It didn’t take long for Republican gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner to drop the word “unions” from his vocabulary.
After bashing public employee union leaders for months as corrupt bosses who buy votes in order to control Springfield, Rauner and his campaign have assiduously avoided the use of the “U-word” since his victory last week. Instead, he’s switched to a line about how “our government is run by lobbyists, for special interests, and the career politicians in both parties let it happen.”
Rauner’s campaign manager said on primary night that his boss is “pro-union.” Rauner himself insisted last week that he’s not anti-union and never has been.
Weeks ago, some folks in the higher echelons of Rauner’s campaign assured me that their candidate believed there was an opening with unions and he would try to exploit it. But that was when Rauner enjoyed a double-digit lead in the polls.
I think the expectation at the time was that at least some unions would consider a rapprochement with Rauner if he won the primary big. Better to cut a deal with an almost surefire winner than be crushed after he became governor.
Democratic votes for governor in 2010 and 2006 were both 34 percent of the total gubernatorial votes cast in Sangamon County. This year, that number fell to just 15 percent, with Republican percentages rising from 66 percent in the two previous primaries to a whopping 85 percent this year. Some of that can be attributed to the lack of interest by all Democrats everywhere due to a dearth of contested races, but most of it was related to the unions’ strong GOP ballot push.
These numbers can’t be extrapolated statewide because AFSCME is so influential in Sangamon, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that something unprecedented happened in Illinois on Tuesday. The polls and prognosticators were wrong because tens of thousands of union members and their loved ones took GOP ballots for the first time.
And because they almost beat Rauner I doubt that few if any unions will be at all interested in cutting a deal with him. There could be an odd straggler that Rauner can parade as “proof” that he’s not anti-union.
The question then becomes how long it will take the public employee unions to forgive Quinn, who pushed hard to cut their members’ pension benefits. They simply don’t trust the man, and they truly wanted to nominate an alternative last week.
And the danger for Quinn is that the public employee unions do what they did in the primary with Dillard – wait too long to finally make a decision.
• Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.