By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn can pretty much forget about getting any more money from the state’s public employee unions, after signing a landmark pension overhaul.
Unless, maybe, conservative Republican Bruce Rauner wins the GOP primary.
“There are some hard feelings right now,” Democratic state representative Brandon Phelps told Illinois Watchdog. “But if Bruce Rauner wins, the unions have no place else to go.”
Rauner has focused his campaign on “taking on the union bosses.”
“We’ve got the government unions bosses running the government for their benefit, not your benefit,” Rauner told a crowd at last weekend’s Illinois Farm Bureau meeting in Chicago. “I am the one person who will stand up to them … stand them down. Challenge their power.”
Phelps voted against the new pension reform law because, he says, it will take too much away from the mostly union voters in his district.
Phelps said Quinn has about a year to try to rebuild some trust.
“He could reopen some prisons, and make good on the back pay,” Phelps said. “Union members may be able to set aside (pension reform). But they will never forget.”
Jim Nowlan, a former Illinois lawmaker turned political expert and author, agrees that public employee unions will never forgive Quinn for signing a law they truly hated.
Those hard feelings would subside if Quinn faces Rauner, Nowlan said.
“The unions really have no place to go, especially if Rauner is nominated, as is looking more likely all the time,” Nolwan said, intimating that unions may support another GOP candidate in the primary.
That support, however, won’t necessarily help the other three Republicans in the race.
“The three other GOP candidates represent the insiders, the problem rather than the solution, at least as Rauner will portray them,” Nowlan said. “They are flailing around, without issues or clear messages or the money to promote themselves.”
Phelps said Rauner has a genius strategy to win the GOP nomination, but he wonders whether Rauner can use the same anti-union lines to win in November.
“Politics is the science of addition, not subtraction,” Phelps said. “I think he is making a huge mistake in taking on the public employee unions, because so many people rally around them.”
It’s not just voter support the unions bring to the governor’s race. The major public employee unions — AFSCME, SEIU, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association — have huge fundraising arms.
The Chicago Sun Times tallied union spending and found the state’s top 10 unions spent $100 million on campaigns since 2000.
Quinn’s campaign has taken in $7.4 million, the most of any candidate, during those same 13 years.
Reach Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter @BenYount.