MEMORANDUM: Rauner Doubling-Down on the Same Failed Tactics with Staff Shakeup
Over the past week, Bruce Rauner dragged his staff through a seismic overhaul of his staff, replacing seasoned policy professionals with right-wing ideologues from the conservative fringe Illinois Policy Institute. Rather than a true operational shakeup, this represents a doubling-down by Rauner on policy and strategy. Rauner is committing himself to the same style of failed leadership that makes him so vulnerable today.
Bruce Rauner, fresh off his bipartisan budget defeat, dragged his staff through one of the longest and most painful staff overhauls in memory. Gone were loyalists and experienced political hands, and brought in were inexperienced and extreme right-wing Illinois Policy Institute ideologues. As of Monday afternoon, at least 21 staffers have been fired or resigned due to concerns over the operation’s direction.
No amount of staff turnover can solve the problem at the core – Bruce Rauner and his failed style of leadership.
Governor Rauner has pursued a right-wing agenda and that places politics ahead of getting things done, regardless of the damage his obstruction caused. Bringing in Illinois Policy Institute staffers suggests that Rauner has learned all the wrong lessons from the budget crisis and will continue to follow the same style of failed leadership. For two-and-a-half years, Rauner refused to compromise leading to a budget impasse that exploded debt, devastated social services, and threatened the state’s education system. In the end, Rauner achieved no legislative victories and saw members of his own party abandon him. Now Rauner seeks to surround himself with people who cheered on his hardline approach.
This Prairie State Purge of the governor’s staff is the strongest evidence yet that Bruce Rauner is committed to the no-compromise politics that brought Illinois to the brink.
Where has Bruce Rauner’s strategy lead him so far? To the bottom. Rauner’s approval ratings are “sub-Trumpian” (Zorn, Chicago Tribune) and he is seen by political analysts as the “most vulnerable incumbent” (Cook Political Report) in America. Rauner’s saving grace is his willingness to spend his fortune in buying his reelection, but his operation has already spent tens of millions of dollars framing the debate and failed to move the needle at all.
With this staff shakeup, Rauner is doubling-down on the same failed leadership strategy that made him so endangered in the first place. But Bruce Rauner still hasn’t addressed the main problem in his office: Bruce Rauner
News reports correctly focused on the Illinois Policy Institute’s no-compromise mantra. The Institute aggressively worked to stop the “Grand Bargain” bills coming out of the Senate, then tore into Republicans while they contemplated raising revenues as part of a balanced budget deal. But these staffers’ views are anything but new in the Governor’s office; Bruce Rauner has been running the same playbook already.
Rauner just took the state through an unprecedented two-and-a-half-year budget impasse that has done major damage to the state’s economy and fiscal health. It was the longest state budget crisis since the Great Depression. When Republican lawmakers, most notably Christine Radogno, moved to strike a deal with Democrats, Rauner stepped in to sabotage the negotiations multiple times. Rauner’s budget crisis tripled the state’s bill backlog to $15 billion, forced social service agencies to cut back on programs or close, and pushed the state’s education system to the brink of ruin.  But Rauner refused to budge. In the end, members of Rauner’s own party publicly abandoned his negotiating stance and signed a bipartisan balanced budget with Democrats.
What did Rauner do? He vetoed the measure. Credit agencies warned that any further impasse would result in the nation’s first “junk bond” status rating, but Rauner publicly campaigned to sustain his veto with no regard for the consequences of extending the budget crisis further.
Rauner’s refusal to compromise extends past the budget. This year Rauner scuttled a bipartisan deal to sell the Thompson Center, an issue he spent valuable time campaign on during the months of April and May, partially vetoed a 911 funding bill that passed with overwhelming margins, and threatened to veto an education funding bill that, in the words of his own administration, only gave him 90% of what he wanted.
These are not the actions of a Governor looking to compromise or make a bipartisan deal. If anything, the Illinois Policy Institute staffers should be taking notes.
The Illinois Policy Institute pushes a far-right wing economic ideology that is grossly out-of-step with Illinois middle class families. They preach stripping workers of rights in favor of corporations, imposing draconian cuts to the state budget and social services, and holding down taxes for the wealthiest. But, in an open letter to Bruce Rauner, the Tribune’s Eric Zorn wrote “they’re your kind of folks” (Zorn, Chicago Tribune).
Indeed, Bruce Rauner has been financially generous to the IPI to the tune of $625,000.
And Bruce Rauner holds a far-right economic ideology that lines up closely with the Illinois Policy Institute and other right-wing organizations, like the Heritage Foundation and the Koch Brothers. Take the IPI’s ridiculed budget proposal released this spring. The plan finds a way to balance the budget without revenue increases, but does it by rolling back bargaining rights, devastating social spending, and kicking 650,000 off of health care.Back in 2015 Rauner proposed his own no new revenues budget that cut $6 billion from the budget. Rauner’s budget called for $400 million in cuts to higher education, $1.5 billion in cuts to Medicaid, and imposing Right-to-Work across the state.  Really, not all that different.
Again, by bringing in staffers from the Illinois Policy Institute, Rauner is not so much charting a new course, simply doubling-down on the ideologies that he truly holds.
While Bruce Rauner is doubling-down on his no-compromise, right-wing agenda, Republicans are losing faith in his failed leadership. For months, Republican lawmakers chaffed under the pressure of the budget impasse. Christine Radogno repeatedly tried brokering a “Grand Bargain” with Democratic lawmakers only to see her efforts undercut by Rauner, leading to her resignation. With the state on the verge of going over a fiscal cliff, Republican lawmakers broke away from their Governor’s strategy and dealt with Democrats to deliver a budget.
On Friday, Rauner’s “top political aide” (Politico) left the Rauner orbit for the private sector in what was the most evident example of staffers frustrated with the direction of the operation. Politico reported several other staffers “fundamentally disagree with the direction Rauner is heading” by bringing in Illinois Policy Institute staffers. By Monday, at least 11 staffers had resigned.
Good and capable leaders surround themselves with a variety of voices that work towards a common goal. Bruce Rauner is doing the opposite; he is homogenizing the voices in his office to confirm his preferred tactics and policies. His staffers have seen up-close what the results of those strategies are and are now jumping-ship.
Bruce Rauner remains. He may have a new cast of characters, but it is the same man with the same ideas of how to run a government. He has failed as a leader, and no shakeup will change that.
 Illinois Policy Institute, 6/29/17
 Associated Press, 7/4/17
 Politico Illinois Playbook, 5/11/17
 Chicago Sun-Times Editorial, 5/31/17
 Politico, 7/6/17
 Capitol Fax, 7/5/17
 State Journal-Register, 7/10/17
 Associated Press, 7/12/17
 New York Times, 2/18/15
 Politico, 7/14/17