SPRINGFIELD — In the final hours of debate Friday in the Illinois House, the talk turned toward secrecy.
Democrats for weeks have complained about “secret” working groups set up by Gov. Bruce Rauner in which they say he’s forced an agenda on them that they can’t get behind.
On Friday, Republicans gave it right back.
State Rep. Ed Sullivan, R-Mundelein, told the chamber he had another nomination for who has had the biggest secret working group for years: the House Democratic leadership. Sullivan asked how often legislators have known nothing about a proposal until it turned up on the House floor, called for a vote.
Sullivan said he’s been tapped to serve on secret, Democratic-led working groups before, including one on concealed-carry gun proposals. He said that, in those days, industry lobbyists were also invited to the table.
Sullivan said he and other lawmakers worked “in back rooms” and members were asked to keep those discussions private until there was something in bill form.
“I’m not saying that’s all bad,” Sullivan said in an interview Friday.“I’m pointing to the hypocrisy of them criticizing the governor, who is trying to reach consensus. This governor has said, ‘Hey, I want people to be able to talk freely about this agenda. Tell me what you like, what you don’t like.’ ”
Democrats have repeatedly complained that the governor has conditioned passing a tax increase to fill a $6 billion budget hole on also passing a set of initiatives in his “Turnaround Agenda.” That largely pro-business agenda looked to erode the power of unions in Illinois. But in a series of bills filed Friday, Rauner pulled back on some of his demands.His compromise included abandoning a push to bring right-to-work zones into the state and adding a property-tax freeze, among other initiatives.
Democrats’ complaints about Rauner, who has built a reputation of talking about broad proposals without offering specifics, has forced Republicans to put the items into bill form. Now, it’s up to Democrats to actually call the bills and hold a debate on them.
Meantime, Democrats have been coming up with their own budget proposal — in secret — that they expect to file next week.
There’s no question that both Rauner and Madigan both are known for their clandestine approaches. Recall the days when then-Gov. Pat Quinn was attempting to reach the speaker post-session about the failure to advance pension reform but no one could find him? It was then revealed that Madigan didn’t have a cellphone.
Madigan plays by his own rules. His intentions are often a mystery — until something’s filed on the House floor — though he does sometimes make himself available to reporters in question-and-answer sessions in the halls of the Capitol, and sometimes in news conferences.
Since his run for governor, Rauner quickly developed a reputation for being secretive, then buying TV ad time to trumpet a controlled message. Rauner holds events but rarely takes reporters’ questions afterward.
Last week, Rauner’s office said he held no public events on his schedule for days. But on one of those days, Rauner did appear publicly, speaking to a group of charter-school supporters in the Capitol about his deep desire to expand charters in Illinois. Only a reporter from the Sun-Times was present for the governor’s remarks.
In recent weeks, Rauner has mostly kept out of public view, with the exception of targeted, controlled venues such as editorial boards largely friendly to his agenda. He did send a message to lawmakers last week — on the editorial page of the State Journal-Register.
So to the extent that there’s a competition, it’s difficult to say who’s the winner when it comes to who’s more secretive: Madigan or Rauner.
But without question, you’re the loser.