I missed J.B. Pritzker’s recent impromptu speech to a gathering of Republicans by a few minutes. But the fact that Pritzker even stopped by the event, hosted by Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, was notable in and of itself.
As one top Republican said after Pritzker’s speech, just imagine Gov. Bruce Rauner showing up to speak about bipartisanship and then heap praise on House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton at a Democratic reception.
If you can’t imagine such a thing, well, that was the Republican’s whole point. It never would have happened (although Rauner did show up for a Black Caucus event his first year in office, but he used the occasion to bash the Democratic Party, which didn’t exactly go over too well).
The Republicans have every right to be demoralized in Illinois. They hold no statewide office, their party lost two suburban congressional seats, and they are now firmly in the super-minority in both the House and Senate.
And yet, in conversations with both Republican legislative leaders, it seemed pretty clear to me they were both pleased and optimistic about finally having a governor they believe they can work with.
We all know the history. Gov. Rauner is an extremely difficult person to deal with, even for those who agree with most of his political agenda. He assumes he’s right, and he assumes you feel the same way, or else.
He demands complete loyalty, but offers little in return. His word cannot ever be trusted. He seems incapable of making small talk beyond a few minutes, and no one has ever accused him of having a warm personality.
The same lack of interpersonal skills held back Rauner’s immediate predecessor, Pat Quinn.
Pritzker has yet to be tested, so we’ll see if he can be trusted to keep his word and offer as much respect to others as he expects for himself once he delves into the difficult process of governing a state with huge problems.
But it’s pretty obvious to anyone who’s spent time with him that Pritzker most definitely has a warm personality, and that trait is charming the heck out of Springfield right now. And while he was a hit at last week’s Republican reception, that was nothing compared to how crowds reacted to him at the Democratic parties.
Building personal relationships is an integral part of governing, and the dude has that down pat so far. Rauner would do things like call you on your birthday, but his words were always stilted and seemingly scripted. He had legislators over to the mansion during his first spring session, but again, the conversations just weren’t natural, and many departed with the impression that he was, um, less than genuine.
Quinn spent most session nights deliberately holed up in the governor’s mansion with his staff. Both men just didn’t appear to be comfortable in their own skin.
I have no idea whether finally having a governor with a real personality will make a huge difference when it comes to solving this state’s extremely serious problems. Eventually, of course, Pritzker is going to have to do things that people are not going to love, and we’ll just have to wait to see how that all turns out.
Note to readers: Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.