Despite what you’ve been reading about the far right’s consternation with Bruce Rauner over his ostensible support for abortion in Illinois, I think it’s been a pretty good month for the governor.
The union-busting Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees case that he initiated has made it to the Supreme Court. And he’s got liberal groups like Planned Parenthood praising him for his stance on reproductive rights. It looks like he may be able to put together the band of rabid right-wingers and abortion-rights moderates who helped elect him in the first place.
I know that sounds like the oddest of coalitions—but it just goes to show you what a clever politician can buy with his billions.
The Republican right-to-lifers are furious that Rauner flip-flopped and signed HB 40, the reproductive rights bill that expanded Medicaid funding for some abortions and eliminated the controversial “trigger provision” from state law. (The trigger language would’ve made abortions illegal in Illinois should Roe v. Wade be overturned.)
And many, including Steve Bannon, are talking about recruiting someone to mount a primary challenge against Rauner. But I think it’s mostly bluster. In fact, I can’t understand why they’re so outraged. They knew what they were getting when they overwhelmingly voted for Rauner back in 2014.
Rauner made no secret of his support for abortion. In 2014, his wife, Diana Rauner, went so far as to take out an ad assuring pro-choice Democrats that when it came to abortion rights her husband would be no different than his opponent, former governor Pat Quinn.
Backed by many pro-choice moderates in DuPage County, the North Shore, and the Gold Coast, Rauner edged out Quinn and promptly went to work bankrupting public education by vetoing the budget.
Earlier this year, the governor panicked when it looked as though he might be losing support among downstate Republicans. So he assured right-to-life legislators he would veto HB40. That enraged pro-choice voters, who claimed he was betraying his lifelong commitment to their cause.
Rauner found himself in a jam. He had to decide which group he could least afford to alienate on the eve of next year’s election: Gold Coast and North Shore moderates or rabid Republicans. Obviously, he went with the former, at least partly because, if push came to shove, they might actually vote for a Democrat. As for the rabid right, he probably figured he’d give ’em a tax break and they’d follow him off a cliff.
Of course, Rauner was slick about it. Over the summer he made a real show of inviting various pro-choice women to his office to explain to him how important it was to pass HB40.
And then on September 28, he signed it, making a big deal about it, like he was King Solomon making a wrenching decision as opposed to a lifelong abortion supporter doing what he’d promised to do four years ago.
In any case, it seems to have worked. Key players in the pro-choice movement fell for it. When Rauner signed HB40, Planned Parenthood of Illinois sent an e-mail calling on members to “thank Governor Rauner.” Puh-lease! A more accurate response would’ve been “Thanks for nothing, Bruce!”
Even if the strategy fails and he doesn’t win reelection, Rauner’s in a perfect position to achieve his great dream of damaging, if not destroying, public unions in Illinois thanks to the Janus case.
Mark Janus is a state employee who argues that his First Amendment rights are being violated because state law requires him to contribute a “fair share” portion of his paycheck to the union that represents him—in this case, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. In particular, he doesn’t think he should have to donate money to a union with which he disagrees politically.
It’s called a fair-share contribution because the money guarantees that workers share the cost of financing a union that represents them in bargaining and grievance hearings.
On February 9, 2015, a few weeks after he took office, Rauner issued an executive order halting automatic fair-share deductions from paychecks. Several unions and attorney general Lisa Madigan sued and Rauner’s executive order was overturned.
Rauner also filed a suit in federal court seeking to stop automatic fair-share contributions on First Amendment grounds. In 2016, a federal judge ruled against Rauner, decreeing that the governor didn’t have standing in the case.
By then Janus had joined the case—as a state employee, he clearly has standing. Janus is being represented by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a union-busting outfit that’s financially supported by the Koch brothers, the Walton Family Foundation, and other stalwarts of the far right.
On September 28, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Janus’s case.
The suit is similar to one filed by Rebecca Friedrichs, a teacher in California, who lost when the Supreme Court was deadlocked 4-4. Since then President Trump and the Senate have put conservative Neil Gorsuch on the court. So unless another judge flips—c’mon Justice Kennedy, you can do it!—it looks like SCOTUS will issue a bruising blow against unions, which will have to scramble to keep up their funding.
This is a cruel irony on many levels. For one thing, government employees such as Janus will be relatively defenseless without unions if they’re fired or harassed by a powerful politician like Rauner. Good luck getting the National Right to Work Foundation to help them with that.
As for Rauner’s friends at Planned Parenthood—well, with a drop in membership, unions will be less able to help elect Democrats. So really the assault on unions is an attempt to cripple the Democratic Party. You don’t think the Koch brothers actually give a hoot about workers like Mark Janus, do you?
If Democrats can’t beat Republicans, they can’t enact liberal-minded measures, like—oh, just to pick one—reproductive rights.
Think about this, Planned Parenthood. Your good friend, Bruce, is throwing you under the bus once again. Only this time he’s got a more roundabout way of doing it. v