SPRINGFIELD — An inauguration is a baptism without being dunked in the water.
It’s the dawning recognition that the campaign is gone, the party’s almost over, and there you are.
As Gov. Bruce Rauner took the oath of office Monday, joined in the front row by House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, I found myself thinking about poker. These two Democratic leaders hold a supermajority of cards in the critical game of saving Illinois, a state that is dead last in controlling its pension liability and paying its bills.
Rauner, the first Republican governor since George Ryan, is a man of supreme confidence and immense wealth but no experience in government.
“I am nobody nobody sent!” was one of his strongest applause lines at Monday’s inauguration.
Who worries about his lack of government experience?
Not the general public, which firmly believes in the menace of “career politicians.”
Lost in the robotic rhetoric of campaign-speak is the simple fact that it helps — every once in a while — to have expertise in the job you’re about to do.
You know, like if someone plans to operate on your brain, you’d prefer that person to be a “career brain surgeon.”
At Monday’s ceremonies, I watched closely as GOP Congressman Aaron Schock offered an unexpected history lecture on the corruption of the early Roman Empire, comparing Bruce Rauner to Cincinnatus, the virtuous patrician and statesman who pulled it from the brink of disaster.
Madigan and Cullerton were Sphinx-like as Schock prattled on.
They will bide their time. It is, after all, up to the new governor to play the first card.
State Rep. Lou Lang, Democrat of Skokie, is deputy majority leader in the House. And a seasoned observer of governors.
“There are two models that are diametrically opposed,” he told me at Monday’s swearing-in ceremony. “When George Ryan came to the General Assembly, he treated us like partners of co-equal branches of government. When Rod Blagojevich came to us, it was as our enemy.”
Though it’s true that both governors ended up in federal prison a la Congressman Schock’s Roman Empire analogy, there is something important about what Rep. Lang is saying.
In the coming days, without fear of contradiction, I can predict that Mike Madigan will once again be re-elected speaker of the House. And that Madigan’s rules for passing a bill — all 57 detailed pages of them — will also, once again, be approved.
That gives Madigan — and Cullerton in the Senate — absolute control of what legislation either makes it to the floor — or dies like a dog in committee.
“Democrats,” asserted Lang, “are not interested in Rauner failing.”
So if the new governor masters the rules and legislative minutiae, will he succeed?
Lang smiled knowingly.
“When I came down here 27 years ago . . . I read all the rules but didn’t know a damn thing about what I was doing until I worked the system.”
In other words, Lang seems to be suggesting that even Cincinnatus had a learning curve.