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Former Gov. Rauner’s portrait added to state Capitol’s ‘Hall of Governors’

Republican joins all Illinois’ former governors except Blagojevich

Former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s portrait has joined the “Hall of Governors” in the Illinois Capitol.

The Winnetka Republican-turned-Florida resident on Monday unveiled the portrait painted by Chicago Artist Richard Halstead and privately funded by Rauner. The 42nd governor of Illinois who served from 2015 to 2019, Rauner said he returns to the state every September for dove hunting season.

He downplayed the artwork as “not that big a deal” and declined to stray far from a message of “thanks” to the people of Illinois.

“The real reason that we wanted to do this, the real reason why (wife) Diana and I wanted to come and be with you is to say thank you,” Rauner said. “To say thank you to each and every one of you here today, to say thank you to every citizen, every voter, every child, every newcomer, every immigrant to the state of Illinois.”

Rauner stayed on message even while taking questions from reporters. Those mostly focused on Democrats’ continued placement of blame on Rauner for a two-year budget impasse between him and Democrats in the General Assembly.

The political conditions leading to the impasse were set in motion when lawmakers declined to extend a temporary four-year income tax hike while Democrat Pat Quinn, Rauner’s predecessor, was still governor. The decision to allow the higher tax rates to expire sent state revenues plummeting by billions of dollars in the first year of Rauner’s term.

Democrats, led by now-indicted former House Speaker Michael Madigan, fought staunchly against Rauner’s anti-union, pro-school choice reforms and other facets of his “pro-business” 44-point “turnaround agenda.”

As Illinois operated without a budget for more than two years amid those disagreements, much of its spending was mandated by court decrees, and the state’s backlog of unpaid bills reached nearly $17 billion. The budget shortfall amid the impasse squeezed higher education institutions and crippled the state’s social services.

The impasse finally ended when lawmakers – including a group of Republicans – overrode Rauner’s veto on a spending plan that included an income tax increase nearly to the level of the expired temporary tax rates.

Within two years, current Gov. JB Pritzker, a Democrat, had defeated Rauner in a landslide.

When asked about the frequency with which Democrats cite the Rauner years and the negative effects of the impasse in stump speeches, Rauner deflected. He also didn’t mention Madigan – his nemesis and frequent political punching bag – or his indictment on corruption charges.

“Today, I really don't want to talk politics and, you know, the usual stuff,” he said. “The one thing I will say, I am very proud of what we did while we were running the state, and I'm very proud of what we tried to do… A lot of headwinds, but I'll leave it at that today.”

The one current legislative matter that Rauner did address was Illinois’ Invest in Kids tax credit, a $75 million program he signed into law as part of an education reform effort in 2017 that gives tax credits to people who donate to private school scholarship funds.

It wasn’t funded for the upcoming budget year, is scheduled to be repealed on Jan. 1, 2025, and Pritzker has said it could still be extended and funded in the fall veto session.

“It’s under threat today,” Rauner said. “I hope the legislature will act to protect that program.”

Otherwise, Rauner touted his signature on the public education formula overhaul that drives more money to the schools furthest from funding adequacy, a system that is still in place today. He signed it after vetoing a similar proposal and maligning it as a “Chicago bailout.”

Rauner took office after unseating Quinn, whose portrait now sits directly below Rauner’s on the Capitol’s second floor and reportedly included 44 “found items” summing up his legacy. Those range from a picture of him signing a bill authorizing a minimum wage ballot referendum to a portrait of President Abraham Lincoln.

Rauner’s portrait depicts him in front of an empty blue background with his ubiquitous Illinois-shaped lapel pin as the only non-clothing item depicted.

“I don't think any portrait summarizes anybody's legacy very well,” Rauner said when asked of the background choice.

Professionally, Rauner said he once again is in the business of investing in start-up companies and is a trustee for the Everglades Foundation conservation group. He also serves on the board for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a Florida-based group founded by that state’s former governor, Jeb Bush, that promotes education reform and school choice.

He’s also a donor to Florida Republican Gov. and GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis.

Diana is in Chicago “full-time,” Rauner said, where she’s continued her longtime work as president of Start Early, a nonprofit that promotes early childhood development in underserved communities across Illinois.

Rauner’s portrait joins that of all former governors in the Capitol except for impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich. In 2010, the General Assembly passed a law prohibiting public funds from being used for his portrait.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Jerry Nowicki is bureau chief of Capitol News Illinois and has been with the organization since its inception in 2019.