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Rauner Office Has Another Major Staff Shakeup, Amid 'Racist' Cartoon Fallout

By Stephen Gossett in News on Aug 24, 2017 3:40PM

AP Photo/Seth Perlman File

Rauner confirmed in a statement on Thursday that "Diana Rickert, Laurel Patrick, Meghan Keenan and Brittany Carl have submitted their resignations to the Office of the Governor." "We are grateful for their hard work on behalf of the people of Illinois and wish them all the best going forward," Rauner said.

Amid fallout from Gov. Bruce Rauner's much-criticized reaction to a controversial, racially loaded political cartoon, all members of the governor's communications staff have either been fired or have resigned, according to reports. The latest major shakeup comes just weeks after a previous mass exodus, when more than 20 staffers were either fired or left, in July.

Mary Ann Ahern of NBC Chicago reports that deputy chiefs of staff for policy Michael Lucci and Diana Rickert, plus communications specialist Britany Carl, were all fired; and communications director Laurel Patrick resigned, sources told NBC. Lucci and Rickert both came to the governor's office from the conservative Illinois Policy Institute.

Carl drew criticism last month after the Sun-Times reported that she had compared abortion to Nazi eugenics in a blog comment.

The latest shuffle comes in the immediate wake of Rauner's response to a cartoon published last week by Illinois Policy Institute, the right-leaning organization from which the governor had hired several staff members after the July shakeup. The cartoon was lambasted as "racist" by various lawmakers and politicians.

After being pressed by Ahern earlier this week, Rauner's office eventually responded—but that response was greeted with controversy as well: now-resigned spokeswoman Patrick said in a statement that "as a white male," Rauner had nothing "more to add to the discussion" after the cartoon was removed.

Rauner's office issued another statement later that day in which he said the email "did not accurately reflect my views." "I can understand why some people found the cartoon offensive," he added.

Democratic gubernatorial challenger JB Pritzker on Wednesday was quick to draw comparisons between the governor's ongoing staff upheaval and those of President Donald Trump. (His team even created this cheeky Craigslist ad as a further tweak.) Pritzker communications director Galia Slayen said in a statement:

"There is a problem that no amount of staff changes can fix and his name is Bruce Rauner. This governor has no moral compass, no vision, and no loyalty. Churning through staff faster than we can say Scaramucci is not going to change the fact that Bruce Rauner is entirely incapable of leading this state."

Democratic Governors Association-Illinois sought to tie the internal chaos with larger policy and political troubles. Communications Director Sam Salustro said in a statement:

“At no time has Bruce Rauner ever taken responsibility for the consequences of his failed leadership, and this recent staff purge suggests he is not about to start. As Governor, Bruce Rauner forced the state through a two-year budget crisis that was only ended over his objection. Debt piled up, social services were cut or closed, and jobs and people fled the state. Now Rauner is pushing the school system to closure for political gain. No staff purge can solve the problem at the center of this administration - Bruce Rauner."

Rauner's July shakeup came in the immediate aftermath of the legislature's vote to override his budget veto. The new hires signaled a push toward the right. According to NBC, there is also speculation that some staffers chose to leave, in opposition of Rauner's announcement that he will sign the TRUST Act—which restricts how state law enforcement can work with federal immigration officials.

One of the July hires, ex-aide Ben Tracy, was fired the very same day he was brought on after homophobic and other offensive tweets surfaced.