Bruce Rauner the centrist showed up Monday, signing a pair of bills that would have seen the veto pen from a true demagogue. He's been missed.
It was easy to neglect Gov. Rauner's signing of the TRUST Act and automatic voter registration, both legislative victories for historically marginalized populations. The Illinois House's bumbling but ultimately successful attempts at funding schools rightly dominated the headlines.
But, for more than a month now, Rauner has had the whiff of a Republican more interested in placating his right flank than governing. It was a strident shift rightward that, unsurprisingly, followed his hiring of most of Illinois Policy Institute's executive office. It took shape in end-of-week veto-ramas and rhetoric that fed downstate self pity.
Most of the ideologues are gone now, purged after making fools of the Rauner administration over a political cartoon published by their former employer.
Perhaps their departure ushers in a return to the social moderation that has provided the high points for an administration struggling for traction on the economic agenda front.
Critics of the TRUST Act — and there were many — labeled it an attempt at "sanctuary" statehood, applying a toxic term that has nothing to do with law and everything to do with rhetoric. Under the TRUST Act, local and state can't detain someone simply because of their immigration status or a federal retainer. The TRUST Act requires a legitimate crime that endangers the public, not some trumped up smear campaign against people living and working in Illinois who look or speak differently from what some deem "real Americans."
The timing of Rauner's signature is significant on several fronts far beyond the political leanings of his administration. U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement is on a rampage under President Donald Trump and his absurd, racially charged nativism that last week culminated with the pardon of former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Trump's administration has repeatedly threatened to withhold federal funds from cities and states that refuse to do ICE's dirty work. And the federal officials don't seem to care about the obvious damage these roundups would do to the important relationships built between police and immigrant populations.
Like everyone else, immigrants are often victims and witnesses of crime. It's imperative for social well-being that they feel safe to talk to local and state police. It's unquestionably true that any crackdown fitting the Trump administration's desires would impose a substantial chilling effect on cooperation. Victims would have no recourse. Witnesses would stay in the shadows.
In signing the TRUST Act, Rauner rejected the identity politics that's consuming the GOP and thumbed his nose at the leader of his own party.
For a day, Rauner was more independently minded Ohio Gov. John Kasich than partisan-lackey Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Automatic voter registration, too, is a big win for Illinois' underprivileged communities. Rauner's signature makes Illinois the 10th state that now registers people to vote when they interact with a government agency, unless they opt out. It also requires those agencies to forward the new voter's information to election officials to add to the rolls. Rauner is only the second Republican governor to sign automatic voter identification, which would extend voting accessible to millions of Americans, according to analysis from The Brennan Center at New York University's School of Law.
Again, Rauner's signature comes at a time when most Republican governors are pitching cynical voter ID laws, such as the one adopted this year in Iowa. These are, courts continue to conclude, self-serving attempts at suppressing the minority vote. With a stoke of his pen, Rauner rejected the fiction of widespread fraud and bolstered access to voting to thousands of Illinoisans.
It's been a rough few months for Rauner. His administration has been searching for an identity after last month's budget battle defeat. He criss-crossed the state stoking parochialism and division while crusading against Chicago Public Schools.
But on Monday, Rauner did three things that suggest all is not lost. He signaled support for school funding approved in the House, which, by and large, maintains everything against which he had railed. And he signed two important bills to which no demagogue would have inked his name.
Rauner's Monday pivot served both his and the state's interest.