Bruce Rauner is running for the GOP nomination for Illinois governor. | Sun-Times file photo
Updated: February 13, 2014 6:47AM
Americans usually prefer it when rich politicians at least try to show that they’re just like everybody else, even if everybody knows it’s just an act.
So Bruce Rauner tried his level best, bragging about his hard-scrabble upbringing (on the tony North Shore) and flashing his $18 watch in countless TV ads (paid for by his own gigantic investment accounts).
And by December, two polls showed that the previously political unknown Rauner was leading all three of his fellow Republican gubernatorial candidates.
But then he really screwed up.
For months, he parroted the usual conservative Republican Party line of saying he was “adamantly, adamantly” opposed to raising the minimum wage because the government shouldn’t interfere with business “pay scales” and because doing so would “devastate” the state’s economy.
Nobody really paid much attention because that’s what most Republican candidates say these days.
But while all those “cheap watch” TV ads were running last month, Rauner said something at a candidates forum that should’ve made big news, but nobody really caught it.
“I will advocate moving the Illinois minimum wage back to the national minimum wage,” Rauner said. “We’re hurting our economy by having the minimum wage above the national. We’ve got to move back to the national.”
Politically speaking, demanding that Illinois’ minimum wage be slashed by a dollar an hour is about as dangerous for a candidate as having a heroin arrest record. No joke.
After the comment surfaced last Tuesday, Rauner tried to backtrack, telling southern Illinois reporters he would reduce the minimum wage once schools were better funded and the economy was humming along.
But that statement was beyond laughable, so then he said he could support raising the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour, and tossed in that he could even back raising Illinois’ current minimum wage if some unspecified business reforms were put into place.
But just as most TV viewers probably already suspected that Rauner has some expensive Rolex watches tucked away at each of his nine houses, it’s quite tough to swallow this recent minimum wage “evolution.” Only that’s far more dangerous for Rauner. Falsely posing as a regular guy is one thing, but don’t attack them.
If Rauner gets pegged as a filthy-rich clown who sneers at the rest of us, it’ll cost him the election. Heck, it could even cost him the Republican primary. So his campaign is trying extra hard now to humanize him.
A few months before he formally created his campaign committee, Rauner penned an op-ed for this newspaper praising “right-to-work” laws for offering union members the “freedom” to choose whether or not to join a union. He proposed letting Illinois counties enact their own local laws.
Ask just about any informed union member and you’ll find out pretty quickly that “right to work” isn’t about freedom, it’s about hobbling unions and forcing down wages.
But lately he’s been more careful about what he says. Rauner appeared on Roe Conn’s WLS radio talk show last fall and all but dismissed his earlier position, saying that the idea wasn’t even among his top three priorities.
On Thursday, he flatly denied that he was anti-union during a Downstate radio talk show, complaining that his opponents had been spreading a “false statement” about him.
So is Rauner one of those rich guys who believes working people make too much and have too much power?
If he backs away from his complete and total opposition to an Illinois graduated income tax where the working class pays less and the wealthy pay more, then we’ll know he has truly evolved.
But I wouldn’t even bet one of Rauner’s houses on that one.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.