Why it matters where our governor lives

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SPRINGFIELD — Bruce Rauner made it known loudly and clearly that if elected, he plans to move into the governor’s mansion in Springfield.

He’s going to fix the roof and “pump out the basement.”

The issue comes up every four years, especially after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich so spectacularly shunned Springfield living, opting to run the state’s business out of Chicago. In the final months of his term, he wasn’t even making it into the Chicago office at the Thompson Center, instead making calls from his Northwest Side home.

Would Blagojevich have been a better governor if he had lived in Springfield? How about Pat Quinn?

How much does it matter where the governor of Illinois lives?

To Chicagoans, it probably doesn’t matter all that much. There’s an expectation that the governor would frequently travel between the state capital and Chicago. 

For Downstaters, it’s a different story. There’s long-held resentment toward Chicago.

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Look no further than Springfield’s State Journal-Register editorial last week, shunning remarks made by Rauner running mate Evelyn Sanguinetti in a leaked email where she jokes that cow tipping was a work requirement in Springfield. 

“Springfield is painfully aware of the perception among Chicagoans that the capital city is a dirty, boring southern outpost, a place that lawmakers and state employees reluctantly duck into when necessary and speed out of as soon as their work is done,” the State Journal-Register wrote last week. “That Springfield is Illinois’ capital city is an annoyance to many of them. Quinn has spent precious little time at the executive mansion; the same was true of his predecessor, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, during his tenure. The local economy has taken a hit from the one-two punch of state jobs being moved to Chicago and an overall reduction in the state workforce. Once-bustling state office buildings are vacant.”

So living in the state’s capital: It is a symbolic gesture, one that gives a nod of relevancy and import to the region and an acknowledgement that it’s a Chicago-based administration.

That’s probably why we’ve heard the promise before — from Quinn.

“My clothes are at the governor’s mansion in Springfield — even my underwear is there,” Quinn said in 2010. “I think that establishes residency, doesn’t it?”

A year later, then-Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady noted that Quinn had spent just 40 nights in Springfield. “For the sake of everyone working in his Chicago office,” Brady said at the time, “I really hope the governor was lying about where he kept his underwear.”

Underwear jokes aside, from a shrewd political standpoint, Springfield voters are nothing to sneeze at, much less those in surrounding counties and farther south.

In 2010, Quinn lost Sangamon County to then-opponent Bill Brady by 17,240 votes. That doesn’t sound like much overall, given that Cook County provided some 900,000 votes for Quinn to Brady’s 400,000.

But statewide, Quinn eked out his 2010 victory by a mere 31,834 votes out of 3.7 million. So counties like Champaign, Sangamon, Peoria — all that went Republican — are key to keeping and growing.

So it’s no coincidence that while on the stump, Rauner repeatedly speaks of a reverence for the governor’s mansion and that he and his wife, Diana, will move in.

He made that promise again from the fairgrounds last week.

“I’m going to commit to something else pretty unusual in Illinois. I’m actually going to move to Springfield to live in the governor’s mansion.”

“Wow! Yay! Yay!” a woman in the crowd said, in celebration.

“This is the people’s house. We all own it. It’s an honor and it should be a sign of respect to live in that house. And I want to be here to run the government from Springfield. This is the state capital, this is where the government should be based and where it should be run from.

“Our current governor takes care of our governor’s residence the way he takes care of our economy. He lets it get destroyed, by neglect and abuse. We’re not going to let that happen anymore.”

Quinn’s office has quite a different view on how much the governor values the state mansion.

“Governor Quinn resides in both Chicago and Springfield throughout the year. He stays at the Illinois Executive Mansion when the Illinois General Assembly is in session and frequently stays there when conducting state business and receiving visitors,” governor’s office spokeswoman Katie Hickey said. “Governor Quinn believes the Mansion is the people’s house and it belongs to everyone in Illinois. He is proud to call the Mansion home and has opened its doors to residents from every corner of the state. When you’re the Governor of Illinois, you represent the whole state, from the capital to Rockford, to Marion, Peoria, the Quad Cities and everywhere in between.” 

Of course, there’s another way to look at it. Rauner, a multimillionaire, has expansive properties throughout the country. In the span of a week, he managed to travel to Montana and back twice, making Springfield fairground stops in between.

Rauner has a home in Winnetka but took up residency in Chicago when he registered his daughter at an elite Chicago public high school.

Rauner already has 9 homes, so what’s one more?

Governors Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar, both Republicans, remained popular Downstate and in Chicago after establishing a firm presence in Springfield.

“It isn’t so much the days you spend in the mansion as it is the perception that you create. The people who live in Springfield and Sangamon County don’t like to be disrespected,” said Kent Redfield, political science emeritus at University of Illinois at Springfield. “Quinn doesn’t have the kind of Springfield presence that a Thompson or an Edgar had. It’s not the negative, anti-presence that Blagojevich had, but you don’t get that sense of being hands on, part of the community that you got with Thompson and Edgar. Quinn suffers with both reality and perception.”

Politically, it’s the right pledge for Rauner to make. 

But if he’s elected, even after he fixes the roof and “pumps out the basement,” the public will quickly notice if Springfield is Rauner’s main residence or merely property No. 10. 

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