Gov. Bruce Rauner’s re-election effort could be helped by Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that will allow public employees who don’t want to join workplace unions from paying any fees to the union, a political scientist says.
Rauner initiated the lawsuit, arguing that compulsory fees for non-union government workers violated their freedom of speech; the suit was later taken up by Illinois child support specialist Mark Janus and the Liberty Justice Center after a court ruled that the governor didn’t have standing as a plaintiff.
Chris Mooney, professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said unions have been strongly against Rauner since he made it clear at his inaugural address in 2015 that he was taking on the power of public-sector unions.
“Even if they won this Janus case,” Mooney said, “they would have still been there to fight Rauner tooth and nail. It’s a death match between them.”
But to some conservatives who may not be enchanted with Rauner, Mooney said, “With this, maybe it looks like Rauner [is] not completely ineffectual. Maybe he can get something done.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker had many union endorsements in the primary, and is expected to have significant union support in the Nov. 6 election.
Rauner has had trouble with his conservative base, who have been upset with actions including the governor signing a bill allowing Medicaid – a taxpayer-funded program – to pay for elective abortions.
Rauner won his primary against social and fiscal conservative state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, by just 3 percentage points. And state Sen. Sam McCann, R-Plainview, is a social conservative and has filed under the Conservative Party banner to run for governor.
In Washington, Rauner had a joint news conference to hail the Janus decision with John Tillman. Tillman is co-founder and chairman of the Liberty Justice Center, and is also CEO of the right-leaning Illinois Policy Institute. Tillman had labeled the governor “Benedict Rauner” after the governor signed the abortion legislation.
And the two had feuded publicly previously. After ProPublica and the Chicago Sun-Times reported early this year that Tillman had leadership positions in five nonprofits, Rauner said he was “troubled,” and while his family foundation had given the Policy Institute $625,000 in the past, he would “absolutely not give them another nickel.”
Tillman tweeted about that time: “He should be more concerned with his 26 percent approval rating. Illinoisans are clearly troubled by what they’ve seen from this failed administration.”
Things were nicer Wednesday.
“Workers’ rights were restored today because of two people: Mark Janus and Bruce Rauner,” Tillman said in a statement after the Supreme Court ruling. He also thanked Rauner “for having the vision, the leadership and the courage to initiate this case in 2015. He took tremendous risk and criticism for advancing the simple idea that workers should be free to define their relationship with a government union.”
And Rauner, in a statement, said he was grateful to Janus and the Liberty Justice Center.
Mooney said public-sector unions have been “the bane ... of not so much the movement conservatives on the right, but the ... business conservatives,” so the Janus decision is viewed positively by them.
While Rauner has taken some criticism for taking too much credit for moving forward the Janus decision, Mooney said, the governor will tout Wednesday’s ruling as an accomplishment.
State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, supported Ives in the primary but says he will vote for Rauner in the general election despite his disappointments with the governor.
McSweeney said he still thinks Rauner needs to give specific plans on how he will cut taxes and reform spending, and “then he’s going to have to explain how he’s going to pass it.”
Still, McSweeney said, the Janus ruling is “a net positive” for the governor.
“It should lead to less spending in the future,” McSweeney said.
Pritzker, who discussed veterans issues at a roundtable in Springfield Wednesday, told reporters afterward that the Supreme Court turned into Rauner’s “instrument to attack working families.”
“That’s what his administration has been all about for three and a half years – taking away rights and lowering wages for middle class and working class families,” Pritzker said. And he said Rauner won’t win the election if he runs on his “terrible record” despite “one day of ... what he would call getting something done.”
“Most conservatives are working people,” Pritzker said, adding there will be “outspoken ones who will stand with Bruce Rauner. But the vast majority of people in Illinois know this decision is bad for them.”
In a news release, Rauner hailed the decision as “pro-worker and pro-taxpayer,” saying it reinstated First Amendment free speech rights to public-sector workers who don’t want to join or pay unions.
“This ruling is a great victory for our democracy, our public employees, and the taxpayers who count on us to bargain on their behalf,” Rauner said.
Meanwhile, a Republican member of Congress from southern Illinois expressed disagreement with the Janus decision.
“As a former union firefighter and the grandson of a United Mine Workers representative, labor is in my blood,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Bost of Murphysboro.
“Unions have played an instrumental role in strengthening the hand of America’s working men and women for generations. It is only right that workers who receive higher pay, benefits, and workplace protections contribute their fair share of the costs. While this position may not always be popular in my party, for me, it’s one that rises above politics,” Bost said.