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Bruce Rauner

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, at the Chicago Hilton, where he gave a speech outlining his campaign for re-election.

CHICAGO — Bruce Rauner's road to contrition intersected with the Chicago Tribune editorial board Friday, with the re-election seeking Republican governor saying he was more willing to settle for "incremental change" after little first-term success in trying to bring a hard-charging business-like style to government.

But, in speaking at the editorial board's endorsement session, Rauner said he would not let up on his attacks on his chief political nemesis, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, who the governor repeatedly has called corrupt. Still, Rauner said he believes Madigan's power has eroded due to sexual harassment issues involving government and political staff.

"I am cautiously optimistic that the dynamic in the General Assembly is different. I do not believe that the speaker is as powerful and dominant and domineering as he was four years ago and as he has been for much of the last 35 years. I think there's more willingness within his caucus to stand up and challenge him on issues," said Rauner, who has spent millions of dollars attacking Madigan, who also is state Democratic chairman.

Madigan ousted his longtime chief of staff Tim Mapes this summer after a House staff member accused the top aide of sexual harassment. The #MeToo movement has plagued Democrats under Madigan's control and led to questions about his record tenure and whether his longstanding ability to predict, react and get ahead of criticism and changing political times has faded.

Rauner's appearance followed by a day a speech he made seeking to reboot his campaign, offering a mea culpa and attempting to cast himself as gentler and smarter after his first four years in office contributed to massive government dysfunction. He continued that theme on Friday.

"What I have learned is that to make progress in government, you have to be willing to make incremental changes. You also have to be willing to find common ground over a period of time. It does not happen quickly. What you'll see, I believe is, many more discussions, many more private meetings one-on-one with legislators. What you'll see is, I think, small incremental changes in many pieces of legislation and we'll be moving progressively toward our ultimate goal but in smaller steps," Rauner said.

He said, in retrospect, he would have accepted smaller changes in such issues as workers' compensation, local mandate relief, property tax controls and state pensions. During his first term, Rauner pulled back from Senate Republican-led efforts to fashion a "grand bargain" aimed at trying to resolve differences between the governor's agenda and the Democratic-led General Assembly because it didn't go far enough.

"The simple fact is I've learned. I've learned a lot. I was highly successful in business by being very aggressive, very dynamic, very quick to act, innovative in thinking. I've tried to be the same in government and what I've learned is that doesn't work very well in a political process where we are in the super-minority and now the minority," Rauner said.

"We just have to take wins where we can get them. We have to change the system slowly. It takes time. We have to gradually convince not only the legislators but also the voters -- and communicating about these issues with 12.8 million people is hard and takes time and we've just got to stay persistent," he said. "What we can't do is let our frustrations, let our frustrations stop us from continuing to work and continuing to try to make progress."

While saying he would engage members of the General Assembly more if he gains a second term, he continued to attack Madigan and the property-tax appeals firm he helps lead as "unethical, I believe it's a conflict of interest and it's a type of corruption."

"I've called out unethical behavior and conflicts of interest. I will always do that. But I will work together to find common ground," he said.

Rauner said Illinois' economy is growing but not as fast as it should. He credited the White House and the Republican-led Congress for changing the federal tax code though he did not mention President Donald Trump by name.

Rauner also castigated his Democratic challenger, J.B. Pritzker, for proposing a graduated-rate income tax to replace the state's mandated flat-rate tax. Pritzker declined an invitation to appear jointly with Rauner before the editorial board.

"Turn out the lights," Rauner said of a graduated rate tax. He said Pritzker's attempts to bill such a tax as requiring more from the wealthy and less from the middle class as "being sold falsely to the people of Illinois."

Rauner contended a graduated-rate income tax would be much like the state's toll highway system. Tolls originally were supposed to be eliminated when bonds used to finance the system were paid off, but have continued as the system has expanded.

"Money is fungible. It gets spent in other says," Rauner said, saying a graduated rate income tax was "a green light to raise taxes on everyone."

Hours earlier, Pritzker, as he has in the past, declined to give specific details of his graduated tax proposal to reporters. Instead, he outlined "basic principles" to tax wealthier people at a higher rate and said the specifics would have to be negotiated with lawmakers.

Appearing at the City Club of Chicago, Pritzker called for more state spending on mental health and addiction programs while assailing Rauner for the two-year budget impasse that hampered those social services.

"Watching what Bruce Rauner did to addiction and mental health services during his budget crisis shook me to my core," Pritzker said. "Families were turned upside down."

The budget stalemate has been a frequent line of attack for Pritzker, who didn't outline specific plans to pay for the programs.

In the speech, Pritzker spoke of his mother, who struggled with alcoholism and died when he was in high school.

"I watched her suffer. I watched her carry the stigma that goes along with a disease that has kept so much in the shadows," he said. "It's hard for me to imagine what would have happened to us if she hadn't been able to afford treatment."


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