Pritzker’s visit to GOP gath­er­ing shows valu­able traits that eluded pre­de­ces­sors

Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday) - - OPINION - RICH MILLER @capi­tol­fax Rich Miller also pub­lishes Capi­tol Fax, a daily po­lit­i­cal news­let­ter, and capi­tol­

Imissed J.B. Pritzker’s im­promptu speech to a gath­er­ing of Repub­li­cans last week by a few min­utes. But the fact that Pritzker even stopped by the event, hosted by Se­nate Repub­li­can Leader Bill Brady and House Repub­li­can Leader Jim Durkin, was no­table in and of it­self.

As one top Repub­li­can said af­ter Pritzker’s speech, just imagine Gov. Bruce Rauner show­ing up to speak about bi­par­ti­san­ship and then heap­ing praise on House Speaker Michael Madi­gan and Se­nate Pres­i­dent John Culler­ton at a Demo­cratic re­cep­tion. If you can’t imagine such a thing, well, that was the Repub­li­can’s whole point. It never would have hap­pened. (Rauner did show up for a Black Cau­cus event his first year in of­fice, but he used the oc­ca­sion to bash the Demo­cratic Party, which didn’t ex­actly go over too well.)

The Repub­li­cans have ev­ery right to be de­mor­al­ized in Illi­nois. They hold no statewide of­fice, their party lost two sub­ur­ban con­gres­sional seats and they are now firmly in the su­per-mi­nor­ity in both the House and Se­nate. And yet, in con­ver­sa­tions with both Repub­li­can leg­isla­tive lead­ers last week, it seemed pretty clear to me they were both pleased and op­ti­mistic about fi­nally hav­ing a gov­er­nor they be­lieve they can work with.

We all know the his­tory. Rauner is an ex­tremely dif­fi­cult per­son to deal with even for those who agree with most of his po­lit­i­cal agenda. He as­sumes he’s right and he as­sumes you feel the same way, or else. He de­mands com­plete loy­alty but of­fers lit­tle in re­turn. His word can­not ever be trusted. He seems in­ca­pable of mak­ing small talk be­yond a few min­utes, and no one has ever ac­cused him of hav­ing a warm per­son­al­ity.

The same lack of in­ter­per­sonal skills held back Rauner’s im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor, Pat Quinn. Gov. Quinn wouldn’t have been crack­ing jokes last week about how his mi­cro­phone wasn’t work­ing at a Repub­li­can in­au­gu­ral re­cep­tion. He just wasn’t that sort of guy. And he most def­i­nitely didn’t have the nat­u­ral abil­ity to put a leg­is­la­tor at ease and do a deal.

Pritzker has yet to be tested, so we’ll see if he can be trusted to keep his word and of­fer as much re­spect to oth­ers as he ex­pects for him­self once he delves into the dif­fi­cult process of gov­ern­ing a state with huge prob­lems.

But it’s pretty ob­vi­ous to any­one who’s spent time with him that Pritzker most def­i­nitely has a warm per­son­al­ity, and that trait is charm­ing the heck out of Spring­field right now. And while he was a hit at last week’s Repub­li­can re­cep­tion, that was noth­ing com­pared to how crowds re­acted to him at the Demo­cratic par­ties.

Build­ing per­sonal re­la­tion­ships is an in­te­gral part of gov­ern­ing, and the dude has that down pat so far. Rauner would do things like call you on your birth­day, but his words were al­ways stilted and seem­ingly scripted. He had leg­is­la­tors over to the man­sion dur­ing his first spring ses­sion, but, again, the con­ver­sa­tions just weren’t nat­u­ral, and many de­parted with the im­pres­sion that he was, um, less than gen­uine.

Quinn spent most ses­sion nights de­lib­er­ately holed up in the gov­er­nor’s man­sion with his staff. Both men just didn’t ap­pear to be com­fort­able in their own skin.

I have no idea if fi­nally hav­ing a gov­er­nor with a real per­son­al­ity will make a huge dif­fer­ence when it comes to solv­ing this state’s ex­tremely se­ri­ous prob­lems. Even­tu­ally, of course, Pritzker is go­ing to have to do things that peo­ple are not go­ing to love, and we’ll just have to wait and see how that all turns out.

But in al­most 29 years of do­ing this, I’ve never seen State­house types more ex­cited about the end of a gov­er­nor’s term than they are now. Af­ter pre­sid­ing over the Se­nate’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, gover­nors by tra­di­tion qui­etly leave through the door be­hind the podium which leads into the ante room. Last week, Rauner was given a for­mal es­cort out the front door and mem­bers loudly ap­plauded. Sev­eral ex­plained later that they weren’t cheer­ing for him. They were, in­stead, cheer­ing his fi­nal exit.

Pritzker has an op­por­tu­nity here that has been af­forded few of his pre­de­ces­sors. But this also means that ex­pec­ta­tions are sky high. And the higher the ex­pec­ta­tions, the greater the dis­ap­point­ment if and/ or when they aren’t met.


J.B. Pritzker speaks dur­ing an Oc­to­ber de­bate be­fore the Sun-Times Ed­i­to­rial Board.

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