After an expensive and widespread campaign season, incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner announced he was conceding to Democratic opponent J.B. Pritzker, effectively ending his time in office.
At his watch party held at the Drake Hotel on Nov. 6, Rauner announced he was dropping out of the Illinois gubernatorial race. The decision came less than an hour after the polls had closed, and ended Rauner’s time in office.
When first elected into office in 2015, Rauner had never held or ran for a political office. Since then, Rauner made a number of major (and at times, controversial) decisions during his four years as governor that have shaped Illinois in significant ways.
The start of Rauner’s time as governor was met with a large laundry list of items that Rauner wanted to immediately start pushing. During his first State of the State speech, Rauner swiftly brought out budget cuts, changes in pensions and education funding, as well as pushing six proposed amendments to the state’s Constitution. The Democratic-held legislature in the state did not deter Rauner from hitting the ground running.
As governor, Rauner raised the personal state income tax rate to 4.9 percent. However, the state stills sits on $9 billion in unpaid bills. The debt has been a major issue for Illinois, but the state has been hiking taxes for the past 12 years. Rauner promised throughout his gubernatorial campaign that he would stop raising taxes if elected in a second term.
“We need to enact reforms to improve government efficiency and encourage job creation and economic growth,” Rauner said in an interview with the Sun- Times last month. “We can – and must – balance the budget by transforming the way government operates, reforming the pension system and growing the economy, which will bring in more tax revenue.”
In 2017, Rauner signed a bill that created a tax credit scholarship program and established charter funding equity to charter schools. The $100 million Invest in Kids program allows for taxpayers to donate to the scholarship funds. In return, donors can get 75 percent of their donation back as a credit on their state income taxes.
The topic of school choice was a major divide between Rauner and Pritzker during the campaign season. Pritzker wanted to end the program because he saw it as “a tax break for wealthy people,” according to an interview he did with WBEZ earlier this year.
In a hotly-debated move, Rauner signed a controversial abortion bill in 2017 that would expand taxpayer-subsidized abortions. The bill drew criticism from Rauner’s fellow Republicans and conservative pro-life groups.
Rauner has gone on record multiple times to say that he believes in the right to choose, which is why he chose to sign the bill despite many in his party disagreeing with the measure.
Walking into the gubernatorial race, Rauner’s campaign did not have a solid support from the state. According to a Morning Consult poll done in November 2017, Rauner held a 30 percent approval and 55 percent disapproval rate – lower than President Donald Trump’s approval ratings. This put the governor as the fifth least-popular governor in the country, and the least popular first-term governor.
Rauner’s opponent, both Pritzker and those who ran against Rauner during the primaries, capitalized on the disapproval ratings throughout the campaign season. However, Rauner still managed to pull a win back in March in the primaries in the close race.
“[Rauner is] just not the right man for the job,” Pritzker said in an interview with Vox earlier this year. “He’s a guy who doesn’t understand the difference between business and government. People are feeling really let down by him.”
Some in Illinois looked at much of Rauner’s time in office as a failure, though his supporters say most of it was a let-down on the state’s government as a whole, with the blame landing on Rauner’s shoulders.
“People turned [Rauner] into a scapegoat,” said student Adam Perry, who volunteered with Rauner’s campaign. “He put his best foot forward, but everyone wanted to blame him for everything that went wrong.”
In the end, and despite an expensive and exhaustive race, Rauner lost to Pritzker by roughly 15 percentage points in the midterm elections. During his concession speech, Rauner thanked the crowd for his time as governor and urged for his fellow Republicans to work with Pritzker to push Illinois further.
“This election is over, but that does not mean it is the end of the change that we need,” Rauner said. “… Now we stand, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as people of Illinois.”
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