Abortion bill fallout no picnic for ‘Benedict Rauner’

Flanked by supporters, including Former Lt. Gov. Corinnne Wood (right), Gov. Bruce Rauner announces he will sign abortion legislation HB40, expanding insurance coverage for the procedure and seeking to ensure abortion remains legal in Illinois even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, during a Thompson Center news conference Thursday afternoon, Sept. 29, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner suffered new fallout Friday from his shocking decision to sign a controversial abortion bill — scratched as the featured speaker at a suburban Republican picnic to avoid creating a “distraction.”

The backlash even hit a personal note from one of Rauner’s closest political allies, John Tillman, the CEO of the conservative Illinois Policy Institute.

The think tank leader labeled the governor “Benedict Rauner” for disregarding his previous claims that he wouldn’t sign the controversial House Bill 40, which expands public funding of abortion and protects it in case the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe V. Wade.

“Benedict Rauner going back on his word and signing HB40,” Tillman wrote in a Facebook post Friday morning. “Whether you are pro life or pro choice, a politician loses when he gives his word to many people and goes back on it, including to Cardinal [Blase] Cupich.

“Further, if you care only about economic issues, he has put that entire agenda at risk by betraying those to whom he gave his word. My personal views here only, of course,” Tillman wrote.

Tillman was commenting on this own post, which began: “Generals cannot lead when they betray their troops.”

Tillman did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for the think tank said Tillman’s comments were “his own personal opinion and do not reflect the views of the Illinois Policy Institute as an institution.”

It was only part of the backlash Friday.

For weeks, the governor had been scheduled as the featured speaker at Saturday afternoon’s Southwest Suburban Republican Family Picnic in Palos Park, an annual showcase of state GOP candidates.

That changed on Friday, when organizers learned that anti-abortion groups were planning to protest the governor’s appearance, said Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison, the county’s Republican Party chairman.

“It’s a family event, we’ll have a lot of kids out there, so the last thing we would want is to have something disruptive of that nature,” Morrison said, adding that the decision was “mutual” to take Rauner off the bill.

“This is supposed to be a fun event for everyone, and we decided that it would be too much of a distraction.”

A Rauner campaign spokeswoman agreed that the decision to remove him from the event was mutual, but she declined further comment.

Since being elected in 2014, Rauner had been a regular at the picnic, which also includes live music, food and a petting zoo. Attorney general hopeful Erika Harold has replaced the governor as the picnic’s main speaker, Morrison said.

Morrison is among the wave of Republican colleagues who have decried Rauner’s signing of the bill.

“No matter your political views, allowing taxpayer dollars to fund abortions is completely unacceptable, especially when we’re in this financial mess,” Morrison said.

Morrison said despite GOP “disappointment” in HB40, support for the governor is steady.

“People are not pleased, but I would assume that going forward the party will stay behind him,” he said. “We will do everything we can to work with him going forward.”

Harold, a former Miss America and unsuccessful Downstate congressional candidate, also broke ranks with the governor on the abortion bill, but released a statement Thursday saying “While we disagree on this issue, there remains much on which we agree — and that is what unites us as Republicans.”

More from the Chicago Sun-Times