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Bruce Rauner’s game of chicken

Updated: July 16, 2014 6:35AM



Running for governor should not be a game of chicken.

It’s a waste of time and an insult to a voter’s intelligence.

Yet, there was Bruce Rauner, the GOP candidate for governor, with his running mate, Evelyn Sanguinetti, posing with three caged soon-to-be roasted hens. An optic — yet another — offered this time to demonstrate how the state has allegedly wasted money to fly prairie chickens into Illinois at taxpayer expense.

Except it’s not true.

A combination of federal species preservation grant money and fees from hunting licenses paid for the effort to keep Illinois prairie chickens from extinction.

Who cares?

Chickens are an easy and cheesy way to dumb down a complex conversation.

Make no mistake about one thing.

Bruce Rauner didn’t become a near-billionaire and nine-mansion/ranch owner without mastering financial complexities.

“I’ve been successful at everything I’ve ever done,” he bragged to reporters [and chickens] at a Thursday press conference.

Not successful, to this point anyway, in outlining a specific vision for how to save Illinois from fiscal ruin.

And why is that remarkable?

Because Rauner is a guy intimately acquainted with numbers.

You don’t found and grow a private equity enterprise like GTCR. — the “R” stood for Rauner — without a granular understanding of how to make money in the most sophisticated ways possible.

And so it is amazing — if not disheartening — to read the mere pamphlet that the Rauner campaign took more than a year to produce. It’s a brochure, not a plan. And specifics? It’s just the same old campaign trope.

“Transparency” is promised.

Spare us. A promise always made but virtually never-actualized.

But one part of Rauner’s press conference was right on the mark. The part about his not knowing all the details of the dark corners of state government until he gets in office.

So we wait to see what he does, in fact, know? The short answer is yes.

Rich Miller of the Capitol Fax blog has broken down the numbers to suggest that Rauner’s alleged $1 billion savings is less than $100 million. In other words, the candidate is offering, in pamphlet form, a kind of fantasy football in which his team wins even though they don’t know how to play the game.

Government, let’s stipulate, is different from business.

“Businessmen don’t do well with ambiguity and contingency,” said economics professor emeritus Ed Stuart of Northeastern Illinois University. “If you’re a private-equity investor and have revenue estimates and are good at what you’re doing, those estimates are pretty close to right. If you’re looking at government numbers, the macro economy is more uncontrollable than any specific sector. There a lot more random variables.”

What does that mean exactly?

“Government numbers are Jello numbers,” said Stuart. “If you are a governor responsible for disaster relief and roads and education, there are variables that become unknowable.”

So you come up with platitudes that feed the public perception that you do.

Email: cmarin@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CarolMarin



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