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Rauner touts former Indiana governor as role model

Rauner touts former Indiana governor as role model

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SPRINGFIELD – To hear Bruce Rauner say it, even he's not his top choice for governor.

Frustrated with Illinois' sluggish recovery from the Great Recession and angry over the policies of a state government dominated by Democrats, the Republican businessman from Winnetka said he tried unsuccessfully to get other people to run for the state's top office.

"I asked 17 men and women to run for governor," Rauner said in a recent interview. "I offered, `I'll work for you for a dollar a year. They all said it is so invasive and abusive and expensive. I said, `Somebody's gotta do it.'"

Faced with the task of figuring out how to be a governor after spending 20 years amassing wealth as chairman of his namesake GTCR, Rauner said he sought out the man he hopes to emulate if he beats Democrat incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn on Nov. 4.

"When I first seriously began thinking about running for governor, I went over to Indianapolis and sat with Mitch for a day," Rauner said, referring to Indiana's former Gov. Mitch Daniels, who served two terms as chief executive of the Hoosier State.

"Mitch is sort of my role model," Rauner said. "I think he was the best governor in America for eight years. I begged him to run for president."

Rauner is not the first GOP candidate for governor in the U.S. to point to Daniels as his guiding light.

The former White House budget chief won over the hearts of Republicans throughout the nation by molding a business-friendly state through tough negotiations with union officials and the deft use of his gubernatorial powers.

In his bid to emulate Daniels, Rauner has pushed for the same kind of term limits in Illinois that limited Daniels to two terms in office.

He's also has offered a variation on Daniels' tax overhaul, saying Illinois should freeze property taxes and expand the tax base to include some services.

In a Wednesday appearance before a joint meeting of The (Bloomington) Pantagraph and the Decatur Herald & Review editorial boards, Rauner said he wants to use executive orders to bypass the General Assembly: A move employed in Indiana by Daniels.

Analysts say Rauner's constant referencing of Daniels is an attempt to define himself and tell voters how, as a first-time candidate with no political history, he'd run the state.

"There is no better example to pick out there," said political consultant Pete Seat, a former spokesman for the Indiana Republican Party. "Daniels is still viewed not as a political animal, but as someone who just wants to get the job done."

Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, said there are parallels between Rauner and Daniels.

"Daniels defeated an incumbent, a person generally viewed as a nice guy and not completely an incompetent," Downs said.

The Daniels playbook, however, may have to be tweaked to work in Illinois. Daniels never faced Democratic supermajorities in his General Assembly. He also didn't have to work with legislative leaders such as House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both Chicago Democrats.

Downs said Daniels was able to get "a really big chunk of his agenda through with a legislative arrangement that does not put a lot of strength in the hands of the governor."

"If you are looking for a role model to be able to say, 'If I'm elected I will manage to get things done even though there is a strong legislature that may not be to my liking,' he is it," Downs said.

But just as Rauner looks to burnish his image by talking about Daniels, there can be pitfalls in such comparisons.

Rauner told the editorial board Wednesday that he wants to dismantle Illinois' current business development agency in favor of a public-private partnership like the one put in place by Daniels in Indiana.

Initially touted as a way to bring business leaders together to recommend ways to improve Indiana's business climate, the overhaul later came under criticism. Media reports questioned spending by the group and found the partnership had inflated job creation numbers.

After Daniels left office to become president of Purdue University, the legislature and new Gov. Mike Pence approved changes designed to improve accountability in the partnership.

Nonetheless, Rauner said voters should be ready for some Daniels-style solutions if he beats Quinn next month.

"I think Indiana has done some terrific things ... made themselves much more pro-business, brought in their wasteful spending problems," Rauner said. "My attitude is, I like to steal good ideas. I don't want to reinvent the wheel."

kurt.erickson@lee.net|(217) 782-4043

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