Rauner brings in steady hand after shaky summer

Patty Schuh. From Facebook

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday announced he’d hired a veteran Springfield legislative aide as his top spokeswoman after several months of staff disarray and what the governor himself dubbed “wild times.”

Patty Schuh will serve as Rauner’s deputy chief of staff for communications after having served as spokeswoman and press secretary for four Republican leaders, Senate President James “Pate” Philip and Senate Republican Leaders Frank Watson, Christine Radogno and Bill Brady.

“I bring three decades of legislative experience in dealing with the media, dealing with the Legislature, dealing with the issues and and in working to address challenges,” Schuh told the Sun-Times.

In a statement, the governor said Schuh “may be the most well established and politically astute communicator in Illinois government.”

Illinois Senate President James “Pate” Philip, R-Wood Dale, left, answers questions from the news media concerning the state budget while Philip’s spokeswoman, Patty Schuh, right, looks on at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield Wednesday, May 30, 2001. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Schuh will be paid $170,000 a year, according to Rauner spokesman Hud Engelhart, who noted Schuh has worked for the state for 32 years. She was previously paid about $121,000 a year as spokeswoman for the Illinois Senate Republican leader.

Schuh’s short-lived predecessor was Diana Rickert, a former Illinois Policy Institute staffer who was ousted alongside three other communications staffers a day after a controversial statement she penned regarding a cartoon the think tank posted. The statement cited Rauner’s position as a “white male” as a reason not to comment on the cartoon, which some critics dubbed racist. Rauner himself later released a statement, saying the earlier one “did not accurately reflect” his views. Rickert’s annual salary would have been $165,000. She made $17,000 for nearly six weeks on the job, according to the Illinois comptroller’s ledger.

Schuh’s hiring brings experience to the department, which endured chaotic times this summer. Rauner in July began a round of firings, including his chief of staff and several communications staffers.  The governor replaced his chief of staff with Kristina Rasmussen, former head of the Illinois Policy Institute, while also hiring other former staffers of the conservative group. The firings sparked the exits of at least 20 employees, many of whom left because they didn’t believe in the direction the governor was taking in hiring members of the think tank. The first purge came after several House Republicans bucked the governor on an override of a tax and budget package.

The communication staffers’ exits in August capped a number of public flaps for the governor since he directed the staff takeover in July — including the firing of his “body man” on his first day for sexist and racially insensitive tweets; criticism over the right leanings of his high-level staffers; a clarification by email of his comments on Charlottesville and a highly criticized national interview on Fox News.

Rasmussen stepped down last week, with the state’s former public safety director Rodger Heaton taking over. Heaton marks the governor’s third chief of staff this year. Rasmussen left a week after Rauner signed a House bill that expands taxpayer-funded abortions for low-income women and state employees. In a staff call announcing Rasmussen’s departure, Rauner credited her for “outstanding work” in “very challenging, wild times.”

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