the-scenes factor in the upcoming transition.


  25. - Eastside - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 11:36 am:

    Vince Demuzio’s death changed the balance of power in the Senate and allowed for a closer alliance between Emil Jones and Blagojevich (which in my opinion was not good). The loss of Topinka could have similar consequences.


  26. - Ghost - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 12:10 pm:

    Amen

    Here is hoping Nancy Kimme can be, and will be that voice.


  27. - Ginhouse Tommy - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 1:04 pm:

    Ghost Nancy Kimme might be the voice but it’s impossible to replace the lady. She had character without being one. She was an elected official but still the voice of the people and ask Rich if she wasn’t a straight shooter. Never stab anybody in the back when you can give em hell to their face and in front of everybody. There was absolutely not phoney about her. Good Luck to Nancy.


  28. - DuPage - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 2:17 pm:

    What can the comptroller do politically that makes it worth all the rancor over the 4-year vs. 2-year appointment? Is this becoming a contest of “I will show you who’s boss around here”? Is this a sample of how the Rauner administration is going to work on big problems? It does not look good at all.


  29. - A guy... - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 2:40 pm:

    The more you think about it, the more you might conclude that no leader in either party wants a statewide race to deal with when so many legislative seats are up. They might not even care so much about the Senate race beyond not having a buffoon at the top of the ticket. Kirk is a safe choice up there. They’ll work to keep it that way. Not sure what the Dems will do, but I’m pretty sure they’ll work at not handicapping themselves at the top. Quinn would not be a safe choice up there.

    As for Comptroller? The further we get from the new appointment, the less it looks like the Alamo to me.


  30. - Black Ivy - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 5:11 pm:

    After a hard-fought race, I don’t think Comptroller Topinka would support a Special Election less than two years later. She won the race and the role should be filled with her Chief of Staff.


  31. - Precinct Captain - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 5:30 pm:

    ==After a hard-fought race, I don’t think Comptroller Topinka would support a Special Election less than two years later. She won the race and the role should be filled with her Chief of Staff.==

    The election would more than two years later. Check a calendar.


  32. - Percival - Monday, Dec 22, 14 @ 6:09 pm:

    At the close of 1 A.R. (Anno Rauner) in the Illinois GOP, “servility” is spelled M-O-N-E-Y, and “independence” is spelled “A-P-P-O-I-N-T”. This guy prettying single-handedly took the GOP to the Governor’s Office, and there ain’t nobody gonna cross him or his money cannon.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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