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Rauner riffs: ‘Scared’ for state, ‘appalled’ by Trump, ‘ecstatic’ Burke charged

Chicago Sun Times

Wednesday, January 9, 2019  |  Article  |  Tina Sfondeles

Rauner, Bruce

He lost his re-election bid by 15 percentage points, but Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner isn’t definitively ruling out a future in politics — and he says he’s “scared” an Illinois exodus will “accelerate” should the incoming Democratic governor and political leaders enact more tax hikes.

With less than a week left in his term, Rauner weighed in on a variety of topics, saying he is “glad they finally got” Ed Burke and is “just appalled” by President’ Donald Trump’s behavior but “very strongly” supportive of “most of the president’s policy goals.”

Rauner’s suggestions and opinions came just after Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan summed up his view of the embattled governor’s four-year term in a couple of words: “an epic struggle with the executive department.”

“What happened, happened,” Madigan said while adjourning the Illinois House. The speaker, too, credited lawmakers for ending the historic budget impasse: “At the end of the struggle, it was the Legislature, on a bipartisan basis, that took the action to solve the problem.”

Rauner held a lengthy news conference soon after to talk about a report to be delivered to the Illinois General Assembly, which is required by the Illinois Constitution but hasn’t been enacted in decades. The report, to be delivered later this week, will include what Rauner perceives to be his accomplishments, including education funding. But it also pushes for changes he has pushed for years in workers compensation and in stopping tax increases.

And as he spent more than 25 minutes answering reporters’ questions, the lame duck governor opined on Burke, Trump and his own future.

“That’s to be determined,” Rauner said when asked about a future run in politics.

The governor, who has railed against political corruption for the entirety of his term, said Burke’s arrest was “long overdue.”

“Unfortunately there are others — other elected officials who do exactly the same type of thing, using their political position and political power to exert pressure on businesses and property owners to enrich themselves,” Rauner said. “This is not a one person thing. I am ecstatic that they finally indicted him. …There are others that do the same and worse. They haven’t been indicted yet. I hope they are.”

Burke has not actually yet been indicted by a grand jury, but has been charged in a federal criminal complaint with one count of attempted extortion for allegedly trying to use his position on the City Council to win business for his private law firm.

Rauner, a former venture capitalist, too said Burke’s “behavior is relatively common knowledge in the business community in Chicago.”

“A lot of the business community has remained silent out of fear of retribution, and it’s wrong. It is fundamentally wrong and I’m glad they finally got him, and I hope they get some of the others who are doing it. And it’s some of the most powerful people in the state.”

He also offered a bleak view of the state, its outmigration problem and where he sees that going under Democratic Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker’s administration.

“I’m scared that it’s going to get a lot worse. The exodus is going to accelerate,” Rauner said. “There’s so much talk about raising taxes. Raise the income tax. Raise the gas tax. Raise the whatever. Goodness. If you’re a working family struggling to make ends meet and your company is now growing. They’re adding people. They’re not raising your salary very fast. But things are booming in Tennessee, or Georgia or Texas. … I’m very scared about this. This is a problem. The exodus could accelerate and one of my strongest recommendations you all have to stop the discussion about tax hikes.”

Rauner — who often joked during the campaign that he had lost 22 pounds and his hair — said he’s gaining some weight back: “The holidays were good.” And he said his priority in the coming months is to spend time with his family and friends; to go back into the private sector to build businesses and back entrepreneurs; and to be active once again in philanthropy by supporting education, environmental protection and women’s health.

“In terms of government or politics, that’s to be determined,” Rauner said. “I think there are a lot of things that are going to be up in the air and evolving here in Illinois and around the country. We live in such volatile times.”

Grilled on Trump for years, Rauner said he supports “most of the president’s policy goals, very strongly.”

“And I am appalled by his personal behavior. Just appalled,” Rauner said. “And how that plays out in the coming months and years is not clear to me.”

Rauner said he supports Trump’s goal of ending illegal immigration, but believes it should be done by enacting comprehensive immigration reform — simplifying and promoting legal immigration while ending illegal immigration by using E-verify and enacting tougher penalties for employers who break the law.

He did not mention Trump’s border wall push: “Every elected official has a strategy and I’m not going to get into the mechanics of specific tactics.”

Pritzker will be sworn in on Monday, Jan. 14. Asked if the press conference was Rauner’s last in office, the governor’s office did not immediately respond. As his last official act as governor, Rauner will preside over the Illinois Senate inauguration on Wednesday.