Illinois voters gave Republican Bruce Rauner a chance four years ago and soon learned to regret it.
Now it’s Democrat J.B. Pritzker’s turn to be governor after he crushed Rauner with the help of a bigger checkbook, friendlier personality and favorable political winds.
Voters on both Rauner’s political left and right delivered a decisive repudiation of the first-term governor Tuesday.
Despite the big win, Pritzker will be on a short leash, too. Voters will be looking for him to prove that House Speaker Mike Madigan isn’t the one holding the other end of it.
As Rauner learned the hard way, or perhaps never did, all that wealth does a politician little good if he can’t deliver on his promises and makes a bad situation worse.
Rauner promised to be someone who could work with the state’s majority Democrats to solve the state’s problems but instead tried to bring his opponents to kneel to make a point. The strategy backfired.
The voting ended Tuesday, but in many ways, the outcome was decided long ago. Voters tired of Rauner’s act, just as they had tired of Gov. Pat Quinn.
The election of Donald Trump as President helped seal his fate by bringing voters to the polls who might normally have sat this one out. It didn’t help that Democrats fielded a third-party candidate against Rauner to siphon off conservative votes.
All Pritzker had to do to close the deal was to show that he was an acceptable choice, if less than perfect — far less as voters discovered from his embarrassing wiretapped conversation with Rod Blagojevich and questionable property tax maneuvers.
Pritzker also has made a lot of promises, including one in particular that he may have trouble keeping — switching Illinois from a flat income tax to a graduated tax without hitting the middle class.
To pull that off, he’s going to have to be able to say no to Democratic constituencies looking for increased state funding after four years of pain under Rauner.
Because Pritzker has no track record in government, nobody really knows whether he has the ability to say no, but if he does, he can expect more support in those efforts from both the public and state Legislature than did Rauner.
Rauner campaigned for re-election on the notion that re-electing him was Illinois’ “last chance,” the same sky-is-falling narrative pushed by the state’s largest newspaper.
Tuesday was Rauner’s last chance, not ours.
To be sure, Illinois’ problems are real. The public pension underfunding problem verges on unsolvable. The debt racked up during the budget impasse. The economic health of many communities is bleak.
Here’s a prediction, at the end of four years, Illinois will still be here, and those who stay will be in no worse shape than we are now if the national economy doesn’t tank.
And if Pritzker doesn’t do the job, he will be headed out the door, too, and his replacement won’t be quite so rich.