For Illinoisans, the race for governor is shaping up as the Midwestern equivalent of the Iran-Iraq War. Voters there have to hope that both sides lose.
In the Land of Lincoln, there won’t be a rail-splitter born in a log cabin on the ballot this fall. Quite the contrary, it will be a battle of venture-capitalist billionaires, who together spent close to $130 million of their own money to win their respective primaries for the right to vie for a job that pays about $177,400 a year.
Running for re-election, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has presided over the worsening — if that’s possible — of Illinois’ public finances during four years of vitriolic power struggles with Rep. Mike Madigan, the powerful Democrat who has been speaker of the Illinois House for all but two of the past 35 years.
Rauner’s butting heads with Madigan — dubbed by Chicago Magazine the “Velvet Hammer, aka the Real Governor of Illinois” — has left the state not having a formal budget for two years.
If that weren’t bad enough, Illinois has unfunded pension liabilities estimated by Moody’s Investors Service at $250 billion. (Having to contend with that, along with a credit rating just above junk-bond status, raises the question of why anyone would even want the job.)
Rauner won renomination for a second term, albeit barely, with just under 51.4 percent of the vote over an underfunded conservative challenger, state Rep. Jeanne Ives, a West Point graduate and Army veteran.
Ives decided to run after the governor repeatedly betrayed conservatives, signing legislation expanding public funding of abortion in the state (after vowing to veto it) and a state income-tax increase from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent. He also signed bills limiting cooperation between state and federal immigration officials and making it easier to change the sex listed on one’s birth certificate.
On the Democratic side, Jay Robert “J.B.” Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel chain, spent $70 million of his own money en route to an easy win over two challengers.
Chris Kennedy, a son of Robert F. Kennedy, finished a distant third, leaving the Kennedy cachet in Democratic politics in tatters. Running against the Chicago establishment, including Madigan and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, was apparently not the wise move Kennedy apparently thought it would be.
As for Rauner, he’s running for re-election in the face of being dubbed in December “The Worst Republican Governor in America” by the conservative National Review magazine and an April 12 Morning Consult job-approval poll 34 points underwater (60 percent disapproval, 26 percent approval).
Pritzker — the brother of Obama administration Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker — brings plenty of baggage of his own to the race. FBI wiretaps from 2008 of then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich were leaked to the Chicago Tribune earlier this year, revealing Pritzker negotiating with his fellow Democrat for the state treasurer’s job.
Pritzker was also caught on tape in November 2008 with Blagojevich, who is now serving a 14-year federal prison sentence for corruption, making offensive, if not racist, remarks about who might be the “least offensive” black person who “Blago” could appoint to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by then-President-elect Barack Obama.
If not the electoral equivalent of the Iran-Iraq War exactly, the Illinois governor’s race this fall is at best for voters there a Hobson’s choice.
Peter Parisi is a freelance writer-editor based in Northern Virginia. He was a writer and editor for The Washington Times for 17 years.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.