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The Mass, Post-Budget Exodus From Rauner's Office Keeps Rolling On

By aaroncynic in News on Jul 18, 2017 2:44PM

Governor Bruce Rauner outside the Director's Lawn at the Illinois State Fair in August 2016. Photo by Aaron Cynic

The mass exodus of key Rauner staff and their replacement with members and allies of a conservative think tank continued Monday and Tuesday, with the total number of departures from the governor’s office reaching at least 20.

The Chicago Tribune reports
that Matthew Besler, former president of the Illinois Opportunity Project, will now join Rauner’s campaign committee as the governor’s chief strategic adviser.

“The work we've done on policy and political advocacy over the past three election cycles and the progress we've made in that time must culminate with Gov. Rauner's re-election in 2018 and an end to Speaker [Michael] Madigan's reign in the House,” Besler told the Tribune in a statement.

Besler is the latest addition from a web of connected groups to begin working for the governor in a formal capacity since Rauner began shaking up his office after losing a more than two-year fight with state lawmakers after he refused to sign a budget unless a package of so-called reforms were signed.

The Illinois Opportunity Project is a tax-exempt group co-founded by former 2010 gubernatorial candidate and conservative talk show host Dan Proft that raises and donates money to conservative candidates and causes. It does not have to disclose its donors. The group is closely aligned with Proft’s Liberty Principals PAC, which has spent millions in media buys to promote conservative causes as well as in Republican House and Senate races. Its top donors include key Rauner donors Ken Griffin and Richard Uihlein, as well as the governor himself.

The addition of Besler comes after a “body man”—a close personal aide to the governor—who interned with the Illinois Opportunity Project was fired after only one day upon the discovery of racist and homophobic tweets. Laurel Patrick, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s former press secretary who took on the role of Communications Director for the Rauner administration told Chicagoist in an email Monday that the tweets were “unacceptable,” and that “the individual in question is no longer an employee of our Administration."

Sources within the Rauner administration who did not reveal their names described to the Sun-Times a climate of fear within the governor’s office on Monday evening.

“People are scared,” said one staffer. “I was cornered by a staffer today so worried she’s going to be fired. She has a ‘meeting’ with [new chief of staff] Kristina [Rasmussen] and was visibly upset.” Another staffer said that people were “dropping like flies.”

Among the more recent staff to exit the Rauner administration include his team in Washington, D.C., chief of staff for policy and legislative affairs, director of House and Senate Operations, Deputy Press Secretary, and two core members of his digital team, which led to at least one headache on Twitter.

Stacking key staff positions with members of hard-right conservative groups like the Illinois Opportunity Project and the closely aligned Illinois Policy Institute could become problematic for the functioning of government, according to Democratic state Rep. Elaine Nekritz. “That kind of ideology, I think, just creates even more division with the Democratically controlled General Assembly and does not bode well for the next year-and-a-half for the functioning of government,” Nekritz told WGN-720AM, according to the Tribune. “I don’t think it’s better with these new staffers coming in. If it’s possible to get worse, it looks like it could get worse to me.”