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Big Jim and Rauner’s end game

Tuesday, Feb 17, 2015 - Posted by Rich Miller

* My Crain’s Chicago Business column

Every governor over the past 25 years—Republican and Democrat—has learned a lesson from Gov. Jim Thompson.

Every governor except one.

Running for re-election in 1982, Thompson was in the fight of his political life, and the Republican speaker of the House was making things worse.

Illinois had plunged into recession under Republican President Ronald Reagan, and Thompson was running against a household name, former U.S. Sen. Adlai Stevenson III.

Then, House Speaker George Ryan of Kankakee allowed an anti-union “right to work” bill to move to the House floor. Organized labor was furious. Thousands of workers gathered on the Statehouse lawn in June to angrily denounce Ryan. Thompson was met with a resounding chorus of boos when he took the stage.

Click here to read the rest. Thanks.

* And my weekly syndicated newspaper column

More than a few statehouse types have been wondering aloud for weeks what Gov. Bruce Rauner is up to with his almost daily attacks on organized labor.

Just what, they ask, is the end game here?

His people say that the governor feels “liberated” since the election to speak his mind about a topic that stirs great personal passion in him. He played up the issue during the Republican primary, then all but ran away from it in the general election, including just a few weeks before Election Day when he flatly denied that “right to work” or anything like that would be among his top priorities.

Yet, there he is, day after day, pounding away at unions, demanding right-to-work laws, vilifying public employee unions as corrupt to the point of issuing an executive order barring the distribution of state-deducted employee “fair share” dues to public worker unions such as AFSCME. The dues are paid by people who don’t want to pay full union dues.

Some top Democrats believe that Rauner may be setting them up for a grand bargain this spring. Democratic lawmakers most certainly are going to freak out when Rauner presents his draconian budget. Rank-and-file members undoubtedly will demand some sort of tax hike to prevent draconian cuts to their cherished programs. Rauner eventually could say he’d agree to additional revenues in exchange for passage of his economic package.

But some top Republicans who have regular contact with the governor say they haven’t yet discerned a rhyme or a reason. “I just don’t see an end game here at all with them,” confided one GOP operative. Another concurred, saying if there is an end game, it hasn’t been shared with anyone else.

For their part, the Democratic House speaker and Senate president have asked the governor gently to focus his considerable energy on attacking the state’s massive budget deficit, rather than spend his time attacking labor. The governor will need all the cooperation he can get to fix that budget problem, and he’s making more enemies than friends right now.

Rauner and his top people are misreading the Senate President in particular, I’m told. The Senate Democrats, much like the U.S. House Republicans, vote privately on pretty much every major issue. If a majority is opposed to an idea, they don’t move forward.

So even if Rauner manages to muscle all 20 Senate Republicans onto a bill, that doesn’t mean the majority party will allow it to be called for a vote. And the more Rauner attempts to undermine their traditional supporters in organized labor, the less they may be willing to go along with him on other things.

And the Democrats aren’t his only problem.

Rauner met with members of the Senate Republican Caucus in a Springfield restaurant earlier this month and delivered a stern warning. Rauner started by reportedly referencing the $20 million sitting in his campaign account and said he wanted to be their partner in the upcoming session and would support those who supported him.

But then the hammer came down. Sources say the governor told the Republicans that he would ask for their votes on 10 issues and he needed them all to vote “yes” on all 10. Not five, not seven. Ten. And if anyone in the room didn’t vote for all 10, then they’d have a “[f-bomb expletive deleted] problem” with him.

Organized labor doesn’t have many friends among Senate Republicans, but they do have some House Republican allies. So top House Republicans hope Rauner will exempt those members from taking any anti-union votes. They point to folks such as Rep. Mike Unes, R-East Peoria, as a Republican who represents a traditionally Democratic district. If he starts voting against his district, he could be on the bubble.

In a major Democratic presidential wave year, with unions completely engaged against a hated governor, the Republicans fret they could lose even more seats if any of those 10 votes Rauner wants has to do with demolishing labor unions.

And the governor isn’t exactly inspiring confidence in the ranks. Rauner’s executive order about fair share dues was declared illegal by the attorney general last week. He reworked it to keep it on track, but it’s still not legal, according to the state’s highest-ranking lawyer.

In politics, it’s always unwise to threaten somebody with an unloaded pistol. Then again, $20 million can buy a whole lot of bullets, whatever the objective may be.


  1. - jerry 101 - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 9:14 am:

    “His people say that the governor feels “liberated” since the election to speak his mind about a topic that stirs great personal passion in him. ”

    His great personal passion is crushing the middle class?


  2. - Frenchie Mendoza - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 9:19 am:

    The end game is a strike. It will cost the state millions. But that’s it — and Rauner said as much when he talked about shutting down government for a few weeks and rewriting the contracts.

    A strike will make Rauner look like a hero. Sure, it’ll hurt the people who can’t really afford to be hurt — and who did nothing except their jobs — but this is all about Rauner.

    I’m surprised people are wondering what the end game is. The strike is the obvious end game. Rauner said he plans to do it, and I’m 100% certain he will do it — shut the government down for an extended time — two, three, maybe a month. He’ll have no problem with it.

    What happens after that? Who knows — who cares. Rauner wants to be Reagan — a hero who stood up to labor and did exactly what he said he was going to do.

  3. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 9:20 am:

    ===Every governor since (Thompson) then has learned the Thompson lesson: Keep state workers happy.====


    ===Here’s one (Thompson quote) from 2013: “You can disagree with AFSCME, you can disagree with the teachers, you can disagree with other public employee unions without demonizing unions.”===

    Governor Rauner,

    The state workers you are demonizing and saying they are paid too much, and discrediting their impact of how they serve the state, they are the ones that you are taking “selfies” with today and would like to fire tomorrow.

    The state workers aren’t chattle. They’re people. The Union(s) are entities. The workers, they have faces, and stories, and institutional knowledge, and they are taxpayers too.

    Governor Thompson learned.

    Governor Thompson didn’t need slides to learn. Governor Thompson didn’t need $120,000 in a state contract to a budget slasher to learn. Governor Thompson…didn’t need polling to learn. This lesson pertaining to state workers is taught, far earlier then it’s learned.

    Illinois isn’t Wisconsin, or Indiana. You “want” it to be. You are striving for it “to be”. The lesson learned won’t be that Illinois can be Indiana or Wisconsin. The lesson to be taught is that trying to BE Indiana or Wisconsin isn’t going to turn Illinois around, but it will put you, Governor Rauner, upside down, with the opinions of state workers you take those swell “selfies” with, for fun.

  4. - PublicServant - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 9:21 am:

    The only thing he’s accomplishing is ruining the already crippled Republican representation in this state. They were just the party of No before, but now, while Rauner is demanding their participation on his terms, he’s ramming stuff down their throats worse than the Democrats ever did. OW is right.

  5. - Anonin' - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 9:27 am:

    Better recheck the BVR reboot on fair share….the latest move only means the worker gets 2 deducts — one agency, one at Comptroller — so double the loss. That will win lots o friends….Can we say Plan C?

  6. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 9:31 am:

    ===The end game is a strike===


    If anything, it’ll be a lockout. Good luck with that.

  7. - Wordslinger - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 9:32 am:

    –just a few weeks before election day, when he flatly denied that “right to work” or anything like that would be among his top priorities.–

    There’s a word for that, and it’s not “liberated.”

    I think the end game is making an ego- tripping splash on the national scene. Rauner got a harrumph-harrumph from the WSJ edit board, which I imagine is a status symbol in the circles he travels in.

    Plus, he has to give Griff and Uihlein some red-meat rhetoric, at least, for their millions. I don’t think right-to-work has any negotiating leverage, at all. Find a sponsor, call tvote and he’ll see.

    But if he has delusions of being a veep contender, he should disabuse himself of the notion. Being a Mini-Me clone of Walker doesn’t do him any good if Walker gets the nod, and if it’s someone else, they could choose the original if they wanted a reactionary union buster.

    Plus, no way any presidential candidate would want to deal with Rauner’s business record of bust outs, lawsuits and pay to play.

  8. - Jocko - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 9:32 am:

    ==the governor told the Republicans that he would ask for their votes on 10 issues==

    Is one of those ten going to be RtW? Other than overcrowded prisons and highly qualified (and compensated) positions, that’s all he’s been talking about for the past month.

    Speaking of the latter, any more news on Emily Clamp?

  9. - small town frank - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 9:32 am:

    Even with $20 million in the bank, telling fellow republicans to vote with me or be my “expletive” enemy, the governor is running the risk of doing more to buy democrats seats then republicans to go along with him. How much money will he have to spend if those republicans in union districts anger their constituents?

  10. - DuPage - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 9:34 am:

    =His people say the governor feels “liberated” since the election to speak his mind…=

    They just admitted Rauner was being deceptive in the campaign for governor. Not a surprise, just more confirmation of what a lot of people are realizing about Rauner.

  11. - Wordslinger - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 9:42 am:

    – Reagan — a hero who stood up to labor and did exactly what he said he was going to do.–

    If you’re referring to PATCO, it didn’t really go down that way.

    Reagan sought and received PATCOs endorsement before the election. It’s a complicated story, but Reagan certainly did not seek confrontation with PATCO or any unions and was endorsed by some in both races for president, including the Teamsters.

    But like many things with Reagan in allegedly “conservative” circles, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

  12. - Arsenal - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 9:44 am:

    “the governor is running the risk of doing more to buy democrats seats then republicans to go along with him”

    In the vast majority of those seats, the Republican will win regardless of how they vote on RTWFL. Supermajorites kind of necessarily include most of the winnable seats.

    That’s not to say Republicans in such districts have no incentive to vote against RTWFL, though.

  13. - walker - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 9:51 am:

    There is no rational end game within the boundaries of Illinois.

    It is as Wordslinger said, a fancy dance for the national stage.

    Of course, it’s possible this is not part of any grand strategy, but simply what Rauner has always believed.

    Unions and workers got in the way of producing short-term sales value in companies he flipped. And of course, flipping those properties for profit is all that mattered.

  14. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 9:53 am:

    - Arsenal -,

    I know you said vast majority, and I agree with most of how you clarified your comment.

    Just do not forget the “10 votes” and $20 million is a hammer to get Primaried (Moffit, McAuliffe for examples).

    Rauner has made it quite clear; the Exevutive owns the Minority Party Caucuses. “Or else”

    ===Illinois is Greece/Greece is Illinois. Overpaid, over-entitled public unions are killing both.===

    Yeah, because Greece and their form of goverment mirrors a Illinois, and further, the workforce, the industries and even the way each government handles public AND private unions, along with their “mirrored” views on a Capitalistic society, all same.


    What’s next, Illinois is the “Michigan” city that’s home for the Lions?

    Pretty embarrassing by you.

  15. - walker - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 9:55 am:

    Rich: That Crain’s column showed what a pro reporter you are. After big Jim declined making any comment about a current governor, you asked his permission to use previous quotes on the union subject — which are public record anyway. Very respectful.

  16. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 9:57 am:

    ===you asked his permission to use previous quotes===

    Actually, he suggested that I feel free to use them after I mentioned them.

  17. - Will - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 9:58 am:

    Maybe a better name would be canyousayuninformed. Greece is not Illinois. Not even close. The past election brought a lot of meatheads to this blog…unfortunately it seems they are sticking around.

  18. - Sam Weinberg - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 10:05 am:

    “He reworked it to keep it on track, but it’s still not legal, according to the state’s highest-ranking lawyer.”

    I was gone this weekend - was there some official commentary on Rauner’s “work around”? Or maybe I’m reading too much into this line?

  19. - Weltschmerz - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 10:11 am:

    Quite a bit of revisionist history here. Any photos where people disappear as they fall out of favor? Try this re; Reagan vs. Patco.

  20. - Former Merit Comp Slave - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 10:12 am:

    IMO his end game is to please the fellow gazillionaires however I think the end result will be the opposite of what they want. Union membership is spiking suddenly and all those state workers who supported him are running from him in herds. I said it before, this is all going to blow up in his face. It’s called Government in Illinois 101

  21. - walker - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 10:18 am:

    ===it’s all going to blow up in his face==

    Exactly what worked for Scott Walker. Made him a national player for the GOP.

  22. - Arsenal - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 10:23 am:

    @ OW-

    Yeah, I wasn’t trying to say that they’ll vote *against* RTWFL. I was actually pushing back against the idea that such a vote would doom any of them.

    But I do think it’s a tough call for some of them; brave millions of dollars to a primary challenge, or galvanized union opposition in a general? If I were a legislator, I’d rather my Governor not put me in such a place.

  23. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 10:37 am:

    - Arsenal -,

    I hear ya, much respect, and that’s why I treaded very carefully in my discussion with your comment, but saying as you said so well;

    === I’d rather my Governor not put me in such a place.===

    Ask yourself this; when did we last have a governor say that if you, a legislator in the Minority party of the Chamber, but the party of said governor, do NOT vote as he, the governor…demands…that said governor, your party’s governor, will have a “special” problem.

    Not one legislator. Nope. Not regional legislators, no. The entire Caucus, and further, both…both Caucuses.

    That was my take. Again, much respect, - Arsenal -.

  24. - MrJM - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 10:39 am:

    “[Governor Thompson] then invited the crowd to the governor’s mansion for free beer.”

    God bless you, Big Jim.

    – MrJM

  25. - Arsenal - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 10:53 am:

    @ OW

    I can’t think of such a situation, but maybe I’m just too green.

  26. - facts are stubborn things - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 11:03 am:

    can you say Kirk Dillard? snark

  27. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 11:06 am:

    - Arsenal -,

    How about this;

    The Leaders of the Caucuses, they can’t give passes to botes that may be critical to the governor’s agenda, but are counter-productive to the legislator’s district, or distrcit make-up.

    The governor is the final arbiter of dispensation.

    I can’t think of a time Caucus Leaders were treated so shabbily and disrespected so directly.

    All these situations, I’m hard pressed to think of examples with such broad strokes.

  28. - Wensicia - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 11:15 am:

    His and others’ millions got Rauner elected, I think he believes their millions (and threats to those who won’t cooperate) can control the politics in this state. This isn’t Wisconsin; he doesn’t have an advantage in the GA and outside interests aren’t going to throw money his way to save his job like they did for Walker. Rauner is too socially liberal for their tastes.

  29. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 11:25 am:

    ==Of course, it’s possible this is not part of any grand strategy, but simply what Rauner has always believed. Unions and workers got in the way of producing short-term sales value in companies he flipped.==

    I’ve been wondering along those lines as well. On Friday, I was going to post something about Rauner being Ahab and the unions being the great white whale. And, we all know how that turned out.

  30. - small town frank - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 11:30 am:

    Arsenal, i apologize for any confusion, i certainly did not mean to imply any one vote would doom any of them, and i would agree that singularly a vote for FTWFL would probably not cost someone their seat. It was more big picture, “vote with me on all 10″, even if it puts you at odds with your constituents, or else. I would expect that in certain districts running someone more in tune with the gov’s agenda against a current ally runs the risk of losing that ally completely.

  31. - Wordslinger - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 11:36 am:

    Has Rauner lined up any Dem votes for these 10 things? Does he have any expectation of doing so? He’ll need some, if my ciphering is correct.

    Until he does, what’s the point of threatening Republicans? He can’t seriously be expecting them to stick their necks out in symbolic losing battles, can he? What’s the point of that? This ain’t DC.

  32. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 11:41 am:

    If they vote on all 10, an opponent can use that as a campaign issue, especially if many of those votes are against the district. Especially true since Rauner has been so public about this. Who wants a rep/sen who is s obviously bought?

  33. - NW Suburbs Joe - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 11:46 am:

    “The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all.” G.K. Chesterton

    All this talk about what Thompson and other Governors learned is beside the point; Rauner doesn’t care about that. The end game for Rauner is to effectively blow up the way things run now, eliminating obstacles such as union contracts to make it easier for his cronies to do business in Illinois. If state government is crippled while doing so, all the better. That contributes to voter apathy and increasing loss of confidence in public institutions, making it easier for the Rauners of the world to buy more elections.

    I think anyone interested in figuring out Rauner’s “end game” would do well to watch the Alec Baldwin “Always. Be. Closing” speech from “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

  34. - ChiTown Seven - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 12:35 pm:

    Rauner and his crack staff still don’t understand one of the most fundamental principles of governance: separation of power and its twin, co-equal branches of government. Hamilton, Madison, and Jay explained the purpose of these principles quite well in the Federalist Papers (and these principles serve the same purpose on a state level). For instance, in Federalist #47: the accumulation of legislative power by the executive. . . “whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” And tyranny can be best prevented by ensuring that these powers not become concentrated, particularly (as explained in #51), by constituting an autonomous legislative branch that answers to the populace and that jealously guards against incursions by the executive.

    Students of the mechanics of governance have the opportunity to watch these principles play out here in Illinois — and play out they will, as long at Rauner and his yes-serfs over-reach. You heard it here first: GOP Reps and Senators will slowly turn aside from Rauner — he’s giving them no choice in the matter.

  35. - Federalist - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 12:41 pm:

    NEWS FLASH to Rauner! Right to Work is a small side show. The real concern is the state budget. But I guess attacking the unions makes him feel good. The only thing he needs to do about unions are the public employee unions and then just to make certain that raises don’t go over the CPI.

  36. - dr. reason a. goodwin - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 1:24 pm:

    Two pros…Rich for his insightful reminder of JRT’s history with labor…and JRT for commenting without commenting.

  37. - Harold's Left-wing Dinner - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 1:41 pm:

    Nice column, though I think it primarily shows George Ryan might have learned a lesson. And while the ‘82 election provides a dramatic narrative focus for the purpose of the lesson, Thompson courted organized labor (including public employees) from the outset of his administration. In 1976 he and Howlett supported public employees’ right to strike, and both pledged to uphold Walker’s 1973 executive order. And revisit the clever contract deal Jim Fletcher worked out with AFSCME in 1977.

    As for the 1983 legislation, Cheryl Frank and Gregory Saltzman have pointed to a pair of ISC decisions in 1981 (Chicago Board of Education v. Chicago Teachers Union and Peters v. Health and Hospitals Governing Commission) as the motivating force behind the bill as it became clear an executive order wasn’t going to cut it long-term. Various labor organizations agreed to work toward a common bill in 1982, and in 1983 the Dems were back at the wheel in the House, with a willing (and grateful) partner in the executive mansion.

  38. - Concerned - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 1:53 pm:

    Rauner has a thing about government employee unions that blinds him to everything else on his agenda.

    I heard Toni Preckwinkle describe a meeting she had with Rauner when Rauner was recommended to her to serve on the Cook County Health & Hospital Systems Board. He was not interested in talking about how to improve the delivery of healthcare services. All he wanted to talk about was how the unions were hurting the System. She decided to pass on Rauner and appoint someone actually interested in the delivery of healthcare to our neediest citizens.

    For Rauner, gutting unions is an end unto itself and the most important mission he has.

    I don’t get it.

  39. - gopower - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 1:54 pm:

    ===Every governor since (Thompson) then has learned the Thompson lesson: Keep state workers happy.====

    And IL now has pensions that are only 40% funded, by far the worst in the nation.

    The Thompson lesson is never listen to Big Jim & Co.

  40. - jake - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 2:03 pm:

    Perhaps Rauner is the Republican version of Blagojevich, who picked fights for no strategic reason at all, but just for the fun of it.

  41. - truthteller - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 2:44 pm:

    Rich, I don’t think that Illinois governors since Thompson have been motivated by a desire to pay off state employee unions as both you and Rauner assert.
    While Edgar did have an appreciation for state employees and the work they perform, governors since him held state employees and their union in low esteem.

    Virtually every round of bargaining was heated. AFSCME’s relationship with Blagojevich was so bad the union didn’t even support him for reelection. And only after chasing Quinn across the country and raising hell at the state fair didthe union did get a contract. And if the candidates had been almost anyone but Brady and Rauner, it is highly unlikely Quinn would have ever received their endorsement.
    If Quinn was trying to keep the unions happy, he had a funny way of showing it- withholding negotiated pay increases, slashing pensions and removing thousands of employees from the umbrella of collective bargaining.

    Governors are employers, and they should try to keep their workforces happy, but they often don’t do that unless they are pressured to do so.
    I understand why Rauner is pushing the story that we have a mess because governors are trying to keep unions happy as part of a corrupt bargain. He has little regard for the truth.
    But you’re perhaps the most astute observer of state government. Do you really think that Quinn, Blagojevich and Ryan were about keeping the state employee unions happy?

  42. - walker - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 3:05 pm:

    Rauner might need to have GOP-committed votes in hand before even talking to many Dems.

    ===if anyone [Senate Republican caucus] in the room didn’t vote for all 10, then they’d have a “[f-bomb expletive deleted] problem” with him.===

    If Rauner thinks he can push Radogno around, with a straight up threat, like his “I will bury her”, then he will be sorely surprised.

  43. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 3:12 pm:

    So - we got a new governor who felt he had to lie to voters in order to get elected. Now that he is elected, he thinks the powers of his elected office will permit him to do what he couldn’t convince enough voters to support him openly in doing.

    His end game is to convince those he lied to that the results we will see are good enough to forgive him for his lies at the end of this term.

    Rauner is stunningly cynical towards the people of Illinois. He believes we are too stupid to know what is best for us, so he will have to use his gubernatorial powers to make us accept what we wouldn’t have elected him to do.

    He has mistaken what a governor can legally and politically do and what Illinois is as a state.

  44. - Emily Booth - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 7:45 pm:

    Reagan made unions ineligible for FS benefits when PATCO went on strike. The feds made an exception Caterpillar strikers when Bob Michel ran for re-election. I know no one reads my posts but I had to say this. :) BTW, Ryan loved state employees. It was very clear Blagoyevich did not think much of state employees at his 1st SOTS address.

  45. - Outside the bubble - Tuesday, Feb 17, 15 @ 8:29 pm:

    Governor Rauner has declared war on all working people. The first causality of war is truth,as referenced in the article above. Compromise is the part of the equation the new Governor has yet to discover and is how you govern effectively. Here’s the deal, take it or leave it and few not quite factual facts does not make a leader. JMHO

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