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Bruce Rauner's Secret Government

"When running for office, future Gov. Bruce Rauner regularly pledged to bring unprecedented transparency to state government as part of the Republican's campaign to turn around the Illinois economy," AP reports.

Let me guess: He's not transparent at all!

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This is a worthy story, but AP is drawing a contrast between campaign pledges and governing reality instead of drawing a line from dishonest campaigning to dishonest governing. Rauner showed us who he was during a campaign filled with repeated lies, flip flops and evasions.

Rauner hid the ball during the campaign just as he's doing now.

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"But now, as the clock ticks down on the General Assembly's spring session, the former private equity executive is holding his cards especially close to his vest in tense negotiations with Democratic leaders over the pro-business reforms he wants in exchange for consenting to their demands on how to close a $6 billion budget gap.

For example:

  • Most talks are being held by special working groups, but the meeting times, locations and topics are secret. Lawmakers involved say Rauner's staff has demanded they don't reveal what was discussed.
  • Rauner has so far refused to let anyone see copies of legislation outlining his desired reforms, though he has publicly assured reporters the legislation exists, and more information is coming soon. On top of that, his legal staff has rejected freedom of information requests seeking the information.
  • Rauner's staff has consistently taken more than one month to provide copies of his non-public schedule in response to requests from The Associated Press. Those documents, once provided, are redacted - making it impossible to see who's attending "legislative briefings" and other meetings with the governor, and therefore who may be influencing his policy decisions.

"Closed door negotiations are hardly a new phenomenon in state capitals, where governors and legislative leaders often turn it into an art form, especially when time is running out to reach compromises. Illinois Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan - who has held that position for more than three decades except for one two-year period - is legendary for calling votes on complicated legislation presented to rank-and-file legislators just minutes beforehand, prompting howls from Republican lawmakers.

"But it's Democrats now criticizing Rauner for the similar secrecy, suggesting the first-time officeholder is conducting business as if he were still in the corporate world rather than a state capital, a dynamic that's emerging from Illinois' newly divided government."

That's what he promised - to run government like a business.

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"'The idea the meetings themselves needed to be secret was just baffling to me given that the governor ran on a theme of wanting to be more transparent,' said Rep. Lou Lang, an assistant House majority leader from Skokie and member of the Legislature since 1987. 'He doesn't understand how the Legislature works. We are not his middle management. He is not the boss of Illinois government.'"

No, Michael Madigan is.

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It's hard to be sympathetic to Democrats on this score. Or even to the media, who let Rauner get away with a wholly disingenuous campaign. I am, however, sympathetic to the public.

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"Rauner rejects the criticism, arguing that he laid out his budget blueprint in February and the overall principles of his reform agenda in dozens of appearances over months.

"I don't think I could be more transparent," he said Thursday. "I've laid out everything we're working on and why. I think we couldn't be more crystal clear from our point of view.

This is reminiscent of Rahm Emanuel defending his record on transparency by telling the Tribune's David Kidwell this:

You've narrowed your definition [of transparency] to work for you. Nothing is more up front and transparent than standing in front of the City Council and advocating for something that has been long debated, even advocated by your own paper, that we have to make an investment. And I have done that. And that is fully public and transparent and if I had a [dictionary] I would pull the word transparent and we would see who is closer to the definition, me or you, and I guarantee you one thing: I know I am right.

Nothing, in Rahm's world, is more transparent than standing in front of the city council - for all the world to see - and telling them how to vote.

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A better way to attack this issue during campaigns would be for reporters to not simply ask for pledges of transparency, but to ask for specific pledges: Do you support changes to the state Freedom of Information Act? Do you believe the public has a right to police statistics? Will you insist on reviewing every FOIA request that is made, or will you allow each department to act on their own according to the law? How often will you make yourself available for questions? Will you reduce spending on spin, i.e., so-called public information officers?

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Rauner: "I believe we'll be able to come forward with a lot of detail in the not too distant future."

We heard that throughout the campaign - plans and details were always just around the corner. So was the corner.

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Back to AP:

"The numerous working groups are comprised of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, focusing on various aspects of Rauner's 'Turnaround Agenda,' including worker's compensation reform, term limits, reforms to the legal systems, property taxes, and the budget. Citing the importance of fostering an environment conducive to bipartisan compromise, Lang, who sits on a committee focused on state worker ethics and lawmaker term limits, said administration members have requested meeting discussions be kept private.

"While Rauner has said several times in the past month that his office has put his legislative proposals into 'bill form' and that the measures are ready to go, his office denied an AP Freedom Of Information Act request for copies of the documents."

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"Responding to AP requests, Rauner's office has so far provided only the governor's schedules for January through March. AP is appealing to the attorney general's public access counselor because the schedules that have been provided have redacted portions that appear to include the names of people with whom Rauner met or spoke."

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"David Yepsen, director of Southern Illinois University's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said it's a delicate dance for the first-time officeholder, who's trying to push through an ambitious agenda and at the same time keep a promise of creating openness and transparency.

"Lots of work can get done behind closed doors because people aren't trying to save face," Yepsen said.

I hate this familiar excuse, which basically says that if people really knew what we were talking about, they wouldn't have any of it. Free-flowing discussions that are the hallmark of democratic public debates cannot happen except in secret!

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Rich Miller was the first, as far as I can tell, to report on Rauner's working groups.

To wit:

The working group tasked with hammering out a potential tax hike is so secret that its very existence would not be confirmed by members I contacted. Legislators were reportedly warned by the governor's office that if any word leaked about the group then Gov. Bruce Rauner would refuse to increase taxes.

Yep, he's a control freak.

The group was nicknamed "Vegas" by some of its members because what happens in the group is supposed to stay in the group. It's official name is listed as "HOLD" on the governor's document. It's apparently not an acronym. "They were that afraid to put things in writing," explained one source. "So just 'hold' this slot open."

I kid you not.

Republican state Reps. Patricia Bellock and David Leitch are on the HOLD group, as well as Democratic Rep. John Bradley. Senate Democrats Heather Steans and Toi Hutchinson are also on the super secret group, as are Republican Sens. Pam Althoff and Karen McConnaughay. The governor's top staff abruptly shut down a HOLD meeting last week, calling House Speaker Michael Madigan's unilateral advancement of a budget bill a "hostile action."

Democrats are missing a golden opportunity here: If Rauner insists on operating these groups in secret, refuse to cooperate. Or simply leak every last detail from every group, making it impossible to finger a "culprit."

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The funny thing is that the General Assembly already has "working groups;" they are called committees. That may not be the way private business operates, but Illinois is still a state the last time I looked.

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See also: Rahm's Fake Transparency.

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Comments welcome.



Permalink

Posted on May 18, 2015


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