It may look like a campaign event and it may sound like a campaign event, but is it a campaign event?
Apparently not if Gov. Bruce Rauner says it isn’t.
That’s what he did, of course, when he spent two days traveling around Illinois, making appearances in a number of cities and talking up the same themes he’s been repeating since he was campaigning the first time. Not to mention that Rauner’s campaign fund paid for the trip rather than taxpayers. And remember, it wasn’t that long ago that Rauner dumped $50 million of his own money into that fund.
It wasn’t exactly a big leap to think last week’s trip was something of an unofficial start to his 2018 re-election campaign.
That was the way many news outlets reported the trip. Rauner pooh-poohed that notion, saying he simply wanted to get out there and communicate with the people. He would have had better luck trying to convince people that Daffy wasn’t a duck.
* Of course, the trip drew outrage, since very few political things in Illinois fail to draw outrage from somebody.
This time, it was from an array of Democrats and Democratic-aligned groups that zeroed in on the Republican governor. Most of it revolved around the idea that Rauner shouldn’t be out campaigning when the state still didn’t have a budget. Clearly, they didn’t buy into the idea that the trip wasn’t campaign-related.
They would have had a stronger position except for a couple of things. One, the General Assembly is on a two-week break, so it’s not like a budget was going to get resolved last week even if Rauner had decided to spend the entire time in Springfield.
Two, the closest the legislature has come to resolving this mess is the Senate’s “grand bargain” that, supposedly, showed its greatest progress when the Senate leaders negotiated on their own without Rauner directly participating. You could argue that if anything, having Rauner on the campaign, uh, communication trail might help things.
* One of the groups criticizing Rauner was Illinois Working Together, a coalition of labor unions that includes some representing public employees.
A statement from the group said it was “downright shameful” Rauner would campaign rather than do his job. It also criticized Rauner for refusing to compromise.
OK, but let’s go back to the grand bargain. Remember that the dozen bills that comprise the bargain are tied together, and all must become law or none of them will. One of those bills is pension reform, which is vehemently opposed by organized labor. Just a reminder.
* Speaking of the grand bargain, Senate President John Cullerton’s office insisted talks are continuing, even though the legislature is on its spring break. It said senators and staff “are trading ideas on all components” of the plan.
This could be a good sign. When Cullerton and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno got the grand bargain going in the first place, the legislature had wrapped up its work for 2016 and wasn’t in session.
* Sen. Daniel Bliss, D-Evanston, an announced candidate for governor, released five years’ worth of his income tax returns last week. So much for the idea that everyone gets rich from serving in the General Assembly.
His 2016 return, filed jointly with his wife, listed $32,568 in adjusted gross income. That’s less than even his official Senate salary, but remember lawmakers weren’t getting regular checks for much of the year. Not that he made all that much more in 2013 before all of the budget insanity set in.
Incidentally, Biss’ bill that you can’t be on the presidential ballot in Illinois unless you release your tax returns is pending a vote on the Senate floor.