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Miller: For Illinois unions, it’s anyone but Rauner in GOP governor race

Updated: December 27, 2013 6:10AM



Illinois union leaders are reportedly mulling several options about what to do in the governor’s race. But the only thing they appear to agree on so far is that anti-union multimillionaire Bruce Rauner cannot be allowed to win.

Some union honchos are looking at endorsing a candidate in the Republican primary election in March. State Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, already has strong support from the Operating Engineers, a union that’s even more opposed to Rauner since the his endorsement by the strongly anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors. Other unions have also taken keen notice of that endorsement.

Surprisingly enough, Dillard is also being looked at by some public employee unions. They’re hoping that he’ll be a “no” vote on pension reform. Dillard recently told the Kankakee Daily Journal that he wants employees to pay more into the system and wants a later retirement age, neither of which appear to be in the cards at the moment.

Dillard would know what’s going on behind the scenes with the pension reform conference committee because his running mate, state Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, is on the committee. However he chooses to explain it, a “no” vote on pension reform could bring Dillard closer to possible union support.

But Dillard told the Chicago Sun-Times last week that he has always supported pension reform and denied rumors that he was planning to vote against the bill. But even a “yes” vote will not, in and of itself, prevent some unions from endorsing Dillard.

Dillard’s campaign has struggled to raise money, barely able to meet its expenses (if that), so a labor endorsement would bring in much-needed dollars.

Unions have backed Dillard in the past, with $400,000 from public employee unions alone. They know he’s a social conservative, but they feel they can at least get a fair hearing from him.

State Treasurer Dan Rutherford has tried to reach out to labor, particularly on the pension issue. He has attempted to steer away from taking a hard public line on pension reform, urging compromise. But Rutherford doesn’t have much history with the unions, so he will have to work very hard to woo labor leaders if he wants their support. Rutherford’s campaign has far more money on hand than Dillard’s, but nowhere near enough to compete with Rauner.

Still, does any candidate really want organized labor’s support in a Republican gubernatorial primary? If you recall, a Capitol Fax/We Ask America poll conducted Aug. 21 found that a whopping 80 percent of likely GOP primary voters said they’d be less inclined to vote for a candidate for governor “who received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from public employee unions.”

Others in organized labor are strenuously arguing against any endorsement of a GOP candidate — believing today’s Republican voters are so hostile to labor’s interests that overt support for a preferred union candidate would almost surely be a political death sentence and result in many unknown, uncontrollable possibilities.

That particular faction is arguing hard for an all-out assault on Rauner leading to the March primary. An all-out TV advertising assault on Rauner could knock him out of contention. There’s a thick opposition research book on him, and his association with Democrats such as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel would be as enormously toxic for GOP primary voters.

Some labor leaders say Gov. Pat Quinn is starting to think that running against Rauner might not be so bad. Despite Rauner’s potential to spend tens of millions of dollars, some Quinn backers think Rauner’s background gives them enough ammunition to beat him.

Rauner’s TV commercials are already focused on painting Quinn as the bad guy, and that theme will only intensify if he wins the GOP primary. He could bury Quinn before the governor has a chance to bury him.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com



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