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Gov. Rauner Aims To Send Message With Staff Shakeup

NPR Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner failed to get much of his budget requests in the recent legislative session. Now there's fallout in the top ranks of his administration.  

Less than a week after the legislature overrode the governor's vetoes -- passing a budget and tax increase -- Rauner dismissed his Chief of Staff, Communications Director and others.  

In their place are those with ties to the conservative Illinois Policy Institute. The organization is often referred to as a free-market think tank, and has been vocal on several issues. These include opposition to higher taxes and calls for slashing state programs. Thom Serafin is a Chicago consultant and political analyst:

"The governor hasn't talked to me about it, but (from) my vantage point it's setting a clearer, cleaner path of where he wants to take his administration through the election cycle," Serafin said.

He said the income tax increase was unpopular, and could give Rauner a key point to run on in 2018. But Serafin said the message must get through that he rejected it in the absence of other key reforms.

"In order for the governor to get re-elected, he's got to be very focused and his message has to be certain," Serafin said. "And he has to be certain that his message is getting out to the general public and they understand where he's coming from. I know internally they have to feel they were not able to get their message across."  

The Illinois Policy Institute received financial contributions from Rauner in the past. But the organization attacked the governor for considering raising taxes as part of a larger budget deal.

The Institute's President and CEO, Kristina Rasmussen, was tapped to be Rauner's new Chief of Staff, while Michael Lucci -- the Institute's Vice President of Policy -- will serve as Rauner's new Deputy Chief of Staff. Laurel Patrick will lead Rauner's communications team; he worked in Washington for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity and also for Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker.