Bye Bye Bruce



By DOUG E. IBENDAHL • November 4, 2018


Our Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner is a bit of an odd duck.


By all accounts he was something of a ruthless bastard in his private sector days, typically eliminating jobs, not creating them. Unlike Donald Trump who built tangible things and created many thousands of good jobs out of nothing, Rauner’s fortune came mostly via financial maneuverings, some might say games. Basically reengineering and rearranging what others built.


Rauner’s bank accounts did very well — American workers and others who unwittingly found themselves under his investment umbrella, not so much.


For the record, I have no problem with ruthless bastards in business. I deal with ruthless bastards all the time as a lawyer, and I’ve got a University of Chicago MBA in finance. I get it.


Donald Trump might even proudly embrace the title of ruthless bastard in business.


But I also think our President would agree there are limits, or should be.


Four years ago when Rauner ran the first time I broke the story about how his investment firm acquired and then expanded a large chain of nursing homes, and then proceeded to bust them out, until there was nothing left to bust-out.


Families of the elderly residents who suffered or died typically never saw a penny from court ordered judgments for abuse which multiple juries had determined were caused at least in part by resource and staffing cut-backs. The nursing home chain’s milked-out carcass was eventually abandoned to the bankruptcy court which had to sort out the incredibly complex web of corporate entities designed to limit owner liability and hinder any victim recovery.


As a practical matter there was nothing left to award anyway, and by that time Rauner and his firm were long gone.


Four years ago I also broke a story about Rauner’s private equity firm’s past control of Deerfield, Illinois based Ovation Pharmaceuticals, Inc. By the way, it remains unclear to me what full-time journalists around here actually do these days, as a hobby writer like me shouldn’t be the one breaking such stories. Oh right, today they mostly hate on the President of the United States.


But I digress.


During the time Rauner’s firm owned the pharmaceutical company, Ovation cornered the market on the drugs necessary to treat a certain congenital heart defect in babies born prematurely. At the time there were only two such drugs, and Ovation somehow was able to acquire all rights to both.


Shortly after eliminating the competition by acquiring the second drug, Ovation raised the price on both by 1,300%. A drug vial that previously sold for $36, was now $500 per vial.


But if you were the desperate parent of a baby that would otherwise die, price would be no object. You would pay whatever Rauner and his chums demanded.


In 2008, George W. Bush’s Federal Trade Commission took Ovation to federal court accusing the company of price gouging and violating antitrust laws. FTC Commissioner Jon Leibowitz (a Bush appointee) said at the time: “Ovation’s profiteering on the backs of critically ill premature babies is not only immoral, it is illegal.”


Ovation prevailed in federal court on technical legal grounds having to do with the definition of the relevant product market, but the facts of the case and the findings of the FTC remain disturbing. Rauner’s firm sold Ovation to a Denmark based company in 2009 for $900 million. It’s original equity commitment seven years prior was reportedly $150 million.


So I just shake my head whenever my conservative friends are shocked! . . .shocked! . . . that Rauner signed HB 40 last year, the now law of the land which expands taxpayer-paid abortions across Illinois.


I mean, really? Come on folks, was having profited from an astronomical 1,300% price gouge on a drug needed to save the lives of newborn babies not enough of a clue that maybe Rauner was less than trustworthy on the life issue?


To be fair, I should point out that the majority of Rauner’s fortune did not come from nursing home racketeering or price gouging on a critically needed medicine for newborn babies. Probably not even close.


From what I can tell, the biggest chunk of Rauner’s wealth comes from the incredibly generous management fees firms like Rauner’s reap from managing government employee pension funds, the very pensions Rauner constantly blasts as being too generous. Note of course he never calls out the pension fund managers like him, whose compensation makes a piker of even the biggest double or even triple-dipping hog now retired and sitting at home gorging on a monthly government payout that no private sector working-stiff can ever hope to match.


The issue of bloated government pensions is of course a serious one. Rauner’s certainly not wrong about that. The problem is it would be difficult to find a worse messenger than Bruce Rauner.


But putting aside how he made his riches, I think the main reason history will record Rauner as one of the most failed governors ever in America is that the man himself doesn’t know who he is.


It’s why Rauner sometimes deploys the very insulting made-up hayseed language with the phony ‘g’ dropping even though no one in Illinois actually talks like that. It’s why he often gloms-onto his grandparent’s small spread in Wisconsin to give the impression he’s a farm boy, despite growing up in a well-to-do North Shore suburb of Chicago, the son of a Motorola executive father.


And it’s why he makes us all look like buffoons when as our Governor he claims to have gone to downstate Murphysboro a week ago hoping to meet with the President of the United States, but shows up looking like a rejected extra from the ‘Sons of Anarchy’ series.


It’s unclear what Rauner’s problem is with our President, whether it’s jealousy or something else. But the fact is in Donald Trump we have one public official who is actually working night and day for US the American people. And more importantly, this President is actually getting things done, and on multiple fronts at once.


Rauner’s response has been to not only abandon the one real do-er out there, the one Republican who has done more to build the Republican brand than even Ronald Reagan did, Rauner regularly parrots the Trump-hating media’s talking points and lends them a hand in undermining our President. Rauner regularly uses words like “appalling” to describe Trump’s “rhetoric” and tweets. Just like CNN’s Jim Acosta does.


Standing-up for our President and setting the record straight on what Trump has truly said and is actually doing is something Rauner refuses to do. The man who was a ruthless bastard in business has allowed himself to be co-opted by the fake news. Rauner’s a push-over in politics.


Where has it gotten Rauner? Well, outlets like the failing Chicago Tribune which can somehow hate on do-er President Trump on a daily basis, will still fawn over the do-nothing Governor Rauner.


Rauner aids-and-abets the “Trump is not right for Illinois” false narrative, and Rauner gets his 30 pieces of silver in the form of some newspaper endorsements no one pays attention to.


It’s all for naught. When Rauner made the decision not to lead after making the move over to politics, when he decided to lose the backbone he apparently used to have in business and decided it was more important to pander to Trump-hating “journalists” – Rauner rendered his re-election campaign as tedious and pointless as a John Kass column.


People ask me if I’m voting for Rauner Tuesday, and I say of course not. I didn’t vote for him four years ago, so I’m certainly not voting for him now when everything I warned about came to fruition. I can’t erase my memory of all I learned from my research about his indifference to people who suffered in his crappy nursing homes and the parents, desperate to save their baby’s life, who scrounged for the money to pay the higher medicine cost demanded by Rauner’s company.


Yes, JB Pritzker will be terrible for Illinois. But it’s a moot issue at this point. Voters, especially Republicans, should have thought about that and done their homework four years ago. Blame for winding up with a failed incumbent who is probably going to lose re-election by a historic margin is on the Rauner lickspittles who have enabled failure instead of demanding leadership.


Look, we can’t build a Republican Party in Illinois around Bruce Rauner anyway. The last four years have proven that. Rauner has thrown record millions into the Illinois GOP and affiliated entities where it eventually gets washed down into assorted mediocre campaigns, and yet has anyone ever witnessed a weaker and less energized Illinois Republican Party? And that’s saying a lot considering that not so many years ago the undisputed leader of our State GOP was Dennis Hastert, a serial child molester.


I know some people will gripe about me penning this right before the election. Save your breath. We’ve got a party in Illinois now that has recently been going out of its way to ban black Trump supporters from Republican Party events. And on more than one occasion. Good grief, OF COURSE Rauner is going to lose. If you openly disrespect black Trump supporters and abandon the one Republican, President Trump, who is actually getting things done, it’s silly to even talk about winning a statewide race.


The Illinois Republican Party simply isn’t organized to win elections. Rauner, the purported successful businessman, should have recognized that a long time ago. The good news is that the state’s Republican congressional incumbents are mostly onboard with the President and his agenda, and I think prospects are decent for all of them to survive Tuesday.


I’m also excited about 2020. We can build a party around an actual do-er like President Trump and his winning agenda. Now THERE is a man who knows who he is and is comfortable in his own skin. Donald Trump could tell those brawny steel workers in Granite City, Illinois this summer, while many of them wept with gratitude, “I could have been one of you” – and everyone believes him.


Trump is credible saying that, not just because he’s been a hands-on builder of real things, but mostly because people can just inherently sense he’s a genuine person. At least the people not blinded by hate can.


And there’s no searching for the right costume with this President. He’s nearly always impeccably dressed in a suit-and-tie when he’s speaking to a group of Americans of any size. Trump understands that the steel worker in Granite City doesn’t want his President – or his Governor for that matter – dressing the same way he does at a casual affair. It’s about respect for the audience, and for the office. Trump has real respect for the hundreds of millions of Americas he serves. Our Governor doesn’t even get the basics.


Come Wednesday morning when the local yokels in Illinois who have done a horrible job are desperately scrambling to rearrange the deck chairs so they can keep doing a horrible job, my unsolicited advice for Trump supporters is that you keep your eye on the bigger prize. Rauner has been nothing but a depressing force on Trump energy in Illinois. If you’re serious about making Illinois competitive for Trump in 2020, the job only gets easier when Rauner and his clueless minions are off the field.


But no matter what happens Tuesday, take comfort in the fact we have a leader of our country and our national party who actually knows what he’s doing. A man who knows how to win, win, win.


Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.


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