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Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017 12:20 am

This Madigan stuff isn’t just a tactic

 Back in December, Gov. Bruce Rauner was asked by a Chicago TV reporter if he planned to run for reelection. Rauner said he wasn’t focused on such things.

Just three days later, Gov. Rauner contributed $50 million to his own campaign fund.

So, either he suddenly focused himself on the 2018 campaign, or he simply wasn’t telling the truth.

Rauner does this a lot. Whenever he’s been asked about the Illinois Republican Party’s blistering post-election campaign attacks tying Democrats to House Speaker Michael Madigan, Rauner has said he doesn’t pay attention to that stuff – even though he has given his party almost all of its funding during the past year and even though he has often referred to himself as the leader of the state party and put his own people into positions at the party.

Look, all politicians play with the truth. But this is getting to be a bit too much to bear because these actions are at the very core of what Rauner is doing as governor.

You will recall that some of Rauner’s buddies set up a huge and ostensibly Democratic political action committee (IllinoisGO) right around the time Rauner was inaugurated in January of 2015. That campaign committee was, in reality, solely designed to mess with Madigan.

In June of 2015, the governor launched an expensive statewide TV advertising campaign attacking Speaker Madigan, blaming him for the failure to cave to the governor’s demands for pro-business/anti-union reforms in exchange for a state budget solution.

Shortly thereafter, the governor moved into the primary season, spending millions more. And then he started spending real money on state legislative races in June of 2016, an unheard-of early start date which actually came while lawmakers were still in session. Rauner even began paying for Chicago broadcast TV ads for Rep. Mike McAuliffe (R-Chicago) in early August, also an unheard-of start date. And the governor launched a TV ad touting his support for term limits, a not-so-subtle dig at the House Speaker’s record longevity.

Republican candidates picked up four House seats during last year’s campaign. But days after the election ended, the state GOP launched a new website, http://BossMadigan.com. The site is filled with profiles of Democrats whom the Republicans say are really just Speaker Madigan’s pawns. The party is also spending money on social media to spread the word about those naughty Democrats who’ve allegedly dared to align themselves with their own state party chairman.

This is still a free country, and Gov. Rauner can do whatever he wants. The House Speaker is, after all, notorious for holding floor votes on ridiculously political bills. Madigan must’ve forced Republicans to vote against a phony “property tax freeze” bill 15 times in order to bash them with their own votes during the campaign. And this Madigan stuff goes back decades. We’ve always been in constant campaign mode in Illinois. Rauner is simply upping the ante with actual year-round campaign spending.

So for the governor to deny involvement or even knowledge of campaign activities when his entire organization and others around him have been deeply in campaign mode since Day One defies all credibility. This is not some ancillary activity.

To put it as simply as possible, Rauner has used campaign tactics to try and force a wedge between Democrats and Speaker Madigan. That’s what IllinoisGO was supposed to be about – an alternative source of campaign money for Democrats who defied Madigan or a bludgeon against those who stuck with him. Everything Rauner has done since then has had the same two goals regarding Madigan.

And yet, when asked again about this topic just last week, Rauner said, “I’m not getting involved in any of the General Assembly’s decisions on their leadership.”

Right.

But this obsession with Madigan means Rauner has defined his own term in office as a crusade against the Great White Whale. Yes, there is plenty of public support for that. Madigan is the least popular politician in this state, and perhaps in the entire country.

Moby Dick didn’t end well for the pursuer, however. Madigan’s top people have been saying for more than 18 months that they know they can’t move their own guy’s poll numbers up very much, so their plan is to drag Rauner down to Madigan’s level. Rauner has eagerly followed Madigan into that rabbit hole and failed to accomplish much of anything else in the process.

At last check by a Republican pollster, the governor’s favorable rating was 36 percent, with an unfavorable rating of 48. He’s gonna need every bit of that $50 million and a whole lot more.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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