Rauner might start lonely at the top

  • Facing a sea of Democrats in the Legislature, Bruce Rauner could feel lonely at the top of Illinois' political landscape.

    Facing a sea of Democrats in the Legislature, Bruce Rauner could feel lonely at the top of Illinois' political landscape. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Updated 11/5/2014 5:20 PM

When Republican Bruce Rauner stands up to take the oath of office as Illinois' next governor early next year, he might look around and see fewer political allies than he'd hoped.

Despite his decisive win throughout the collar counties, Rauner's political coattails were short.


Vulnerable suburban Democrats in the Illinois House kept their seats despite Rauner's big Republican turnout, so the Winnetka businessman's agenda will have to be sold to a group of lawmakers even more heavy with Democrats than many observers expected -- lawmakers he has called incompetent and corrupt during two years of campaigning.

Suburban Democratic state Reps. Fred Crespo of Hoffman Estates, Sam Yingling of Grayslake, Carol Sente of Vernon Hills, Marty Moylan of Des Plaines and Deb Conroy of Villa Park survived tough challenges.

"Things will definitely be different," said state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a suburban Democrat. She's now one of the Illinois House's more veteran members. Still, she's never served while there's a Republican governor.

"There will be a learning curve on both sides," she said.

Republicans are looking forward to it. Rauner pledged unity in a speech claiming victory Tuesday and suburban Republicans were carrying a similar message. After spending years stuck in the minority in Springfield -- with their proposals subject to Democrats' whims -- they gain significant negotiating power with Rauner's win, even if GOP numbers in the Legislature remain small.

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"Illinois' problems are so large we have to work together to solve them," state Rep. Tom Morrison, a Palatine Republican, said.

With a downstate race for Illinois House too close to call and votes left to count, it remains to be seen whether House Democrats will have enough votes to override a Rauner veto. They do in the Illinois Senate, with votes to spare.

It's an important issue. An Illinois governor's range of veto powers make the office one of the most powerful executive posts in the country.

But it could be academic. Democrats often don't vote unanimously together, frequently splitting along regional and ideological lines.

No matter the numbers, the bottom line is Rauner will look out on a sea of lawmakers far more inclined to be against him than with him.

Getting to know them will be a key first job, Nekritz says, but he's got a lot of other weighty tasks on his plate, too. He has to set up his administration of state government, a multibillion dollar organization he has to lead in just two months.


And a little more than a month after he takes office, Rauner is scheduled to present his first budget proposal, a document that could set the political and policy tones for his first four years in office.

"It's a quick and difficult transition," Nekritz said.

Former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar said House Speaker Michael Madigan did not talk to him for four months after he was elected. But he said the pair ultimately worked well together because Madigan knew he could trust the GOP governor to keep his word.

Edgar predicted Rauner, who's used to negotiating big deals, will fare just fine. He noted that even with a Democrat in the governor's office, the Legislature has struggled to get things done.

"I think Bruce Rauner in the long run can probably have a better personal relationship with Mike Madigan than Mike Madigan has with Pat Quinn," he said.

•The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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