Bruce Rauner is a very successful businessman who has earned millions in private equity investing. But when he decided to run for governor, he entered a different arena that is apparently causing him some problems. In the private sector, you can get away with making flippant comments, changing your opinion, keeping your work and personal lives separate and opining out-loud without getting publicly attacked. You can even flip-flop. But now he can’t and he is paying for it and may be bolstering the chances of his GOP opponents and possible ultimate opponent in the General Election.
It started on December 11th last year when Rauner was speaking to a business group in Moline, IL. He said, “I will advocate moving the Illinois minimum wage back to the national minimum wage. I think we’ve got to be competitive here in Illinois. It’s critical we’re competitive. We’re hurting our economy by having the minimum wage above the national. We’ve got to move back to the national.”
That seems like a fairly decent statement to make in a controlled room to a bunch of business people. Not in politics, though. Once his statement was conveyed outside that room it was interpreted that he wanted to reduce the Illinois minimum wage by a $1 and hurt low-wage workers to the benefit of business. For context, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and the Illinois minimum wage is $8.25.
Rauner could have stayed firm with that statement, but yesterday he used the old “taken out of context” defense and said that he made a flippant remark and not only did he not want to reduce Illinois’ minimum wage, but he supports raising it to $10 an hour. Today, a video has surfaced of him speaking to a group of Ford County Republicans in September stating that he adamantly opposes raising the minimum wage. The issues now are:
• Was he unaware of the difference in the federal and state rates?
• Does he actually agree with Democrats President Barack Obama and Governor Pat Quinn that both rates should be raised?
• Is he a closet Democrat?
• Is he a hard right-winger?
• Does he change his policies depending on what group he is addressing?
• Does he hate low-income workers?
• Is he committing the fatal political sin of changing his mind – aka “flip-flopping?
This left an opening for all anti-Rauner politicos. When Rauner’s December remarks became public, his primary opponents pounced. Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford and State Senators Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard all supported leaving the state minimum wage at $7.25 an hour. Then the pile on started. Dillard called Rauner’s reduction statement “political suicide” and that Rauner was “out of touch with regular Illinoisans.” Quinn issued an e-mail referencing the $1 an hour cut-back as heartless and cruel. The Democratic Governors Association issued a statement which said, “Only a right-wing billionaire would think it’s right to take thousands of dollars a year from working people who live on the brink of poverty.” Closer to home after Rauner retracted the December statement, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said, “It made him look really insane. So he had to pull this back.”
Rauner is in a tough position and must control his message better because this minimum-wage issue will come up over and over. But this is not the only time he has had a problem. So far, he refused to state what his opinion was on same-sex marriage as the issue was nearing passage in Springfield. He lobbied against the pension reform bill that recently passed and was accused by his opponents of merely thinking politics instead of what was best for the state. He also brushed off using clout to get his daughter into a charter school as a minor issue, which his opponents painted as an insult to children who earn those slots through merit instead of parental influence.
Rauner may win the primary. With only nine weeks left before the primary, he is bombarding the airwaves throughout Illinois with ads at a rate his opponents cannot match. But now the strategy may have changed for the GOP candidates and Quinn. Illinois is a “blue” state and they can argue that Rauner would fire-up the Democratic base in November to beat him. In a General Election, the ground troops will be able to out-number those swayed by the ads. For Quinn, it could give voters a crystal clear view of the differences between the candidates, because if they face each other in the General Election, the minimum-wage issue will return on websites, in debates and probably in Pat Quinn ads with the questions posed earlier in this article still needing answers.