• Ben Szalinski
    JUN 13, 2023


    Former Gov. Rauner returns to Springfield to unveil portrait, but stays clear of politics

    Former Gov. Bruce Rauner, right, takes a picture with his portrait and his wife and former First Lady Diana Rauner, left. [Ben Szalinski/The Daily Line] 

    Hardly a week goes by in Illinois politics without a reference to former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration. The former governor made a public return to the state Capitol Monday to hang his portrait in the Hall of Governors on the Capitol’s second floor.  

    A crowd of friends, family and supporters of Illinois’ 42nd governor gathered Monday at the Capitol for what Rauner called a way for him to say “thank you” to a state he served and to those he served alongside of. Politicians in the crowd Monday included House Minority Leader Tony McCombie (R-Savanna), former Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs), Rep. Wayne Rosenthal (R-Morrisonville), former Treasurer Leslie Munger, former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti and former Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder  

    The painting featured Rauner up against a plain blue background wearing a blue suit jacket, but no tie keeping with Rauner’s more casual dress style he often exhibited as governor. Rauner paid for the portrait himself, a spokesperson for the Capitol Architect told The Daily Line.  

    “I’ve been looking forward to this day for the last couple of years,” Rauner told the crowd. “This is very humbling and very exciting of me personally. In theory we’re gathered to look at this painting… the real reason [my wife] Diana and I wanted to come and be with you is to say thank you… for allowing Evelyn and I to serve you as public servants.”  

    Rauner left behind a complicated legacy for the state and even his own party. He ran for office pledging to clean up Illinois’ fiscal house, but presided over a budget impasse that took up more than two years of his one term in office.   

    Rauner also campaigned against corruption and former House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) famously arguing ‘I’m not in charge’ when talking about how Madigan had more control over the state than Rauner did as governor. While Madigan now faces two dozen federal corruption charges, it was ultimately Madigan who bested the Republican governor as Republican lawmakers joined up with Madigan to override Rauner’s veto of a budget to end the state’s budget impasse. And it was Madigan who as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois helped Gov. JB Pritzker beat Rauner by 15 points in 2018.   

    “This is about doing what’s best for the long-term for the people of Illinois,” Rauner told reporters. “That’s why [I ran for governor]. I’m not a politician. I had never run for office, but I… wanted to make the future better for our children, for our grandchildren, for school kids, for homeowners, for taxpayers, for small businesses owners… and I wanted to make Illinois more welcoming to small businesses to create jobs. I’m very proud of it, we got a lot done, but there’s obviously a lot to do.”  

    Rauner’s name has become a frequent punching bag for Illinois Democrats they still swing at even four years after Rauner left office because of the status of the state’s finances when he left office. Pritzker and Democrats routinely note, even as recently as last week’s budget signing, how much Illinois finances have changed since Rauner left in 2019. The state has now received eight credit upgrades since then after seeing just as many downgrades during Rauner’s tenure.  

    At a news conference Monday, Rauner declined to respond to Democrats.  

    “Today I don’t really want to talk politics, partisanship,” Rauner said. “Today’s about saying thank you. I believe we had the best team ever assembled to run state government.” 

    During his speech to friends, Rauner did reflect on some politics and changes to education in Illinois that happened under his tenure. As the state and Rauner moved beyond the budget impasse in 2017, lawmakers overhauled the state’s funding formula for schools. The plan requires funding to go to schools on a needs-based basis with funding being prioritized for underfunded schools in an effort to get all Illinois schools an appropriate funding level for their districts. The plan requires the state to increase K-12 funding by $350 million each year. 

    “That’s what brought me to public service here in the state of Illinois,” Rauner said. “I was trying to improve public education in the state.”  

    That’s also what Durkin said he will remember Rauner’s administration for.  

    “That was a four-year battle between Bruce Rauner, Mike Madigan, and I was kind of in the middle,” Durkin told reporters. “But what was important was we were able to negotiate and for the first time overhaul public education in Illinois which for decades was a third-rail issue for Springfield, but we did the right thing.” 

    Another hallmark of Rauner’s education policy was the Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program that gives scholarships to low to middle income students to attend private schools. In return, donors to the program receive a 75 percent tax credit, however, Illinois lawmakers did not renew that credit in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget as it is set to expire at the end of December. Rauner said lawmakers should preserve the credit. 

    “I hope the legislature will act to protect that program, I’m very proud of that accomplishment,” Rauner said.  

    Related: Future of Invest in Kids scholarship program up in the air after budget fails to extend tax credit 

    Rauner now lives in Florida and involves himself in Florida Republican politics. He said he serves as trustee on a nature conservancy board in Florida and works with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on an education project. He’s also a regular donor to Republican presidential contender and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, donating around $1 million to DeSantis over the last few years, according to Politico 

    Rauner took some moderate positions as governor of a blue Illinois, including on abortion which earned him a primary challenge in 2018 from the more conservative wing of the Republican Party in Jeanne Ives — a challenge he survived by just three points.  

    Though DeSantis has signed significant anti-abortion legislation into law, Durkin said he doesn’t view Rauner’s support for DeSantis as a change in the governor’s political positions. 

    “Bruce is a fairly conservative guy on many issues, he just has a different opinion from a lot of Republicans on the issue of choice, but this is a time when Republicans need to say if you’re pro-choice, you’re still part of the party,” Durkin said.  

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