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More on the Mike Z resignation

Monday, Jul 17, 2017

* WGN

A Republican strategist who was expected to lead Gov Bruce Rauner’s 2018 re-election campaign has left his position days after Rauner replaced top employees with staff from a conservative think tank.

Mike Zolnierowicz was an architect of Rauner’s 2014 campaign. He also served as Rauner’s chief of staff before resigning in 2016 to work as chief strategic adviser for Illinois GOP political operations. XPS Professional Services announced Friday that Zolnierowicz is leaving that role to lead XPS’ political operation.

The move comes after Rauner overhauled his staff in the wake of a legislative defeat, hiring leaders of the Illinois Policy Institute to high-level positions, including chief of staff.

* Korecki

The departure of Mike Zolnierowicz, who headed the transition team after Rauner’s 2014 election and served as the governor’s first chief of staff, is a serious blow to Rauner as the governor prepares for the costliest reelection campaign the Midwest has seen.

Former Rauner staffers say the recent staffing decisions — not just clearing out key, loyal personnel, but hiring several members of the Illinois Policy Institute, a lightning-rod conservative think tank, in their place — are an attempt to lay the groundwork for more upheaval up ahead. […]

Zolnierowicz was the behind-the-scenes architect of Rauner’s 2014 victory and a key to the governor’s 2016 election gains in the General Assembly.

* Hinz

He did not return messages seeking comment, but sources close to him say he was disturbed by a series of high-level Rauner staff changes this week, ending up this afternoon with the termination or resignation of most of the governor’s policy staff. Most of those positions reportedly will be filled with personnel from the Illinois Policy Institute, a libertarian Chicago think tank that strongly opposes tax hikes and says the state’s budget woes can be solved via spending cuts and slashed benefits for state and local government workers.

Quoted in the Xpress news release was the head of its parent firm, Greg Baise, whose Illinois Manufacturers’ Association operates Xpress as a wholly owned subsidiary. “His understanding of the political environment extends beyond Illinois’ border, and his list of accomplishments is second to none,” said Baise, whose group is a major player in Illinois politics, usually on behalf of Republicans.

Already working for the firm is Eric Elk, who like Zolnierowicz got his start in politics working as a staffer for former U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk.

If you’re scratching your head wondering if you’ve ever seen anything like this past week in Illinois politics, stop. You haven’t.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

29 Comments »
  1. - Free Set of Steak Knives - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 8:53 am:

    So does the IMA now become the Government-in-exile, and Baise the GOP leader you talk to if you want to have a grown-up conversation?


  2. - Roman - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 8:57 am:

    You know it’s been a crazy week when the Sox and Cubs make a big trade and there’s not an open thread to discuss it.


  3. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 8:58 am:

    ===So does the IMA now become the Government-in-exile, and Baise the GOP leader…===

    If that’s remotely true, send them my best and when they get to Oswego…


  4. - Keystone - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 9:02 am:

    When Rauner was elected, he reminded me of Dan Walker, I thought he wouldn’t be effective as governor, and would antagonize his own party. I wasn’t expecting it to be this extreme.


  5. - Anonymous - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 9:02 am:

    Any shot Rauner had at reelection is now gone.


  6. - Keyrock - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 9:04 am:

    Keystone was me. Danged autocorrect. (I haven’t defected to Pennsylvania.)


  7. - A Jack - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 9:12 am:

    Since the IPI is considered Libertarian, and Illinois rejected Libertarianism at the ballot box, isn’t this kind of a coup?

    Illinois elected a person expecting Republican ideals but ended up with a closet Libertarian.


  8. - Soccermom - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 9:12 am:

    I spent a rather large portion of the weekend trying to figure out how this makes sense. Still haven’t come up with an answer….


  9. - Inspector Gadget - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 9:22 am:

    Question for OW- and others who might have a opinion. Does this move guarantee (as much as possible, no guarantees in life) that he dosent have a primary opponent, or does this major mishap give a opportunity for a moderate Republican to say ” what the hell why not” and primary him? I know early Friday the thought was this shored up his far right flank so there goes any thoughts of a primary. However with Z and I am sure more to come leaving, is he ripe for a primary defeat? Remember it wasnt the far right that put him over the top last time.


  10. - dbk - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 9:36 am:

    Soccermom, ditto for me. It was a long weekend.

    I find it helpful in trying to understand what’s happened (and what’s going to happen, starting immediately) to conceive of two Republican parties in Illinois, one represented by trad Republicans and one represented by the IPI. This mirrors to a considerable degree the U.S. Congress.

    The question is whether the governor was in league all along with the IPI, or whether he’s turned to them for back-up. I’d go for the former explanation, but am open to being persuaded otherwise.

    To put it in another way, was the governor’s refusal to become actively involved in last-ditch budget efforts genuine, or was it an IPI-dictated strategy designed to (a) blame the income tax increase on the Dems and (b) target trad Republicans (the crossover voters) for primarying in 2018 in order to replace them with IPI-approved candidates?

    This is national news, and I haven’t yet seen any national political analysts catch on to what’s shaping up to be one of the bitterest political struggles in Illinois–actually, in recent U.S.–history.


  11. - Ginhouse Tommy - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 9:36 am:

    The problem with Mike Z leaving is that Gov. Bruce has lost a battle scared veteran who had some insight on how things were done. Now they are going to just wing it.


  12. - Whatever - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 9:37 am:

    This was very played by Mike Z. In the end, I’m not sure it was choice to leave, but he did it the right way and has made Rauner look foolish.


  13. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 9:38 am:

    - Inspector Gadget -

    It will be very difficult to primary Rauner, just “period”.

    The Right will feel appeased, as Proft “apparently” was when he and @StatehouseChick broke the Rassmussen story. Well, that, and Proft could/will gain more with IPI running the Shop.

    Can’t see a “GOP in exile” playing out with moderates either. It makes little sense, and the cost to going after Rauner in his “Left” as he goes after “The Perfect 10″ isn’t what conventional GOPers are looking to do come next March either.

    Raunerism and the IPI completed a corporate takeover that began January 2015. The bonus for the IPI is they got the Illinois Executive too.


  14. - Arsenal - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 9:38 am:

    Of course, it’s possible for Z to still give Rauner good advice regardless of who is signing his paychecks. You can even envision a scenario where he basically does almost all the same work, just on IMA’s payroll.

    But if that were the play, one would think they wouldn’t announce this move at the end of a tumultuous week marked by a lot of other staff changes.


  15. - titan - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 9:40 am:

    +++ - Inspector Gadget - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 9:22 am: Question for OW- and others who might have a opinion. Does this move guarantee (as much as possible, no guarantees in life) that he doesn’t have a primary opponent …?

    Hard to say. If this signals a swerve to the right in governance going forward, it might open the door to a challenger of “moderate” styling, but the money factor is going to scare off a lot of people who might otherwise think about it.


  16. - DuPage Dave - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 9:48 am:

    The IMA is pretty darn conservative but unlike the IPI they do live in the real world- running businesses, doing deals, making payrolls. Good luck to Mr. Z.


  17. - Annonin' - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 10:08 am:

    Does this mean IMA will not get their usual, annual $1 million for job trainin’ from DCEO? Hmmmm. Opps IPI probably did not know about that one. Never mind


  18. - Arsenal - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 10:09 am:

    There wasn’t going to be a primary challenge to Rauner before this and there won’t be one after this. He’s got too much money and organization, and too few Republicans have any appetite to take on their first Governor in over a decade.

    The real vector for party divisions is if IPI goads Rauner into going after the Taxing Ten.


  19. - Fax Machine - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 10:13 am:

    Who would run Rauner’s campaign knowing they have these IPI weirdos looking over their shoulder. At this point, he kind of has to get an IPI person or maybe someone from one of the losing GOP Presidential campaigns like Jeb’s who is desperate for a rebound.

    Watch him ask Schrimpf to come back & him to say he’d rather move to Mosul.


  20. - Grandson of Man - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 11:04 am:

    Rauner is a terrible boss. It’s not his staff’s fault that for his entire term, he refused to pass a full budget. It’s not their fault that he sabotaged budget negotiations with anti-union poison pills that would never pass, which were in his property tax reform demand as recently as late last year. They didn’t pull support from the Senate’s grand bargain a few months ago.

    That’s Rauner, for you. He’s at fault, but he either fires people or they quit. I hope now people get a sense of what kind of employer he is. He will speak positively of government employees when he needs to look good, such as on the Illinois.gov website, where he says that for decades, his firm managed “retirement investments” of employees, to their benefit and the benefit of taxpayers.

    But when it comes to the union representatives of these employees, who are employees themselves, or employees who are pro-union (many of them) and active in the union in some way, they’re trash, and he’s trying to knock their legs out from under them, making them permanently subordinate to him and his supporters, politically and economically, by ending fair share fees.

    He’s in a labor war with AFSCME, whose members are fighting to not eat a terrible contract, when this should have been settled a long time ago.

    Horrible boss. Who’d want to work for him, beside the IPI? Maybe there’s a place for Hurricane Kristina (McQueary) in the administration. She could try to take part in Rauner’s human-made hurricane.


  21. - Anonymous - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 11:04 am:

    ==He’s got too much money and organization==

    Money, yes. Organization?….a lot of that walked last week.


  22. - Arsenal - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 11:17 am:

    ==Money, yes. Organization?….a lot of that walked last week.==

    We’ll see; I betcha a Coke most county party chairs and precinct commiteemen, most people who can be counted on to knock doors or make phones calls, are still solidly with him. But hey, the Republicans don’t invite me to their meetings, so what do I know?


  23. - In a Minute - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 11:29 am:

    This is so confusing for me all this gnashing of teeth over Rauner staff departures. Based o comments I have read here the last several years I would have thought a staff turnover would be greeted as good news. I remember some social service cuts that were announced by Rauner’s office on Good Friday last year and people here wanted heads to roll over that.


  24. - just sayin' - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 11:44 am:

    If there are 500 people in the entire state who know who any of these departing state workers are, I would be shocked. This is purely insider baseball for local yokels.

    But pretty much every single person in the state is aware that state government has been a dysfunctional disaster while Rauner’s been in office.


  25. - Anonymous - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 12:48 pm:

    ==This is purely insider baseball for local yokels.==

    It is…however it’s inside baseball that’s been covered heavily the last week. Instead of spending the week spinning the post budget veto, Rauner has a public image now of a chaotic new group taking over his office. He has blown a key week of potential good “anti-Madigan” coverage, having to spend time instead explaining and answering questions about his office.


  26. - walker - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 2:48 pm:

    Any candidate who appears to stand against tax increases starts with a lead, all other things being equal.


  27. - Flapdoodle - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 4:16 pm:

    =Any candidate who appears to stand against tax increases starts with a lead, all other things being equal.=

    Which they seldom if ever are


  28. - sb - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 4:28 pm:

    As a person who supported Rauner VERY early on, and who made the largest individual election financial contribution in my eighty years, I cannot figure out what Rauner is doing. I am baffled with the staff changes/resignations.


  29. - anon2 - Monday, Jul 17, 17 @ 4:40 pm:

    === Already working for the firm is Eric Elk, who like Zolnierowicz got his start in politics working as a staffer for former U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk.===

    Elk started as top staffer for Congressman Phil Crane.


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