With live chickens present, gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner along with running mate Evelyn Sanguinetti enter a news conference to outline their plan to eliminate wasteful spending. | Photo by Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times
Updated: July 16, 2014 6:36AM
I honestly believed that when Republican Bruce Rauner stopped ducking and finally started talking substantively about what he would do if elected governor that he probably would have some ideas that deserved to be taken seriously.
After all, Rauner is supposed to be some kind of business genius (his net worth would indicate as much), and I certainly don’t discount the possibility somebody with his background could see opportunities for fixing state government that others have missed.
On top of that, he’s got all the money he needs to hire a crack research staff to help him develop a plan. Plus, at this point, he also has the full support of the Republican legislative apparatus—all itching for a chance to control Springfield again.
So I found it fairly dumbfounding on Thursday when Rauner, with three caged chickens at his side, completely laid an egg with his first attempt to show there’s some substance behind the slick campaign that won the Republican primary.
Rauner’s initial “Blueprint” on government reform and cutting waste qualified as such only from the standpoint that it was printed in blue ink.
Instead of offering real proposals about how he plans to keep his promise to “shake up” state government, Rauner cobbled together a collection of news clippings, audit findings and populist pandering that he claimed would save the state more than $1 billion a year.
Half of this savings — $500 million — is supposed to come from reforming the state’s procurement system, but Rauner didn’t offer any specifics about how he would actually achieve this savings, except for the old “increasing coordination” and “updating technology.”
He said he would eliminate unnecessary emergency procurements and sole-source contracts and then pretended that’s all savings, when the state would probably still need to make the same purchases.
Much of the rest of his plan was stuff that might sound good to people wanting to hate on state government, but wouldn’t really get you very far.
Rauner said he would save $10 million by selling off the state’s fleet of aircraft, used in part to shuttle state employees and elected officials back and forth between Chicago and Springfield.
That’s swell. It’s definitely a program that has been abused through the years, but Rauner wants you to believe that by eliminating the planes, you save all that money. The truth is those same people still need to get back and forth efficiently, and if you don’t transport them home at the end of the day, taxpayers can also be stuck with the expense of overnighting them.
You’d think a big business executive would be familiar with those types of tradeoffs, even one who currently gets around when necessary on his billionaire buddy’s private jet.
Rauner’s presentation was reminiscent of Pat Quinn’s back-of-an-envelope Sunday press conferences in the early 1980s when he was in full gadfly mode, long before he became governor and had to get serious and make the kinds of decisions that make voters mad.
One difference being I can’t ever remember Quinn, who was known for his use of props, ever bringing along any live animals.
Rauner said his chickens were symbolic of government waste — a reference to a state program to restore the greater prairie chicken to Illinois. Prairie chickens, once numbering in the millions in the state, are considered an Illinois endangered species with only 62 left at last count.
The program is spending more than a half million dollars — mostly from a federal grant along with fees paid by hunters and fishermen — to transport the prairie chickens from Kansas and release them into breeding grounds in Illinois.
Obviously, such a program is an easy target, but Rauner says he is a bird hunter, and hunters are usually sensitive to these types of conservation issues. Maybe they don’t need to consider such matters in Montana, where Rauner has his ranch.
Rauner skated through the Republican primary with a television advertising campaign that allowed him to be all things to all people as the answer to their throw-the-bums-out sentiments.
With Quinn supporting a continuation of the income tax increase he helped pass in 2011, and Rauner opposing it, that may be all the voters really want to know this year.
At some point, though, I hope some of them will realize that no matter their frustration with Quinn they have absolutely no idea who Rauner really is or what he plans to do — and that at the very least they ought to demand some answers before November.
Could it be that the emperor, a/k/a Bruce Almighty, has no clothes?
Or is it that he still just doesn’t want us to know what he has up his sleeve?