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The politics behind Rauner’s veto and the future of gun bills

Monday, Mar 19, 2018

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto of a gun-dealer licensing bill last week took a lot of folks by surprise. It probably shouldn’t have.

We’ll get to the politics in a second, but as with HB40, the governor was acting on his beliefs. Rauner is a strong abortion-rights supporter, so he signed HB40 last year to provide public funding for abortions and protect women’s right to choose if Roe v. Wade is reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Governor Rauner also says he’s an NRA member. And he’s been railing against government regulations of business his entire adult life. This licensing bill checked both of those ideological boxes.

Okay, on to the politics.

After the disastrous two-plus-year state-budget impasse, HB40 gave him an opening with suburban women last year – and you can’t win statewide without that demographic.

Last week’s licensing-bill veto allowed him to throw some red meat at his GOP base a few days before the primary.

Getting on the front page of every newspaper in the state and leading the local TV news coverage and inserting himself into conservative talk radio shows would tend to help the governor with Republican primary voters.

And the more the Democrats scream about that veto, the more Rauner’s base is shored up at an important moment. That may sound cynical, and it most definitely is, but it’s difficult to deny. He upset a lot of conservatives by signing HB40. He needed to make it up to them.

Then, the Friday before the election, the Democratic Governors Association dropped almost half a million dollars on two TV ads designed to both help Rauner’s GOP primary opponent Representative Jeanne Ives court conservative, pro-Trump, pro-gun Republican primary voters and hurt the governor with that same Republican base.

As Rauner knows from his own personal experience, primaries often tighten up at the end. His polling had him leading by double digits four years ago at this time. Back then, he pulled down all his negative ads and switched to a fully positive campaign, only to barely squeak by on primary night. He wouldn’t want to make the same mistake twice.

Rauner probably suspected the DGA was about to do something, so his gun-bill veto earlier in the week was perfectly (accidentally, but still perfectly) timed.

It sure seems as I write this that the governor believed the race was tightening by looking at his behavior last week.

He vetoed that bill to regulate gun sellers, then held a hastily arranged press conference at the now-infamous Quincy veterans’ home to announce some “options” for the future, pulled down his negative TV ad attacking JB Pritzker, reportedly added $350,000 to his already huge $1.5 million buy for the final week, launched a new and more powerful negative ad against Representative Ives that ludicrously tried to connect her to Speaker Madigan, and quickly put together a new TV spot defending himself against the DGA’s onslaught.

With Republican turnout appearing to tank compared to four years ago (which might give the far-right base an advantage), along with the possibility that at least some Cook County Republicans might be taking Democratic ballots to vote against Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios (a possibility that Rauner himself encouraged with his constant attacks on the Madigan-Berrios combine), and the fact that the governor cannot campaign effectively on a record of accomplishments (his positive advertising just says what he will do in the future, although he does take full credit for proposing a $1 billion tax cut that has no chance of passage), plus the intense national political weirdness, it all adds up to a situation where the governor could not afford to take any chances at all.

But wait. What about the gun-bill veto’s impact on the fall campaign? After all, those crucial suburban women are not known for being pro-gun. Just the opposite.

Well, you gotta win the primary before you can get to the general. Plus, the governor is likely betting that the Democrats will send him more gun-related bills and he can sign some or even all of them once the primary is behind him, so he can balance things out for the fall.

The bottom line is: I don’t think this is the end for gun-control legislation this spring. In fact, it could wind up as just the beginning once we get to April. But that will rely on the Democratic leadership wanting to pass laws, not just bills. And I’m not sure yet which path they’ll take.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

12 Comments
  1. - wordslinger - Monday, Mar 19, 18 @ 9:35 am:

    As someone here pointed out at the time of the veto, that “comprehensive” word Rauner kept throwing around signals the likelihood of plenty of gun legislation from Rauner after the primary.

    By now, I hope no one will be surprised if Rauner burns them for his own self-interest.


  2. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 19, 18 @ 10:12 am:

    == With Republican turnout appearing to tank compared to four years ago ==

    Usually, we vote early. Right now, we’re planning on sitting this primary out. Nobody on the GOP ballot we care passionately about, so we’ll let our absence speak for itself.


  3. - Roman - Monday, Mar 19, 18 @ 10:28 am:

    It’s interesting that only one of the three gun bills that passed the Senate last week is on the governor’s desk. (The other two were amended so they have to go back to the House for concurrence.)

    That gives Madigan a chance to limit a post-primary “win” for Rauner on gun control that appeals to suburban moderates. Maybe the speaker goes to work on a “comprehensive” package of gun bills that is designed to fail?


  4. - m - Monday, Mar 19, 18 @ 10:38 am:

    “that will rely on the Democratic leadership wanting to pass laws”

    I can’t imagine they will want to send him any big or controversial bills that don’t put him in a bad spot.

    If he’s willing to sign gun control, they won’t send it, unless there’s a libertarian or independent candidate that can make hay out of the issue and kill his base. Whether there is a good alternative to Rauner for conservatives on the ballot may determine as much as anything. Then they can make him pick between the base and suburban women.

    Otherwise it will be a showcase for how creative they can get with poison pills.


  5. - Thomas Paine - Monday, Mar 19, 18 @ 10:45 am:

    @RNUG -

    I like to go in an undervote specific incumbents, even when they are running unopposed.

    That, too, sends a message.


  6. - Last Bull Moose - Monday, Mar 19, 18 @ 10:48 am:

    Politics swamps substance again. My wife and I will be taking a Democratic ballot to support Pat Quinn. If he weren’t running running, we would take a Republican ballot to vote against Rauner.


  7. - Blue dog dem - Monday, Mar 19, 18 @ 10:58 am:

    Why is this governor obsessed with gaining support from suburban women? I heard it from a reliable.source a week or two ago that those votes are controlled by their significant male other.


  8. - don the legend - Monday, Mar 19, 18 @ 11:53 am:

    BDD. Very nice.


  9. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 19, 18 @ 12:04 pm:

    Democrats would be foolish to send those bills back to Gov. Rauner.

    It’s a clear contrast that the Democratic Candidate cough - JB Pritzker - cough could use to distinguish himself from Rauner. He won’t sign it, I will kind of language.

    Then again, Democratic legislators haven’t shown me much political intelligence since Rauner took office. Maybe they will this time.


  10. - ILAnonymous - Monday, Mar 19, 18 @ 2:33 pm:

    To say that Rauner is going to make it up to suburban women by possibly signing 1 or all of the other gun bills that may be sent his way is a little idealistic. The most onerous gun bills have not made it to his desk yet. They will prove to be more controversial than the dealer licensing bill or anything other than a 72 hour waiting period. If the gun mag bill or even an outright AWB gets to his desk, watch out after the primaries. Signing any of those will most decidedly turn his base against him, and I am not sure he can make that up with those he tried to court with HB40.

    Senate Dems took the bump stock bill and amended it with a municipal roll-back of State preemption for assault weapons. If it survives a House concurrence and gets to his desk, while some may think it is a trap for Rauner, I have not doubt he will spin that against Dems and could actually be successful.

    Since we are talking the politics of it, that’s the way I see it.


  11. - Arthur Andersen - Monday, Mar 19, 18 @ 3:41 pm:

    I agree with Thomas Paine and have done the same for years.


  12. - Mama - Monday, Mar 19, 18 @ 6:38 pm:

    - RNUG - Monday, Mar 19, 18 @ 10:12 am: =

    RUNG, Do you really want to take a chance on more budget crisis over the next 4 years?

    I can’t stomach listening to Rauner whine & lie for another 4 years so I’m voting for Ives.

    Do you really think Ives is no better than Rauner?

    Go vote.


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