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Former Gov. Jim Edgar discusses the state’s budget woes during a June 7 luncheon hosted by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform at the Standard Club of Chicago. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

Ex-Gov. Edgar: Civility, compromise, compassion keys to fix mess

SHARE Ex-Gov. Edgar: Civility, compromise, compassion keys to fix mess
SHARE Ex-Gov. Edgar: Civility, compromise, compassion keys to fix mess

Former Gov. Jim Edgar — one of the state’s most popular Republican governors —saidTuesdaythat Illinois is in its worst shape in 50 years, and warned that Gov. Bruce Rauner must tone down his “rhetoric” and abandon his “Turnaround Agenda” to get a complete budget done.

“There’s nothing worse than an old governor telling a new governor what to do,” Edgar joked at the Standard Club in Chicago after offering Rauner a couple of lessons on governing.

Rauner has for months blamed the state’s fiscal mismanagement on the “cronyism” and “corruption” of the Democratic leaders, particularly Speaker Mike Madigan.

During a Governor’s Day celebration at the Illinois State Fair last year, the governor celebrated the state electing its first Republican governorin 12 years: “They created a mess from one party rule, from King Madigan and the Chicago political machine,” Rauner said.

But at the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform luncheon Tuesday,Edgarspoke of the need for civility, compromise and compassion in today’s hostile state government. And he stressed that the governor’s No. 1 goal should be managing the state via a budget.

“What I had to learn is that I had my point of view. They had their point of view. And I should treat them with civility. Just because they didn’t agree with me, didn’t mean they were ignorant, didn’t mean they were a crook. It just meant we disagreed,” Edgar said. “And it’s critical that in the public arena that we treat our adversaries with civility because one of the things I also learned [is] today’s adversary istomorrow’sally, because issues change. But if you just call someone stupid or a crook, it’s going to be a little harder the next day when you need them as allies, to get them as allies.”

Edgar said budgets were accomplished in the ‘90s, despite many hardships, “because we compromised.” He called negotiations with Madigan during his tenure as governor during a budget impasse tense, but civil in the end because “we both tried to watch our rhetoric.”

“We might have thought about the other guy, but we didn’t go out and say it,” Edgar said.

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Edgar, who served two terms as governor after a stint as secretary ofstate, has been critical of Rauner before. He has taken issue with his fellow Republican’s governing style in media interviews, butTuesday’sspeech was perhaps his most detailed critique.

“You can’t get things done if you’re not willing to meet your adversary halfway, and again we’ve gotten away from that,” Edgar said, noting the state must try something different.

“It’s obvious what we’ve done the last year hasn’t worked,” Edgar said.

Edgar noted Madigan ate lunch with him every day during their impasses —joking Madigan only ate an apple —until they came up with an agreement about a temporary tax increase.

Edgar suggested Rauner do the same with the Democratic leaders, to end a budget impasse that is hurting the state. And he pointed the finger at Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda” for slowing down a much-needed budget.

“I do think the Turnaround Agenda part is the biggest obstacle they have to deal with,” Edgar said, noting he still speaks to Madigan, and has spoken to Rauner within the past year.

He also criticized Rauner’s push for term limits, saying the governor is pushing the reform to target Madigan.

“I’m not big on term limits. … I don’t think we need term limits. Let’s face it. This whole discussion about term limits is not about the members. It’s about the Speaker and that doesn’t solve it,” Edgar said. “Term limits, if you pass that amendment, Mike Madigan can still be speaker for 10 years. I know Mike Madigan. He’ll do that just to spite everyone.”

Alsoon Tuesday, Madigan aide Tim Mapes announced to legislators that a scheduled Illinois House sessionon Wednesdayhad been canceled, citing continued talks with the working groups, Republican leaders and the governor’s office.

“The Speaker is hopeful that progress will continue, as it has over the past few weeks.Given this progress and the need for these discussions among the working groups on the budget and other issues to continue without interruption, the House will not be in session onWednesday, June 8,” Mapes wrote in a memo.

Rauner spent some of hisTuesdayin Bloomington, where he continued to push for a Republican-sponsored education bill to ensure schools open this fall, while also accusing Democrats of “slow-rolling” the budget process to create a schools crisis.

“They want a crisis in the government to leverage a Chicago bailout and leverage a big tax hike without any reforms,” Rauner said.”

And the governor defended his highly controversial description of some CPS schools as “crumbling prisons.”

“In too many of them, I cry. Tears come into my eyes. No student, no child of Illinois should have to go to school in some of those facilities. They have metal on the windows. They’re dark. They’re depressing. They’re crumbling,” Rauner said, further likening the schools to prisons. “They have metal detectors at every door and they have police officers and security officers everywhere. Our children deserve better than that.”

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