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Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 12:22 am

Something in the water?

Rauner fights back, with some help

Football fans have seen amazing things in recent weeks.

Coach installs a freshman as quarterback in the second half and Alabama wins the national championship in overtime. With no time on the clock, the Minnesota Vikings score a go-ahead touchdown to advance in the NFL playoffs.

The Vikings got clobbered the following week. What happens to the Crimson Tide won’t be known for many months. Regardless, if you’re a member of Team Rauner, you have to take comfort in the notion of Hail Marys.

During the past year, things lately have looked even awful-er than usual for Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has proclaimed that crises bring opportunities. The Wall Street Journal in a June editorial headlined “The Illinois Capitulation” blasted the governor for accepting a deal to raise the income tax. Rauner backed out of any deal and ended up vetoing the tax bill, but he never has been able to get that you-know-what off of his shoe.

After all, he ran on a reform platform, and the quintessential rubber-meets-the-road question from Reagan remains the same: Are you better off than you were four years ago? Not so much.

The Journal last month in another Illinois-sucks editorial acknowledged that the state’s income tax is “relatively low compared to its neighbors,” but we still need to do something about outmigration that has resulted in $4.75 billion in adjusted gross income leaving the state. “What’s the matter with Illinois?” the paper pondered. The National Review piled on with an article calling Rauner the nation’s worst Republican governor. The Illinois Policy Institute has turned on Benedict Rauner, as have members of the governor’s party, notably Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton, who’s running a quixotic gubernatorial campaign based on the premise that a pro-life conservative Republican who has labeled same-sex marriages “a completely disordered relationship” can win statewide office. That’s how Pat Quinn ended up governor and why Bill Brady, after losing three gubernatorial campaigns, is still a state senator.

Ives is running around 20 percent, according to recent polls, and so Rauner likely won’t have much to worry about until November. Still, there’s the Blue Backlash school of thought that holds Republicans everywhere are going to get haircuts come fall.

But Rauner has shown spark. Perhaps rumors of his political death are exaggerated.

Rauner this month waded into the Democratic primary by airing statewide television ads, purchased at the bargain price of $11,900, that feature wiretaps of J.B. Pritzker sucking up to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. If the spin doctors are right, anyone who didn’t hang up on Blago, let alone call him, will be judged guilty by association. Pritzker, so far, has had no good response. It’s not enough to say that it’s no surprise that Rauner is running attack ads and note that you haven’t been charged with a crime. The recordings resonate.

Call it horse trading or something worse, uncensored conversations between Blagojevich and a man who says he’s out to change the world don’t sound good.

Pritzker fought back by bringing up Legionnaire’s disease at the state veterans home in Quincy, blaming Rauner for 13 deaths. Folks who risked their lives for our country are dead from three outbreaks since 2015.

Rauner was governor, so it’s his fault. He doesn’t care about people. After Chicago radio station WBEZ reported on the outbreaks and ensuing lawsuits, the governor has been under a media microscope.

Rauner’s response has been masterful. He’s pointed out that the state has spent millions of dollars since the first outbreak trying to fix the problem and that Centers for Disease Control has praised the state’s response. The most damning quotes so far have come from politicians, not epidemiologists. Rauner spent a week at the home, drinking the water and taking showers and buying pizza for residents, and he wisely did it without press releases, knowing that the media would catch up.

“These things happen,” Rauner told the Joliet Herald-News after his week in Quincy. “The reality is, and this is what’s not getting into the reports, the Legionella bacteria is in most water systems in Illinois.”
The media pounced. “The governor has a point that the bacteria lurks in a number of water systems,” Politifact proclaimed in calling the governor’s pronouncement half true. “But his statement makes an unprovable claim about the extent of the contamination.” One week later, Secretary of State Jesse White sent a memo to state employees.

“Out of an abundance of caution and because of heightened awareness and continued misconceptions about Legionnaire’s disease, we want to make you aware of preliminary test results that indicate the possible presence of Legionella bacteria in the Capitol Complex hot water system,” White’s office told workers.

No one has died or gotten sick, according to the memo that nonetheless advised against showering in state facilities. But it does build the governor’s case that not everything that comes out of his mouth is laughable. Maybe he remains electable.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com


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