Credit: AP/Eric Riseberg; Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Governor Rauner made a royal ass of himself when he went on radio station WJPF in Carterville, “the voice of southern Illinois,” earlier this week.

Shamelessly pandering to a Republican base that will probably never like or trust him, Rauner declared he was vetoing a perfectly sensible bill that would have required gun dealers to be licensed by the state.

But that’s not what I want to write about.

Instead I want to write about the rest of the interview, which was lost in the furor over the veto.

And no, I’m not talking about the part where Rauner vowed to keep the state out of education so the locals can control their schools.

Even though he recently vetoed HB768, a bill that would have done just that, by keeping the state from forcing school districts to give operating permits to charters.

Apparently, local control ends when the locals decide they want to control school profiteers.

And I’m not talking about the part where Rauner vowed to rip state school aid from Chicago, as if kids in dead-broke south- and west-side schools were partying like venture capitalists.

No, I’m talking about the part where Rauner—finding his inner Tricky Dick—weighed in on legalizing marijuana.

“I do not support legalizing recreational marijuana. I think it’s a big experiment on young people’s brains and development. We should study what’s going on in Colorado and California,” Rauner said. “Even [Colorado governor John] Hickenlooper says, ‘Bruce, you guys in Illinois, you ought to wait awhile and study what’s going on here. ‘Cause it ain’t all good.'”

OK, first of all—no one’s rushing to do anything. If anything, they’re taking too damn long.

And the sponsors of the legalization of marijuana—state rep Kelly Cassidy and state senator Heather Steans—are studying Colorado and California.

And no one’s suggesting that reefer be sold to kids. Obviously the sale would be heavily regulated—just like medical marijuana is regulated. Probably way more than that gun dealers’ bill would regulate gun dealers, I might add.

And, finally, Bruce—what’s with the “ain’t”? You went to Dartmouth—guys from Dartmouth don’t say “ain’t”!

Actually, I suspect Rauner’s umbrage at legalization is like him saying “ain’t” and dropping gs—his awkward attempt to connect with the common downstater, if such a creature exists.

With reefer as with guns, Rauner’s giving his WJPF listeners what he thinks they want to hear. But I think his view of downstate attitudes is outdated, at least in regard to pot.

This is the last vestige of a culture war that raged throughout the 60s and into the Reagan years. What’s next? Calling on hard hats to beat up gun-protesting high-schoolers?

I guess Rauner’s sense of what’s going on is based on how things used to be. For this, I blame Merle Haggard, the country-western singer.

Back in 1969, Haggard penned Okie From Muskogee, a hymn of pride for rural Americans who felt ridiculed by the counterculture. The opening lyrics set the tone:

We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee
We don’t take our trips on LSD
We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street
We like livin’ right and bein’ free . . .

The song became a big hit on country radio. President Richard Nixon, who pretty much invented the culture wars, appreciated the song so much he invited Haggard to sing it at the White House.

Apparently, nearly 50 years later Rauner still thinks rural residents feel this way about marijuana.

Well, I’m not from southern Illinois any more than Rauner is. But I know quite a few people who are. And I can tell you—from personal experience—man, those country cats love their reefer!

I’m not saying it’s as popular in Carterville as, say, Logan Square. Clearly, more research is needed on that subject—any volunteers?

By the way, Haggard—who died in 2016—changed his tune on marijuana years ago. “At the time I wrote ‘Okie From Muskogee,’ I didn’t smoke,” he told an interviewer from Men’s Journal in 2015. “I thought it was responsible for the flower children walking around with their mouths open. It was not so. But if a guy doesn’t learn anything in 50 years, there’s something wrong with him.”

Hear that, Rauner?

In 2015, Haggard and Willie Nelson recorded It’s All Going to Pot. Here’s one of my favorite verses:

All of the whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee
It just couldn’t hit the spot
I gotta hundred-dollar bill, friend
You can keep your pills
‘Cause it’s all going to pot

In the song’s video, Merle and Willie are having a grand old time, sharing a joint and yukking it up. Wish I could have been at that recording session.

As I’ve been saying for years, there’s many reasons to marijuana should be legalized. It’s a waste of money to police against it. We could bring in big bucks by taxing it—money that could help Carterville as well as Chicago.