When he tapped Leslie Munger to serve as comptroller two years ago, Bruce Rauner predicted “she will do everything within her power to help fix our state’s broken finances.”
On Friday, about three months after Munger lost her bid to hold that job, the governor appointed the Lincolnshire Republican to another top post, so she can “add her voice to the state’s budget discussions.”
Rauner’s newly minted deputy governor will earn $135,000 — the same salary she made as comptroller.
In her new job, Munger will serve alongside Deputy Gov. Trey Childress. The money for her salary was made available after the departure of the state’s chief operating officer Linda Lingle in 2016, who made $198,000 a year, according to the governor’s office.
The former business executive will “assist in addressing financial challenges facing the state and its nonprofit organizations,” the governor’s office said on Friday. She will “add her voice to the state’s budget discussions,” and also work with nonprofit leaders.
“Leslie’s vast business, human services and government experiences make her uniquely qualified to serve in this important role,” Rauner said in a statement. “We are thrilled that she has agreed to return to public service and bring people together to find long-term solutions for our state and its residents.”
State Sen. Andy Manar, who is mulling a run for governor, took a jab at the $135,000 salary — arguing in a statement that the money could have been used to help fund a Downstate public school instead.
“Rather than recite all of the obvious reasons why it’s wrong for our wealthy governor to clout his wealthy friend into a state government job at a lucrative salary when we have no budget after she lost her bid for election in November, I’ll simply note some of the many ways a rural downstate public school could put $135,000 to use,” the Bunker Hill Democrat said.
That list included the hiring of three teachers at a salary of $45,000 per year; 270 iPads for students; 450 laptops and 1,800 scientific calculators.
In political ads last year during a harsh election cycle, Munger was painted as a politician beholden to the governor, and Democratic challenger Susana Mendoza was dubbed a “trusty sidekick” to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. More than $12 million was poured into the campaign.
The animosity didn’t end after the election.
In December, Munger rebuked Mendoza’s accusations that Munger left offices that appeared “looted,” with little furniture, locked desks and missing documents.
Munger rejected those claims, saying she’d sue Mendoza personally if she continued to “damage” her image.
Now it appears the two will be working together in some capacity.
Rauner appointed Munger to serve as the state’s new comptroller when he first took office in 2015, after the death of Judy Baar Topinka.
But former Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, had already signed legislation triggering a special election. The result was a big-money race for an obscure office that has at times been targeted for elimination.
Mendoza’s win concluded a highly contentious race between the women, which many framed as a proxy war between Rauner and Madigan. Each candidate spent six-digit sums with firms specializing in political campaign ads.
The candidates themselves decried the proxy war narrative while also playing into it, accusing each other of operating in “lockstep” with their political captains.
Mendoza at one point told the Chicago Sun-Times: “I don’t feel like I’m running against Leslie Munger any more,” but rather against Rauner.