Beset by businesses fleeing the state, high levels of corruption, and some of the highest taxes in the country, Illinois voters should be leading a revolution this November. Indeed, one in four Illinois residents in a new Gallup survey said the state was the worst possible place to live in, easily beating out runners-up Rhode Island and Connecticut. One joke goes: “Everything in life serves a purpose, even if it’s to be a bad example like Illinois’s state government is.”
But instead Democratic governor Pat Quinn is now leading Republican businessman Bruce Rauner by 2.7 percentage points in the Real Clear Politics average of all polls. A month ago, Rauner had an average lead of seven points. What happened in between was that Quinn forces borrowed a page from the Obama 2012 playbook against Mitt Romney and savaged Rauner’s record as a private-equity investor.
According to Politico, the thrust of the attack is to claim that in its restructuring of firms, the industry “regularly tears down companies and throws workers out on the street.”
The playbook remains the same: Dig into a wealthy investor’s vast portfolio and scrutinize a handful of unflattering investments, then magnify them to define the candidate’s entire private-sector career.
Even a leading Illinois Democrat deplores the tone of the attacks. Bill Daley, President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff who was for a time touted as a primary challenger to Governor Quinn last year, told Politico: “It’s tailor-made for a political consultant to attack — all you need is a few facts — you don’t need a lot of them. You sure don’t need truth. . . . Basically, the whole Quinn campaign is to trash [Rauner] for his PE stuff.”
A typical Quinn ad script runs: “After billionaire Bruce Rauner took millions out of Homebanc Mortgage, it went bankrupt. Eleven hundred employees lost their jobs. The CEO? He was given a $5 million bonus to tide him over.”
Rauner is finally fighting back — and not by going down the rabbit hole of defending the details of every PE deal he was ever involved in. Instead, he has highlighted his extensive philanthropic efforts in Illinois and tried to change the subject back to state government. His new TV ad blasts Quinn for telling a newspaper editorial board that he will move to make his 2011 income tax increases permanent in a post-election “lame duck” session of the Illinois legislature.
Last month, the Daily Herald newspaper reported that Pat Quinn had told its board “he wants a vote on the income tax in the weeks after Election Day, before the next governor and new set of lawmakers are sworn in.” The paper noted “that’s how the 2011 income tax hike was approved, hours before the new legislature was set to be sworn in and with the help of several Democratic lawmakers who had lost the November election and had promised not to raise taxes.”
Illinois voters have a real choice this November. They can be distracted by class-warfare attacks on one candidate’s business record, or they can focus on why their state government is the butt of so much ridicule and anger — and do something about it.