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Expectations high as Pritzker takes the oath, but can this honeymoon last?

Monday, Jan 14, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

I missed J.B. Pritzker’s impromptu speech to a gathering of Republicans last week by a few minutes. But the fact that Pritzker even stopped by the event, hosted by Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, was notable in and of itself.

As one top Republican said after Pritzker’s speech, just imagine Gov. Bruce Rauner showing up to speak about bipartisanship and then heaping praise on House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton at a Democratic reception. If you can’t imagine such a thing, well, that was the Republican’s whole point. It never would have happened (Rauner did show up for a Black Caucus event his first year in office, but he used the occasion to bash the Democratic Party, which didn’t exactly go over too well).

The Republicans have every right to be demoralized in Illinois. They hold no statewide office, their party lost two suburban congressional seats and they are now firmly in the super-minority in both the House and Senate. And yet, in conversations with both Republican legislative leaders last week, it seemed pretty clear to me they were both pleased and optimistic about finally having a governor they believe they can work with.

We all know the history. Gov. Rauner is an extremely difficult person to deal with even for those who agree with most of his political agenda. He assumes he’s right and he assumes you feel the same way, or else. He demands complete loyalty, but offers little in return. His word cannot ever be trusted. He seems incapable of making small talk beyond a few minutes and no one has ever accused him of having a warm personality.

The same lack of interpersonal skills held back Rauner’s immediate predecessor, Pat Quinn. Gov. Quinn wouldn’t have been cracking jokes last week about how his microphone wasn’t working at a Republican inaugural reception. He just wasn’t that sort of guy. And he most definitely didn’t have the natural ability to put a legislator at ease and do a deal.

Pritzker has yet to be tested, so we’ll see if he can be trusted to keep his word and offer as much respect to others as he expects for himself once he delves into the difficult process of governing a state with huge problems.

But it’s pretty obvious to anyone who’s spent time with him that Pritzker most definitely has a warm personality, and that trait is charming the heck out of Springfield right now. And while he was a hit at last week’s Republican reception, that was nothing compared to how crowds reacted to him at the Democratic parties.

Building personal relationships is an integral part of governing, and the dude has that down pat so far. Rauner would do things like call you on your birthday, but his words were always stilted and seemingly scripted. He had legislators over to the mansion during his first spring session, but, again, the conversations just weren’t natural, and many departed with the impression that he was, um, less than genuine.

Quinn spent most session nights deliberately holed up in the governor’s mansion with his staff. Both men just didn’t appear to be comfortable in their own skin.

I have no idea if finally having a governor with a real personality will make a huge difference when it comes to solving this state’s extremely serious problems. Eventually, of course, Pritzker is going to have to do things that people are not going to love and we’ll just have to wait and see how that all turns out.

But in almost 29 years of doing this, I’ve never seen Statehouse types more excited about the end of a governor’s term than they are now. After presiding over the Senate’s inauguration, governors by tradition quietly leave through the door behind the podium which leads into the ante room. Last week, Gov. Rauner was given a formal escort out the front door and members loudly applauded. Several explained later that they weren’t cheering for him. They were, instead, cheering his final exit.

Pritzker has an opportunity here that has been afforded few of his predecessors. But this also means that expectations are sky high. And the higher the expectations, the greater the disappointment if and/or when they aren’t met.

* Related…

* Pot, minimum wage, child care: What are Pritzker’s first priorities?: Pritzker did signal that his outreach to minority Republicans will continue, even though Democrats have the power to do whatever they want if they stay united. That outreach has included inviting the GOP leaders of the House and the Senate over to his home for dinner, attending a swearing-in party for new Republican lawmakers and naming retiring state Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, to be his revenue director. “It’s very important that we have not our partisanship, but that we work together. That’s what this administration is all about,” he said. “Can you do it with a supermajority? Yes. But you shouldn’t.”

* JB Pritzker to be sworn in as Illinois governor on Monday: One sign of Pritzker’s willingness to listen is the fact he has tapped former Republican state Rep. David Harris to be his revenue director, pending Senate approval. “I’ve had several conversations with him, lengthy conversations and he is the most energetic, the most enthusiastic individual I’ve met in a long time and he has the right attitude about moving the state forward in a positive way, I’m pleased to be part of that,” Harris said.

* Pritzker vows ‘different direction’ for state ahead of inauguration: Durbin said Pritzker has already shown that he’s willing to work with the other side of the aisle by asking former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar to serve on his transition team — and by stopping by a Republican fundraiser last week in Springfield after the General Assembly inauguration. “Goodness sakes. Could you imagine the former governor walking into a Mike Madigan gathering in the Capitol?” Durbin said. “The fact that he’s making this a bipartisan effort I think reassures people across the state he’s really going to do his level best to find bipartisan solutions.”

* Big crowd turns out for Pritzker meet-and-greet at Old State Capitol: An hour into the event, the line still snaked outside.

* Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker says ‘Democrats stand together’ as party takes total power in Illinois, and all the problems: Mooney says that now that he’s in office, Pritzker might have to learn to tell some people “no” if he wants to dig Illinois out of a financial hole. Transitioning from campaign speeches to policy particulars is a change all new governors have to make, he said. “Up to that point, all they’d have to say is pleasant things. Warm, fuzzy things,” Mooney said. “And then, when in office, you have to make choices.”


  1. - Gruntled University Employee - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 8:54 am:

    Could JB Pritzker be the one to actually “Shake Up” Springfield? Time will tell.

  2. - Ducky LaMoore - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 8:56 am:

    ==And the higher the expectations, the greater the disappointment if and/or when they aren’t met.==

    Are you sure? I mean, there haven’t been high (or possibly even middling) expectations in Illinois government for decades. A Pritzker administration that could be dubbed “somewhat competent” would be leaps and bounds not seen since the Edgar days.

  3. - Han's Solo Cup - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 8:59 am:

    Meet Blago numerous times. Always felt like I should check to see if I still had my wallet afterwards. Never met Quinn but met Rauner a few times. He always struck me as creepy and disinterested.

  4. - wordslinger - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 9:04 am:

    A honeymoon can’t last, but it doesn’t have to instantly devolve into an abusive, destructive marriage as it did under Rauner.

    Rauner’s tenure was like a bad “Lifetime” movie (is there any other kind?). The groom was all sweetness, light and unrealistic promises before the wedding, nothing but lies, malice and hurt afterwards.

    It didn’t have to be that way; that was his plan all along, what with the oompa-loompa strategery and all that from the get-go.

  5. - Skeptic - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 9:04 am:

    Ducky has a point…when “Don’t be as lousy as the last guy” is an expectation that keeps failing to be met, the bar is pretty low.

  6. - OneMan - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 9:10 am:

    It will be interesting to see how long the ‘He isn’t Rauner’ lasts.

    Even here.

  7. - Grandson of Man - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 9:19 am:

    “Pritzker might have to learn to tell some people “no” if he wants to dig Illinois out of a financial hole.”

    True dat. Pritzker’s going to have to tell the wealthy that they need to pay a higher state income tax. California projects a whopping $21.5 billion dollar budget surplus. Minnesota also projects a surplus.

    In another article (interview), Bruce says again that he’s scared for Illinois and might leave or is saying others might leave for lower-wage Republican states that have no Medicaid
    expansion, like Georgia, Tennessee, Florida. Stop bluffing and leave.

  8. - Precinct Captain - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 9:21 am:

    Let’s see what the “100 Days” will be.

  9. - Perrid - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 9:28 am:

    @Skeptic, I’m not sure that’s where the bar is set for most people. JB and most Dems have been pushing a progressive income tax and tax from pot as the cure-all for all IL’s troubles (maybe not quite in so many words but the spirit is there) and the math on that just doesn’t make sense. IL spends more than it takes in, has for years/decades; paying that bill is not going to make people happy, especially after being promised the world for free.

    I think that’s going to be the case for most of the Dems that voted for JB, they will be disappointed. A lot of the more moderate/independent/conservative folks who voted “Not-Rauner” probably do have the bar set around where you say it is, and I doubt they’ll be disappointed. I’d be shocked if JB was worse for the state than Rauner.

  10. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 9:31 am:

    A key personality difference between the outgoing and incoming governors is the ability to listen. There will be battles and tensions in the years ahead, but a basic respect for people ought to lead to more accomplishments than we saw over the past four years.

  11. - Norseman - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 9:32 am:

    I too feel very good about JB and that it is a positive for the State of Illinois. He will make mistakes, but I don’t expect them to be with animus intent.

    Speaking of mistakes, we still must press JB to pull back the pay supplements for senior employees. I fear the spirit of goodwill has made the supplements a one-day story. The precedent must be prevented.

  12. - Groundhog Day - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 9:34 am:

    In the immortal words of my father, it’s often a case of “compared to what?” Our soon to be new governor is starting from a great place.

  13. - truthteller - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 9:43 am:

    - find a way to eliminate 75% of the taxing districts/entities with in Illinois which has 10’s of thousands from townships to water conservation districts and everything in between. ALL ARE MINI KINGDOMS and need to be eliminated from an efficiency standpoint of crossover of services.

    Illinois is home to nearly 8,500 local government units, with 6,026 empowered to raise taxes, by far the highest number in the U.S. Texas – whose population is more than twice that of Illinois - is second highest with about 5,150 local government units. Florida, with a population 54 percent greater than Illinois, has just 1,650, according to the U.S. Census Bure

  14. - The Shadow - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 9:48 am:

    Norseman, I too was a little offput at the pay supplements for the senior employees. Then I remembered that they are Tier 2 employees and their pension contributions are a supplement to the retirements of many Tier 1 employees who were making similar state salaries. I’m a lot less offput now.

  15. - JS Mill - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 9:55 am:

    Pritzker has made mostly positive moves so far, but it is pretty easy when 1) you are not the governor yet 2) you follow someone that is horrible.

    For me the measuring stick will be improvement in state finances without gutting public services. Yes, I have a vested interest in those public services as an educator, but so does everyone else that uses things like roads and libraries etc.

    Four years from now will we be on a path to a fiscally sound pension system, will we be paying our bills, will taxation be broader and be more equitable, will spending show results?

    If the answers are mostly yes, or real progress is made Pritzker will be a success in my book.

  16. - Honeybear - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 9:57 am:

    My fear and every newer state workers fear is that the “No” will come to restore eligible employees to their proper “Step”, a contractually obligation which was illegally withheld by Rauner in January of 2015. Imagine if the employment contract that you signed was not honored. You took it to court. Won the legal battle all up to the Illinois Supreme Court.
    The person we thought would
    be our champion

    confirms and consecrates

    The Rauner hatred and malice
    towards the
    public servant.

    It would confirm that
    all politicians
    and can’t be trusted.

    I get that you’re all gonna start saying
    “Honeybear is at it again. Change your name to Chicken little”

    I’m good with that. At least I’m trying to get a message across and do something.

    But a lot of public servants are going to find another job. We’re not even a skeleton crew anymore. We aspire to skeleton crew.
    If folks leave as I think

    There is not a way in the world Pritzker can get a single thing done, highly compensated Directors or not,
    Without the workers to do it.

  17. - wordslinger - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 10:02 am:

    –JB and most Dems have been pushing a progressive income tax and tax from pot as the cure-all for all IL’s troubles (maybe not quite in so many words but the spirit is there)–

    Show me, in any words, where they’ve been pushing those two things as “cure-alls.” If you’re seeing “spirits,” maybe lay off the glue.

    The guy on his way out the door was the one with the Messiah complex, the only one who could “save” the state if he just got his way 100% of the time, all of the time.

  18. - SSL - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 10:07 am:

    His initial priorities are smart choices. Relatively popular and easier to implement. JB may be able to build more goodwill that way, and he’ll probably need it. Rauner isn’t taking any problems away with him. A flawed personality is one thing, but those bills keep on coming, those pension shortfalls keep growing and that infrastructure keeps crumbling. And after today, that’s JB’s job to fix. Here’s hoping he’s up to the challenge.

  19. - AndyIllini - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 10:15 am:

    =In the immortal words of my father, it’s often a case of “compared to what?” Our soon to be new governor is starting from a great place. =

    That’s why there is a honeymoon. No, the honeymoon cannot last. He’ll leave office as the governor of a state with a lot of problems, and he’ll be associated with those problem by virtue of having been in charge. He’ll probably leave office unpopular. That’s what he’s signed up for. But hopefully he leaves the state better off than it is now.

  20. - Streator Curmudgeon - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 10:18 am:

    I appreciate Pritzker’s moves toward bipartisanship, but one thing always bugged me about Rauner’s tenure.

    I realize Illinois has tremendous problems and in some regards is unique, but for gosh sakes, there are 49 other states and SOME of them must be doing things right. Why can’t we borrow what’s working with them and try it here?

    Why reinvent the wheel, JB? Form a commission to see what’s working elsewhere. Enough with the trial and error, already.

  21. - dbk - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 10:32 am:

    I remain optimistic, basing my judgment on JB’s personality type (open/collaborative/willing to listen to experts) and his initial priorities (budget, check; child care, check; more MAP grants and other support to retain college-age students in the state, check; graduated income tax, check; possible capital bill after budget approval, check).

    I want to see whether he’ll address the deficit. I’d be pleased to see all of the above pass, but I’m wondering whether he’ll have the political moxie to grapple openly with the pension issue.

    If he has that level of courage, we can re-calibrate the bar for Illinois governance in the other direction.

  22. - Huh? - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 11:23 am:

    “I get that you’re all gonna start saying “Honeybear is at it again. Change your name to Chicken little””

    Don’t you dare change your name. HB, you have every right to be fearful of the new administration. People are building castles in the air about Pritzker. The new administration is unknown, and untested. Many things have been left unsaid, so speculation runs rampant.

    For now state employees must take Pritzker at his word. Will the words result in actions that are favorable to state employees? AFSCME getting their step raises, past salary increases that Quinn stiffed them on? Decent contract negotiations?

    What’s the saying? Money talks, bs walks.

    What did Reagan say? Trust but verify.

    Trail arms.

  23. - Ginhouse Tommy - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 11:30 am:

    The fact that members of the Senate were applauding his final exit says mountains about the abuse they took during his tenure. There were probably things going on behind the scenes that weren’t reported that were equally distasteful to put it mildly. Brand new day is dawning and at least now we have hope.

  24. - Perrid - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 11:30 am:

    @wordslinger, sure, they didn’t use the word “cure-all” but they have talked about no cuts, and those (and gambling) have been the only revenue increases that have got any kind of attention. If those 3 broad categories (progressive income, pot and gambling taxes) are the only solution they talk about, how is it unfair to call it their idea of a cure-all?
    Specifically with the progressive income hike, it would be impressive if they could raise enough revenue while not hiking taxes on 51% of the people (or wherever you put the bar). I have my doubts.
    I’m all for big government and a more robust safety net, I just think they should be honest about the cost. Like most politicians, they are selling us a bill of goods, and so people are going to be disappointed.

  25. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 1:40 pm:

    I have very low expectations at this point. Without any attempt at controlling state opening the state may be beyond the point of no return.

  26. - M - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 2:08 pm:

    Illinois could learn from Minnesota and California’s successes.

  27. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 5:20 pm:

    Illinois is not California. Not even close.

  28. - Blue Dog Dem - Monday, Jan 14, 19 @ 8:43 pm:

    Grandson. Your two examples of states showing a yearly budget surplus,CA snd MN, may prove my prediction on things to come for the middle class. 8.3% and 7.2% respectively.

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