BROWN: Rauner and Pritzker battle over who has less control over what

SHARE BROWN: Rauner and Pritzker battle over who has less control over what

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful J.B. Pritzker (left) speaks at a forum in October; Gov. Bruce Rauner (right) holds a news conference in September. | Sun-Times file photos by Ashlee Rezin

One guy says he’s not in charge of the government he was elected to run. The other disclaims control of the vast fortune he plans to tap in his campaign to replace the first guy.

I knew there would be days like this when mega-rich guys Bruce Rauner and J.B. Pritzker decided to duke it out for the governorship of Illinois.

It was just a matter of when.

That began Monday when Democratic operatives began pushing out reports the Illinois governor had told reporters he was “not in charge” of state government.


I assumed they were taking his words out of context. Surely, a now experienced politician such as Rauner would not have intentionally said something so foolish.

Then I read the quotes and watched the video.

As you must know by now, Rauner said it all right. Stranger still, he really meant it.

“I am not in charge. I’m trying to get to be in charge,” Rauner said, his delivery oddly shrill.

The governor’s stressed look might have had something to do with the distraction caused by his problematic new Republican primary opponent, conservative Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton. Or maybe Rauner realized at some level how silly it sounds three years into office to disclaim responsibility for the government he heads.

Given an opportunity Tuesday to back off his statement, or at least polish it up, Rauner doubled down by saying he thought “everyone in the state” knew what he was talking about.

That being that it’s his nemesis/fall guy House Speaker Mike Madigan who is really pulling all the strings of state government, not him.

Yes, I knew that’s what he was talking about, and without underestimating Madigan’s power and influence, I still reject the premise.

Rauner also tried Tuesday to change the conversation entirely by launching his most pointed attack to date on fellow rich guy, Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker, for being a lousy businessman who inherited his wealth and hides most of it to avoid taxes.

That’s a conversation worth having, too.

But let me first point out that all five previous governors under whom Madigan served as speaker understood they were in charge of the government.

That includes the three previous Republican governors — Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and George Ryan — and the two Democrats — Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn.

Several of them were frustrated at times, even checkmated, by the powerful speaker. But all were able to work with him or around him to keep the state running. Rauner was the first to fail in that regard.

It’s true Madigan has consolidated power during that time. It’s true he has overstayed his welcome. It’s also true he’s not as powerful as the governor of Illinois, the framers of the state constitution having made certain of it.

That brings us back to the 2018 election. It’s been apparent for a while now that Rauner is spoiling for a fight with Pritzker, who he seems to believe will be the Democratic nominee because of all his money.

That’s a good bet, but not a sure thing,

Like Rauner before him, Pritzker’s vast wealth is a two-edged sword. He has all that money at his disposal to wage a campaign. But it creates openings for an opponent.

Most of Pritzker’s money is held in family trusts for which he is refusing to make full disclosure, hiding behind the privacy of family members.

Against another rich guy in Rauner who has never been particularly forthcoming about his personal finances, that might have worked.

But Rauner signaled he will spend his own money to make an issue of Pritzker’s money, contending the Pritzker family is hiding its fortune offshore to dodge taxes.

Pritzker indeed needs to be much more open about his finances than he’s been so far. In the process, I’m still hoping he can open up Rauner’s.

That extra information could help the rest of us decide who we want to be in charge.

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