The ongoing race for the Illinois Governor’s Mansion has been the most expensive gubernatorial election in our nation’s history. The two contenders are both former venture capitalists and businessmen, financing $100 million campaigns on the backs of their huge fortunes. To many voters, the choice between which rich guy wins tomorrow is hardly a choice at all, but for anyone with the time to dig deeper into each candidate’s background and purpose, the contrast is stark. Because of those differences detailed below, the University of Chicago College Republicans is certain that Springfield needs four more years of Governor Bruce Rauner.
The Case Against Pritzker
J. B. Pritzker was born into the prestigious Pritzker family, owners of the Hyatt hotel empire and one of the richest families in the country. After graduating from a $60,000-a-year Massachusetts boarding school, he went on to study at Duke University and the Northwestern School of Law (now called the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, after his $100 million gift). What money Pritzker has not inherited comes from his venture capital fund, Pritzker Group Private Capital, which he co-owns with his brother.
So, when his campaign talks about Pritzker’s focus on “kitchen table issues,” they could not possibly have a more mismatched candidate. When Rauner ran for governor in 2014, many pointed towards his millions as an unfair advantage—opponents accused him of trying to buy his way into the Governor’s Mansion. But when Pritzker emerged from the Democratic primary after drowning out his nearest competition with campaign cash—those very same critics fell silent. Pritzker handed out millions of dollars in contributions to unions and special-interest groups, which coincidentally never spoke up to question the suffocating power of his wallet.
But Pritzker had already engaged in a more blatant attempt to buy public office. A tape emerged just after his announcement that showcased a 2008 conversation between then-Governor Rod Blagojevich and Pritzker. The two discussed what political position Pritzker would be given in exchange for his donations to Blagojevich’s campaign, with Pritzker settling on state Treasurer. Perhaps fortunately for Pritzker’s political future, these plans never came to fruition as Blagojevich was arrested, impeached and sent to federal prison that year on related charges of corruption.
Pritzker’s enormous bank account has helped, but one of the biggest reasons that politicians and special interests were so quick to pledge their support to him over his opponents is Pritzker’s personal relationship with controversial Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan. While Pritzker’s primary challengers, Daniel Biss and Chris Kennedy, attacked Madigan on the campaign trail, Pritzker cozied up to the long-serving political boss and helped to fund his favorite pet projects.
Time and time again, Pritzker has proven himself a loyal foot soldier to the corrupt Madigan regime. In addition to his duties as Speaker, Madigan is a partner at one of the largest property tax assessment firms in Illinois. His firm represents half of the most expensive buildings in downtown Chicago. As Speaker, he has designed a tax system tailor-made for his firm’s business model and wealthy men like Pritzker to manipulate.
Lastly, in 2015, Pritzker bought a mansion in the wealthy Chicago neighborhood of Gold Coast. After moving in, he contracted a company to have all of the toilets torn out. The plan, spelled out over several emails, was to have the property declared “uninhabitable” during a property tax assessment—which would save Pritzker millions—and then to have a single toilet reinstalled. Only after the Cook County Inspector General called the plan a “scheme to defraud” in a scathing report did Pritzker finally agree to return the money he gained from his tax scam, a total of $330,000. For a man running on raising your taxes while maligning the education system his taxes would have supported, we find his careless hypocrisy stunning and inexcusable.
The Case for Rauner
Bruce Rauner came from far humbler beginnings. His grandfather was a milkman who spoke Swedish; his mother was a nurse. His high school jobs included flipping burgers, parking cars and delivering newspapers. He worked his way into and through Dartmouth College and Harvard Business School. He began his business career at a small startup investment firm, which became one of the largest in the state. He then used his business success to become a philanthropist and gave millions of dollars to organizations promoting education, healthcare and community (see: Rauner College Prep, Rauner Family YMCA and other neighborhood centers across the South and West Side).
Rauner, for his part, has run on his record. In his four years in office, he has provided a historic $1.4 billion for K-12 education, while also reforming the school-funding process to restore accountability and transparency. He has provided $200 million for early childhood education, created tax credits for low income families and allocated $25 million to college scholarships, all in order to bridge the education gap between Illinois’s richest and poorest.
In a political climate where fiscal prudence is too often ignored in favor of short-sighted political gain, Rauner has proven to be the rare breed of leader that is willing to sacrifice his popularity to protect the state he has been entrusted to govern. Facing an insurmountable legislative disadvantage, Rauner refused again and again to sign Madigan’s unbalanced budgets.
Rauner had promised the people of Illinois that he would end the cycle of overspending that took place in Springfield. Because the governor has fewer powers than in many other states, the veto was Rauner’s only way of putting his foot down. Illinois went without a budget for 793 days. What no one would have predicted, though, was that instead of negotiating with the Governor, Madigan would sit by as millions of dollars in late fees accumulated until he re-amassed the power to pass his original plan unchanged. Only after Madigan and House Democrats created a supermajority to override his veto were they able to force the state further into debt. In 2014, Rauner ran on a message of holding Madigan accountable for his pork-stuffed budgets and year after year he delivered.
Rauner has also helped increase safety in the state. He has dedicated himself to criminal justice reform, earning praise from the right and the left alike. He signed more than a dozen bills into law to lower recidivism, ease juvenile expungements and help former offenders find employment. He pioneered an opioid abuse prevention program to fight the scourge of drug abuse spreading across the state. Furthermore, he increased funding and hiring for Illinois State Troopers and empowered state agencies to do more to protect state waterways and wildlife.
Most importantly, he has helped fight corruption, finding new ways to increase transparency in state government while ending the corrupt practices of his predecessors. Illinois and Chicago have struggled with corruption for decades. The state’s most powerful politicians continue to flaunt their conflicts of interest and yet the broken political system prevents them from being removed. But against all odds, Rauner has continued his crusade against cronyism.
Vote to Give Illinois a Fighting Chance
When voters cast their ballots tomorrow, two names will appear above the rest but the contrast could not be wider. One candidate has championed needed reform and fought against corruption wherever and whenever he could. The other has benefitted from Illinois’s pay-for-play politics and shown no intention to take on these corrupt practices if he gets into power. One candidate got to the top through hard work and honest dealing. The other was born with billions and has never truly worked a day in his life.
In 2014, voters in Illinois faced the same choice they do now: another four years of Springfield’s stagnant insider politics or a chance at desperately needed renewal. Rauner promised to “shake up Springfield” and “bring back Illinois”. Unlike the jailed governors before him, he kept to his word. Illinois, a home worth fighting for, cannot afford to fall back into that dark era. We were proud to back Bruce then and we are equally proud to endorse him now. The University of Chicago College Republicans believes Illinois needs four more years of a Governor who is willing to fight.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily reflective of The Gate.
The image featured in this article is courtesy of Brett Barbin.