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Rauner says gay marriage view ‘irrelevant,’ but candidates need to take stand on hot-button issues

Bruce Rauner December | Sun-Times Medifiles

Bruce Rauner in December | Sun-Times Media files

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Updated: July 7, 2013 1:11PM

No shortage of preparation went into Chicago businessman Bruce Rauner’s official announcement Wednesday that he will be a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor.

A two-year buildup orchestrated by professional consultants culminated in Rauner’s campaign releasing a slickly produced online introductory video in place of the traditional political rally and speech.

Rauner followed up the announcement with interviews with select reporters instead of taking on all comers at a news conference — everything choreographed to portray the political newcomer in the most favorable light.

How strange then that Rauner hadn’t figured out a better way to deal with one of the stickier issues of our times — gay marriage.

In an interview with Chicago Sun-Times’ political reporter Natasha Korecki, Rauner completely ducked the issue, refusing to take a position other than to say the matter should be left to the voters of Illinois to decide by referendum instead of a vote of the state Legislature.

As to his own views, he wouldn’t say.

“My view is irrelevant,” Rauner told Korecki. “Why does that matter? There are many issues that folks can disagree about. It’s OK. I would like the Republican family as the big family. We can disagree. We can have some fights, that’s OK. And stay unified on the most critical issues.”

Irrelevant? Or chicken?

If Rauner is a serious candidate, and I take his candidacy very seriously, then his view is totally relevant on a hot-button issue that may still be unresolved when the next governor takes office in January 2015.

Personally, I’m hoping the Legislature has legalized same-sex marriages by the time voters go to the polls next spring, but even if they have, there will be forces looking to undo such a law.

Funny thing about a job like governor of Illinois: You don’t get to pick and choose the issues. All the issues come across your desk at one point or another, and you have to deal with them whether you want to do so or not.

You can’t just be the governor on the fiscal matters and outsource the social stuff that doesn’t interest you — or is too hot to handle. It’s nothing like a venture capitalist who rejects most deals and pursues a select few.

I’ve never met Rauner, but in the interest of full disclosure, let me interject here that until earlier this year my wife worked for Rauner’s wife at the Ounce of Prevention Fund, a nonprofit group that advocates for early childhood education.

Say what you will about Gov. Pat Quinn — and I had a few things to say in Wednesday’s paper — he lets you know where he stands. Now, sometimes that’s a moving target, which is another issue, but as Quinn himself is fond of saying, he’s in the arena every day.

Rauner is coming from completely outside the arena after a very successful career in business. Some people find such candidates preferable to so-called career politicians like Quinn and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, the only other announced Republican candidate for governor.

I try to evaluate each candidate individually, but the truth is that I’m usually biased against the rich guys — Democrat or Republican — who decide to start at the top in politics because they believe their business acumen makes them uniquely qualified to save us.

I’m particularly suspicious when somebody starts off like Rauner did Wednesday by railing against the “powerful union bosses” who he says are “arguably the most powerful politicians in Springfield.” For good measure, Rauner singled out by name the leaders of the Service Employees International Union, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois Education Association and AFSCME, suggesting they were more powerful than House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton.

In the first place, that’s just not true. Those union leaders are certainly very influential in Springfield, especially within the Democratic Party, but unions are weaker than they’ve ever been politically, on the defensive on every front, losing jobs, losing benefits.

If you’d seen them in Springfield in the past year, desperately pleading their case to preserve the pensions of state workers, you’d know that these same union leaders have to go hat in hand to Madigan like everybody else.

Yes, they are major political players, serving in many cases as a counterbalance to the powerful business interests that seem to want to wipe unions off the map — along with the worker protections that the unions helped enable.

Republicans campaigning against unions is nothing new, but Rauner struck an anti-union tone more commonly heard in our neighboring states.

His wealth makes Rauner an instantly credible candidate. He’ll need to work on the rest.

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