By Rick Pearson and Monique Garcia and Kim Geiger
Bruce Rauner took over as Illinois governor Monday and asked for shared sacrifice to help him restore a state he described as in decline, beset by financial, moral and ethical crises.
The first Republican chief executive in a dozen years laid out what he views as the state's problems -- shaky finances, lack of competitiveness with other states and a slow-to-grow economy -- and sought to blame them on the lack of pro-business initiatives and mindset.
Also assigned responsibility were some of those in the audience there to listen to his inaugural speech, served notice by the new governor that the messy financial condition was the result of decades of bad decisions by politicians of both parties. Rauner vowed to seek bipartisan solutions with a Democratic-dominated General Assembly.
Continuing to conduct "business as we've been doing it would be morally corrupt," Rauner said in pledging to replenish citizen confidence in government that he maintained has been drained away.
"I'm nobody that nobody sent," he said. "And I've come to work for you."
The inauguration of Rauner as the state's 42nd governor marks a new era for Illinois -- a first-time officeholder who has demonstrated he will use his extensive personal wealth and that of his allies to try to leverage political and public support for his initiatives.
While successful as an equity investor, questions remain as to how quickly Rauner will grasp the levers of governing after a lengthy campaign filled with heated anti-government, anti-tax rhetoric but lacking specific solutions.
Standing before a few thousand people on stage at a less-than-filled Prairie Capital Convention Center and surrounded by his family, Rauner took the oath of office shortly after noon. His 20-minute inaugural address, punctuated often by applause, offered a critical if not downcast look at state government and its practitioners, from its past financial policies to its politics and ethics.
It was a speech that echoed many of the themes and phrases he used in defeating Democrat Pat Quinn in November. The remarks followed a post-election pattern of delivering a litany of the state's financial problems in an effort to reinforce to voters and taxpayers the need for a difficult -- but still unstated -- agenda that could contrast with his anti-tax positions during the campaign.
Underscoring the state's precarious finances, which include agencies that could run out of money in the short term and a ballooning deficit for the long term, Rauner issued his first executive order aimed at sharply curbing state spending for at least the next six months.
Rauner's order halts all new contracts and grant awards except those deemed to be an emergency or less than $50,000. It also puts a block on any new interstate transportation construction projects.
State agencies, which Rauner said were seeking $760 million in new spending authority, were told by the new governor that they were out of luck and instead should manage their current budgets -- a move likely to prompt major cuts.
Rauner also called on agencies to conduct more populist-sounding cost-saving measures, including blocking new vehicle purchases and leases, limiting travel and requiring offices to turn off unnecessary lights, heating and cooling.
"Sacrifice by all of us -- politicians and interest groups, business and labor, those who pay for government and those who depend on government's services and need us and who we need to support," Rauner said in his speech. "Each person here today and all those throughout the state will be called upon to share in the sacrifice so that one day we can again share in Illinois' prosperity."
During the campaign, Rauner vilified state government and Democratic political leaders and some Republican lawmakers as "corrupt." On Monday, Rauner used his speech to attack what he called a "moral" and "ethical" crisis that's led to the public's lack of faith in Springfield.
"Illinoisans see insider deals and cronyism rewarded. They see lobbyists writing bills for special interests and taxpayers being left with the tab. They see government union bosses negotiating sweetheart deals across the table from governors they've spent tens of millions of dollars to help elect. That's a corrupt bargain, and the people of Illinois are left to wonder where they fit in," Rauner said.
Rauner's use of the term "government union bosses" was a prominent feature of his successful campaign for the GOP nomination but largely was abandoned in his general election campaign against Quinn. Public employee unions spent millions in the GOP primary and general elections in an unsuccessful attempt to block Rauner.
Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, questioned whether Rauner had grasped the complexities of becoming governor at a challenging time for the state.
"I believe he is very sincere in everything he's said. I just think he might be very inaccurate about some of the things we've been doing for the last six years in improving the state after the biggest recession that has ever hit the states. We've been making good progress, paying our bills down, cutting the spending, and so he'll discover that and then he'll have to decide what he wants to do with his budget," Cullerton said.
But House Republican leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs called the critical tone of Rauner's remarks "refreshing."
"We don't need a rosy picture that's going to be portrayed about the state of Illinois," Durkin said. "The problems are deep, they're serious, they're not political. We have to have a bipartisan solution to these major problems."
Promising to work with lawmakers on a "comprehensive jobs and economic package" in the coming weeks, Rauner bemoaned a culture of "high taxes and high regulation" against business.
He singled out the problems of Keats Manufacturing, a Wheeling-based metal stamping company, to illustrate how small business owners have grown increasingly frustrated.
Rauner said the Keats company was launched in 1958 in a Chicago storefront, with founders Bert and Glenn Keats going door-to-door to scour up business. "All its customers were Illinois companies," Rauner said. "But today, none of their customers are Illinois companies -- they have all left." Rauner said Keats' grandsons, who now run the operation, "tell me they couldn't have started their company in Illinois today."
While Keats is headquartered in Illinois, the portrait of the firm as laid out by Rauner was incomplete. According to the Keats website, in the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement the company expanded operations in 1994 to a facility in El Paso, Texas, to serve manufacturers in Mexico.
Rauner, a strong supporter of charter schools, called improving education in the state "an important emotional issue for me." He called for investing "adequately in every neighborhood" on all levels of education, from early childhood to vocational and higher education.
"That means putting more directly into the classrooms, reforming the education bureaucracy, rolling back costly mandates and giving more students access to great schools," he said.
Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich, who delivered the invocation, liked Rauner's emphasis on the issue.
"I appreciated very much the aspirational tone, looking forward to the next generation not just, as he said, the next election," Cupich said.
Also in attendance were Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and several members of Illinois' congressional delegation. Not there was Quinn, the Democrat Rauner replaced as governor. Quinn remained in Chicago to finish his work until Rauner took over, an aide said.
Along with the inauguration were a bevy of celebratory activities, from an interfaith prayer service in the morning to afternoon open houses held by the new cast of statewide elected officials to an evening concert featuring country star Toby Keith and Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy.
Each of the new officials found their official photographs hanging just inside the main doors of the Capitol. Rauner is shown wearing a blue-and-red, buttoned-collar, plaid sports shirt.
For his swearing-in, Rauner placed his hand on a massive Bible belonging to Susan Lawrence Dana, of Springfield. Dana, who lived from 1862 to 1946 was a supporter of suffrage and equality for women. She was also a major supporter of the arts, commissioning Frank Lloyd Wright to design what is now known as the Dana-Thomas House, a Springfield attraction.
Following his oath, Rauner and his family met with several hundred people at the Old State Capitol, where President Abraham Lincoln delivered his "House Divided" speech in 1858. Well-wishers snaked out the doors and into a snowy plaza as staff passed out hot chocolate and cider to attendees, some of whom waited for more than a hour to shake the new governor's hand.
Franklin Ramirez, 33, drove from Elgin to meet Rauner, and asked him to sign a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution. Rauner obliged, joining Quinn and now imprisoned ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in signing the book.
"I'm really excited that he's someone who shows heart and passion for the position," Ramirez said. "And we'll keep him to every letter of it."
Tribune reporter Bob Secter contributed from Chicago.
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