Business-friendly Rauner’s agenda faces a tough House

Rauner's campaign promises included lowering the cost of doing business in Illinois and making job creation our top priority. Photo: Evan Garcia
Rauner’s campaign promises included lowering the cost of doing business in Illinois and making job creation our top priority. Photo: Evan Garcia

By Nick Kariuki

Republican billionaire Bruce Rauner unseated Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn by promising to bring business-friendly policies to Springfield, and his victory has given commercial interests high hopes.

But it’s not going to be that simple.

To bring what he has called his “transformational” plan for change into law, Rauner must get his proposed legislation past the Illinois House, where a Democratic supermajority still holds the reins. That power structure, led by Speaker of the House and Chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party Rep. Michael J. Madigan, isn’t going to make things easy for the incoming governor.

“In many ways Rauner will have to emulate Nik Wallenda,” said Paul Green, professor of public administration at Roosevelt University. “He’s walking a tightrope to deal with both sides.”

Businesses had chafed under Quinn, who they frequently criticized for running the state in in a way that they characterized as hostile towards employers. Among other grievances, they particularly disliked his effort to raise the state’s minimum wage.

“The voters clearly said that they think that Illinois clearly needs new leadership,” said Mark Denzler, vice-president and chief operations officer at the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, the first business group to endorse Rauner.

“Certainly Bruce Rauner’s message of creating more jobs, creating a booming economy, reducing taxes and making it easier for job creators,” the trade group spokesman said, “resulted in a strong victory.”

In his victory speech, an ebullient Rauner offered few specifics about how he plans to proceed. “This is our time,” Rauner told supporters. “This is a transformational period. We will not accept the status quo. We are going in a new direction. The voters have spoken.”

During his campaign, Rauner promised to cut taxes and prime the state for explosive job growth. As he pushes that agenda, he’ll have to square off with Madigan, the politically powerful legislative leader whose influence has held sway in state politics for decades.

Madigan’s office sounded a conciliatory note on the day after the election. “The speaker has always had a good relationship with whoever he has worked with,” Steve Brown, the speaker’s press officer said in an interview. “We hope that it will remain the same.”

“Certainly governor-elect Rauner will have to deal with the democrat general assembly,” the IMA’s Denzler said. “But I think that they can find common ground on things like workers compensation reform, tax reform and other policies that will advance the state and move us forward.”

After coming down from the thrill from winning the expensive and often bitter election, says Green, Rauner will need to next steps are to move slow, hire an excellent chief of staff, and find ways to compromise with both sides.