A brutal lesson is being learned by citizens of Illinois and the entire country: There’s great risk in giving responsibility for leading a state or nation to someone who’s never held public office.
I’ll leave it to pundits with a wider view to dissect how President Trump’s lack of government experience and his ideological unpredictability have strangled the legislative process and imperiled international relations.
Gov. Bruce Rauner, on the other hand, presents crystal clear ideology, rarely straying from his stubborn message that basic structural changes are required to restore Illinois’ economic vitality and financial strength.
He’s absolutely right about the need for term limits to diminish the power special interests accrue through campaign contributions, and to bring fresh ideas and perspective to a political process that has clearly failed.
He’s right about the need to change how political maps are drawn, ending a situation where — as Rauner puts it — “our politicians pick the voters, our voters don’t pick the politicians.”
And he’s right about other priorities in his “turnaround agenda,” widely described by critics as pro-business and anti-union.
Yet the ugly fact is that Illinois is in much worse shape today than 29 months ago when Rauner became governor, his first elected office. His wealth of “I’m-the-boss-do-as-I-say” experience in the business world and paucity of government experience have not served the state well.
The acumen, judgment and negotiating talents that made him a billionaire did not transfer to being chief executive of state government — a job that requires political skills, cooperation and compromise with a legislature and its entrenched leadership.
In short, Rauner has been a failure as governor — a leader with few true followers at a time when Illinois desperately needed to be led out of a financial quagmire not of his making, but of his deepening.
That’s why he should decide now — and announce now — that he will not seek re-election next year.
Illinois would be better off today if any of Rauner’s 2014 opponents in the Republican primary — Bloomington’s Bill Brady, Hinsdale’s Kirk Dillard or Pontiac’s Dan Rutherford — had won the governorship.
Yes, they, too, would have had to contend with Democrat Michael Madigan. As House speaker for all but two of the past 34 years, Madigan is arguably more responsible for the state’s financial morass than any single person. All three of Rauner’s GOP opponents possess legislative experience and political savvy Rauner lacks, and would have had a better chance of steering Illinois onto a healthier path.
Now we’re left with a significant tax increase and business as usual. Oh, there’s talk of reforms, but they won’t occur. Not with this governor, not with an election 16 months away. But at least schools will open, funds will flow to social service agencies, road work can resume, the state might avoid a junk bond rating and begin paying down a mountain of overdue bills.
A governor with legislative experience and more political adeptness might have simultaneously generated policy changes leading to better ways and better days.
This is not to say one must be a career politician to be an effective governor or president. But some governmental seasoning seems essential. And if you’re wealthy, as both Trump and Rauner are, lack of government service might deny you appropriate appreciation for the social services safety net so vital to the millions who are non-millionaires.
Note to readers
I joke that I like writing this weekly column because it helps a retiree like me keep track of what day of the week it is. But calendar pages seem to be turning more quickly, even surprising myself when I discovered the first of these efforts appeared five years ago today.
So, I’ve decided my July 29 column (No. 264) will be my last, hopefully affording me time to complete some longer-form writing and do other things I’ve been putting aside.