Miller: Does Rauner really want to compromise on school funding?

Aug 21, 2017

Gov. Bruce Rauner has said for the past several days that he’s open to just about any sort of compromise in order to get school funding reform signed into law.

For example, he recently told Amanda Vinicky on Public Television’s “Chicago Tonight” program that there was nothing on his list that he had to have. “Nothing,” he said when asked to clarify. “Absolutely nothing has to happen. The only principle we should be guided by is what’s best for our children, what treats them all the same so they have the best chance they can at the American dream.”

That could be a very big caveat. It more than just implies that he intends to stick to his guns on stripping money from the Chicago Public Schools, which he contends is given special treatment in the education funding reform bill he vetoed. The Democrats will most definitely not like that.

But even if the negotiations among the four legislative leaders do produce some progress, some folks are still doubtful that Gov. Rauner can bring himself to sign the bill, or that his new staff can get him to stick to his word.

If you go back to 2015, you may remember that after weeks of negotiations over a stopgap budget and after a tentative deal had been reached, Rauner decided during the ensuing weekend that he had some additional demands that would clearly be unacceptable to the Democrats. His top staff fought back hard, insisting that he couldn’t back out after accepting terms. Rauner signed the bill.

More recently, near the end of June, you might recall that Rauner’s office publicly berated the Democrats for not officially transmitting the Chicago gun crimes bill to his desk in order to deliberately deprive the governor of a “win.” The Democrats denied they had any such intentions and the legislation was quickly sent to Rauner. The governor’s staff set up a press conference for the very next day and Chicago’s police superintendent came down to the Statehouse for the signing ceremony.

Just before he was set to sign the bill, however, Rauner blew up at his communications staff over a single sentence in a Chicago Tribune article which detailed his battle with Mayor Rahm Emanuel about the sale of the James R. Thompson Center building. As it turns out, Rauner had misread the sentence, but the blowup was “like nothing I had seen before,” said one person who was present.

And then the governor reportedly had second thoughts about signing the gun bill, other sources say. Mind you, this was just before the signing ceremony was supposed to begin.

A task force inserted into the legislation to help the Illinois State Police combat violent crimes was what reportedly set him off. Sources say he flip-flopped and wanted to veto the bill. Again, this was minutes before he was set to publicly sign the thing with Chicago’s most senior cop on his way to town.

His top staff had to intervene again and eventually convinced him to calm down and sign the bill.

Most of those staffers had been with Gov. Rauner since the campaign. They’d learned over the years how to deal with him and, since they helped get him to the governor’s office, Rauner trusted them enough to eventually listen. But Rauner fired some of them when he brought in far-right Illinois Policy Institute staffers and the rest quit in disgust.

Nobody on his current upper echelon staff has a similar personal history with Rauner. And, so far, nobody on that staff appears to have the ability to steer him in the right direction. They’re letting Bruce be Bruce, and that has its consequences.

Rauner’s former staffers negotiated what started out as a quasi “sanctuary state” bill for illegal immigrants to a point that was even further to the right than where the governor wanted to be. While he is expected to sign the bill as I write this, Rauner hedged publicly about it during an appearance on the Fox News Channel and proponents couldn’t get him to firmly commit to make it a law.

So, there’s naturally some informed doubt that the governor will be able to bring himself to sign something as big and important as an education funding reform bill. The governor publicly denied last week that the First Lady has become more involved in his administration, but by all accounts she most certainly has and she now may be the only hope of keeping him on track. This piece of legislation will forever define him, one way or another. If it’s passed over his veto (in whatever form), he may never live it down.

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