Guest Commentary: Breaking up with Bruce
By PARLEY ANN BOSWELL
Dear Bruce Rauner,
I'm breaking up with you. Because ours has been a committed relationship, you deserve to know why I'm breaking up with you. I have three reasons.
Our relationship has never been based on mutual respect.
From the beginning, ours was an arranged relationship — neither of us chose the other. We were thrown together in 2015. And although we come from similar backgrounds, I knew almost immediately that we were not well-suited. Not a week into your term, you were criticizing me and my co-workers publicly. For example, you told a group of business students at the University of Chicago that Illinois state workers were overpaid. And then you added, "there's a bunch of baloney going on." When you described me and all other state employees this way to a group of students and to the press—only days into your term as governor — I became alarmed. Reducing me to a grifter — or to baloney — did not make me hopeful. Who wants to be in a relationship with someone who tells other people that you are not honest or worthy? Who wants to be in a relationship with someone who compares you to processed food?
We have never really communicated.
Most of the time I did not understand what you were talking about. You repeated the same words and phrases: "Frivolous lawsuits," "opportunity zones," "layers of bureaucracy," "structural reforms," "grow the economy," "attack on our hardworking taxpayers," "collectivist (collectivist?) economy," "business friendly," "baloney," "common sense reforms," etc. Either you didn't know what you were talking about, or you didn't want me to understand you. Either way, you sounded disingenuous. Not good for a relationship.
To try understanding you, I studied, I read, and I asked questions. When I learned that you have an entire policy institute — and ALEC — devoted to you and your ideas, I studied them as well. I watched every interview, read every article. I had more questions than answers. Some of them:
Do your ideas align with conventional political/economic philosophies I might recognize? Libertarian? Free market? Supply side? Trickle down? Chaos theory? String theory? Who influenced your world view? Ayn Rand? Arthur Laffer? The Bible? Your mom? Your dad? Ronald Reagan? Grover Norquist? A professor at Harvard? John Birch? John Wayne? Your roommate at Dartmouth? When you give interviews or talk publicly, you describe Illinois citizens almost exclusively as "taxpayers." My 6-year-old neighbor is a taxpayer when he buys a pack of gum at the grocery store in town. Is he the taxpayer you have in mind? What do you mean when you say "business-friendly?" Is my work at a public university "business-friendly?" Who are "job creators?" Am I a "job creator?" (This final cluster of questions reflects various rumors/opinions I read/heard. This should be easy — just answer "yes" or "no.")
Should we pay income and property taxes? Should the following be privatized: K-12 schools? Higher education? Prisons? Libraries? Parks and museums? Social services? Should regional universities be converted into trade schools? Do you know how to weld? Is government the problem and not the solution? Should it be drowned in the bathtub? Have you ever been a teacher? In a trade union? Too many questions? Oh never mind. Our values are too different.
Although I rarely know what you're saying, I know what you're thinking: "What about Michael Madigan? He's the reason you're leaving me!" No. Not true. Blaming Madigan is too easy, and brings out the petulant and petty in you. You're the reason I'm leaving you.
When I became a state employee in 1987, James Thompson was the governor of Illinois. I have had relationships with every governor since. Some took the job more seriously than others; some were more honest than others; some had better hair than others. As different as they were, they all shared one characteristic that affected me: they respected me. They did not portray state workers as villains. They did not blame us when things went wrong. Some of them disliked our unions, but they respected our rights. They had different styles, ideas, talents, goals, and names. Not one of them was named Michael Madigan.
You see where I'm going with this? Madigan and the legislators did not cause our breakup. I don't always like what they do, but they work hard, and they try to work together. Besides, the legislature changes every two years. You know this because you invested thousands of your own dollars in last year's election. That was the last straw for me. One February morning in 2016, I read two headlines: one, that you were donating big money to the campaigns of several candidates, and two, that to stay open through the end of the semester, EIU would be laying off 300 employees the following month.
We all get to donate money however we choose, and how we choose to spend money says a great deal about who we are. Your donations to candidates in 2016 suggested this about you: while state universities and social services were collapsing, you chose to devote resources to influence the state legislature to do things your way. This strategy might have looked like a smooth move for a smart venture capitalist. For a governor, it suggested ruthlessness, cynicism, and cowardice. My heart broke. I had always dreamed of staying in this job I love until someone carried me out in a box. As proud as I have been to serve as a state employee for 29 years, I had to quit you.
But let's still be friends. We can end our relationship with grace. Please visit me in Coleman Hall at EIU sometime this spring. I will be happy to provide lunch, no baloney. We can tour our great campus, or meet some of our remarkable students, or just sit and talk. We can chat about who makes too much money, and who pays too few taxes. You can talk about why collective bargaining sucks, and I can tell you about our wonderful Union at EIU. We can reminisce about growing up in the Chicago suburbs, or about our fathers, both of whom worked in the city. Let me know. I will be delighted to see you at my door.
With my best wishes for your good health and happiness,
Parley Ann Boswell has been an English professor at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston since 1987. She is retiring in May 2017. This essay first appeared on RebootIllinois.com.