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Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017 02:25 pm

Rauner COS has gov's support

After a staff shakeup that sent four members of the governor’s press office out the door, the acting spokeswoman for Gov. Bruce Rauner says that the governor’s chief of staff still has the governor’s confidence.

“Kristina Rasmussen is the governor’s chief of staff and, yes, he has confidence in her,” acting spokeswoman Elizabeth Tomev wrote in an email in response to questions about Rasmussen’s job status.

Four other staffers, however, submitted resignations announced Thursday morning, less than two months after they were hired. The resignations came after a communications pratfall early this week that forced the governor to disown a statement sent to the media by his press office in response to questions about the governor’s response to a cartoon published by the Illinois Policy Institute that was widely condemned as racist. Rasmussen came to the governor’s office last month from the policy institute, as did two of the four employees in the communications office who resigned.

The cartoon showed an African-American youth begging for money for Chicago schools while a rich white man said he had none to give, even though he had a pocket filled with cash labeling the money as TIF dollars. The cartoon, which has been removed from the policy institute’s website, refers to a controversy over school funding. Under Rauner’s preferred plan, cities that have created tax-increment financing districts, which can reduce the amount of money available for schools, would not get as much money for schools as under a bill passed by the legislature. The African-American youth depicted in the cartoon bears a resemblance to Little Black Sambo, which is considered a racist image.

In the written response distributed Tuesday to the media, Laurel Patrick, one of the four employees who has resigned, wrote “(T)he governor – as a white male – does not have more to add to the discussion. The fixation on this cartoon and the governor’s opinion of it has been disappointing.”

Hours later, Rauner walked it back, issuing a statement saying that Patrick’s email “did not accurately reflect my views. I can understand why some people found the cartoon offensive.”

On Thursday, Rauner repeated his statement almost verbatim, telling reporters in Naperville “I understand why some people are upset by it.” As the Naperville press conference was ending, reporters pressed, asking Rauner what he thought of the cartoon. “Is the cartoon inappropriate?” a reporter asked loudly. “Yes or no.” The governor didn’t respond. “My job is not to comment on every cartoon and every political statement that comes from outside my administration, and I will not do that,” Rauner said at one point during the press conference that followed the signing of a pension bill.

Rauner said that Diana Rickert, one of the communications employees who resigned, drafted the email that was sent by Patrick. Brittany Carl and Meghan Keenan, who were both in the communications office, also resigned. Rauner said that Rasmussen did not see the email before it was sent to  the media. Carl made headlines after her hiring last month when reporters discovered that she had once compared abortion to Nazi eugenics in a blog post before she was hired by the governor.

Patrick previously had worked for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Rickert and Keenan had both worked for the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, before they were hired last month in a staff shakeup that saw more than 20 employees of the governor's office leave. Several were replaced by policy institute employees. During the Naperville press conference, Rauner sharply disputed a reporter’s contention that the policy institute as his “go-to” think tank.

“I challenge the premise of the question,” Rauner responded. "A very tiny fraction of our administration is from that organization. And in no regard does that organization speak for me or our administration. And I do not lean on them for any particular issue or policy."

Rauner also took issue with a reporter’s use of the term “turmoil.”

 “I disagree with the characterization of turmoil,” Rauneer said. “Change comes as part of any organization. … We’ve had some changes in the communications department and that’s all the changes there are.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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