Almost no one in Illinois had more resources to devote to running for governor than J.B. Pritzker. At 53, Pritzker is the billionaire scion of the state’s wealthiest family. His sister, Penny, served as President Barack Obama’s commerce secretary. The family name adorns the University of Chicago’s medical school, Northwestern University’s law school and the gleaming, Frank Gehry-designed band shell in Chicago’s Millennium Park, not to mention the country’s most prestigious prize for architecture. Four of the dozen richest Illinoisans are Pritzkers, according to Forbes. J.B. Pritzker’s share of the family fortune is estimated at $3.2 billion.
And yet when Pritzker started considering whether to challenge Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner in the aftermath of the 2016 election, he asked himself not only the questions that most would-be candidates do — Could he win? How would running affect his wife and children? His business? — but also a question most candidates never consider: Was it even possible to fix the state he’d lead?
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Illinois — the sixth-biggest state, by population — has seen its credit rating cut to near-junk status in the decade since the financial crisis. Its bonds are now considered as risky as those of Russia and Romania. Its pension system is in worse shape than that of almost any other state. Springfield, the state capital, has grown so paralyzed that Illinois’ own governor compared the state to “a banana republic.” And a bitter standoff between Rauner, a Republican, and Democrats in the state Legislature has left Illinois more than $7 billion in unpaid bills and a sense among the state’s residents and creditors that Illinois might not be governable anymore.
“The state is on the edge of financial collapse,” says Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a good-government nonprofit in Chicago. What scares budget experts the most is that Illinois is facing a fiscal crisis even as the national economy, and the state’s, is roaring ahead. The unemployment rate in Illinois is 4.1 percent. “If there’s a hiccup in the economy, if there is something that’s unexpected, Illinois does not have reserves to basically weather any economic downturn at this point,” Msall says.
When my parents moved to the Chicago suburbs from Missouri in 1976, Chicago was still the country’s second most populous city. It boasted the world’s busiest airport and its tallest skyscraper. In the decades since, as the state’s finances have eroded nearly to the point of catastrophe, Chicago has surrendered its spot as the country’s Second City (if not the title) to Los Angeles. Its murder rate remains stubbornly high, even as those in other big cities have fallen. Companies and fresh college graduates continue to move to Chicago — but there’s also an unmistakable anxiety about the state’s future, even in casual conversations. When I returned to my hometown of Mundelein, in the far Chicago suburbs, last year for Thanksgiving and caught up with high school friends over deep-dish pizza and beer, one friend who’d just bought a house told me that he and his wife weren’t eager to stick around a state whose future seemed bleak.
Even so, Pritzker decided he wanted the job, and with barely a month to go, the governor’s race appears to be his to lose. An NBC News/Marist poll in August found Pritzker leading Rauner 46 percent to 30 percent; a poll conducted by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute late last month had Pritzker up by 22 points. When Rauner won election in 2014, he spent millions of dollars of his own money on the race, but he can’t outspend Pritzker, who’s given nearly $150 million of his fortune to his campaign. (This time around, Rauner has contributed $50 million to his reelection effort.)
The question, it seems, is not whether Pritzker is likely to be Illinois’ next governor, but why he would want the job. Barring a sharp reversal in the polls, he is on track to coast into office. Once he gets there, however, he’ll be confronted with perhaps the most daunting policy challenges facing any governor in the country. Looming over the campaign is not just the question of whether either candidate has a real plan to fix the state, but whether anyone can. At times, the race has taken on an apocalyptic tone. “Defeating Bruce Rauner is critical to the future of our state,” Roberta Lynch, the executive director of AFSCME Council 31, the state’s flagship public employee union, where she’s worked for more than three decades, told me. “I can’t say I’ve ever really felt that way about an Illinois governor’s race.”
Unlike California, Texas or even Minnesota, Illinois isn’t a state with an especially strong identity. Chicagoans, as well as the millions who live in the city’s suburbs, tend to tell people they’re from Chicago, not Illinois. As Pritzker and his running mate, Juliana Stratton, a state representative from Chicago’s South Side whose self-possessed speaking style calls to mind Michelle Obama’s, roared past 8-foot-high cornfields on their navy-and-yellow campaign bus during a swing through downstate Illinois in August, they seemed at times to be reassuring voters not to give up on their home. “I have spent so much time with J.B. traveling this great state — and it is a great state,” Stratton told a roomful of volunteers in Alton, overlooking the Mississippi River, as if they might have doubts.
Tens of thousands of Illinoisans have already left. The state lost more than 33,000 people — more than any other state — last year, more than 26,000 the year before and more than 20,000 the year before that, according to census data. “I’ve got three brothers and sisters,” said Dillon Clark, a 26-year-old Democrat running for a state House seat whom I met during a Pritzker campaign stop in Taylorville. “They all live in Missouri because they get better jobs over there and they pay way less in taxes.” The state prison system is a big employer in Clark’s rural district. He counted more than a dozen prison guards who, frustrated by frozen wages and lagging back pay during the recent budget impasse have left for better jobs in neighboring states. “A lot of people are just unsure what the future holds for the state of Illinois,” he said.
The crux of Illinois’ budget problem is simple: State lawmakers guaranteed Illinois teachers, school administrators, bureaucrats and other state workers generous pension benefits, and then failed year after year to sock away enough money to pay for them. The state constitution, meanwhile, makes it almost impossible for lawmakers to take those benefits away. “You can’t promise what you don’t have money to do,” says James Spiotto, a Chicago consultant who’s an expert on state pension issues. “That’s what we did.”
The state’s paralyzing pension problems have been building for decades. In 1989, Republican Gov. Jim Thompson signed a law, late in his fourth term, promising state workers that their pension checks would grow by 3 percent a year, compounded, no matter what. This guarantee has proved enormously expensive, allowing retired state workers’ pension checks to grow faster than the rate of inflation. In the decades since, Illinois’ governors have made sporadic efforts to shore up the state’s pension funds and found their own ways to shortchange them, sometimes at the same time. Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, for instance, crafted a plan while running for reelection in 1994 to ensure the pension systems would be mostly, but not entirely, funded by 2045. But Edgar’s plan let the state avoid the pain of paying more into the pension funds right away by making the state contribute relatively little to the funds in the short term — while Edgar was still in office — and much more down the road. Decades of failure to save enough to pay state workers’ pensions are now squeezing the state budget. Illinois spent 23 percent of its annual budget on pension contributions in the most recent fiscal year and now owes its pension funds more than $129 billion.
Faced with pension promises they can’t keep, other states have found ways to renege on them, and that’s what Illinois tried to do, too. But unlike most other states, Illinois’ constitution stoically declares that pension benefits, once given, “shall not be diminished or impaired.” In 2013, Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, jammed a bill through the state Legislature designed to slowly repair the state’s finances. Among other provisions, the law scrapped the 3 percent compounded cost-of-living increases for some workers. But the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously struck down the law a year and a half later, citing the state constitution’s guarantee. In an opinion, Justice Lloyd Karmeier showed little sympathy for lawmakers’ efforts to cut pension benefits, calling the pension funds’ enormous shortfalls “entirely foreseeable.” While Illinois may find itself in crisis, Karmeier wrote, “it is a crisis for which the General Assembly itself is largely responsible.”
Rauner, a former private equity executive himself worth hundreds of millions of dollars, was elected in 2014 as a reformer who would scrub Illinois’ government of corruption and restore sanity to its finances. “Illinois has become the worst-run state in America,” he told The New York Times days before his election. “I can really shake it up in a way that a standard politician can’t.” Since then, Rauner has watched almost passively as Illinois’ finances have crumbled even further. He refused to blink during a standoff with Michael Madigan, the longtime state House speaker who’s become his bête noire, that left the state without a budget for two years. Illinois stopped paying many of the doctors, dentists and hospitals that provided care to state workers and Medicaid recipients. State universities saw their budgets slashed. By the time Republican lawmakers struck a deal with Democrats last year to pass a budget over Rauner’s veto, the state had racked up almost $15 billion in unpaid bills and nearly destroyed its credit rating. Illinois was forced to shell out more than $1 billion last year just to cover the interest on the bills it paid late.
“It’s heartbreaking,” says Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. Senate, who has campaigned with Pritzker across downstate Illinois. College towns across the state have suffered because of the state’s fiscal woes, he told me. Cities like Carbondale, home to Southern Illinois University, which might typically have 50 homes for sale, now have 250 on the market, he said, as nervous residents flee. “I used to think it’s going to take us a decade to repair,” Durbin told me. “It may take longer.”
When I asked Pritzker to name the last Illinois governor he admired, he had to reach back two centuries.
Decades of inept governance have eroded Illinoisans’ expectations for their governors. Two of the three governors who preceded Rauner in office have gone to prison on corruption charges. One of them, Rod Blagojevich, is still there after being convicted on charges of, among other things, trying to sell a Senate seat after Obama was elected president. He won’t be eligible for release until 2024. (Pritzker was caught on an FBI wiretap, days after the 2008 election, talking to Blagojevich about the possibility of appointing him as state treasurer, a conversation Rauner has used to batter Pritzker again and again.) When I asked Pritzker to name the last Illinois governor he admired, he had to reach back two centuries. “It’s Governor Edward Coles, who really prevented Illinois, way back in the 1820s, from ever becoming a slave state,” he said. That was a pretty important turn and something that was courageous to do at the time.”
Pritzker isn’t the richest man in Illinois. That title belongs to Ken Griffin, the founder of a Chicago hedge fund and one of the most prominent Republican donors in the country. Griffin spent heavily to help elect Rauner in 2014 and has kicked in more than $20 million for his reelection campaign. But Pritzker is rich enough — he agreed this week to repay a $330,000 tax break he received for removing five toilets from a vacant mansion to lower its assessed value — that his campaign has had to devise ways to make him seem relatable.
While two-thirds of Illinoisans live in Chicago and its suburbs, Pritzker has made it a priority to campaign downstate, which is largely Republican. The strategy behind it is twofold, says Anne Caprara, Pritzker’s campaign manager. There are Democrats and swing voters — as well as Republicans frustrated with Rauner — downstate, clustered in the St. Louis suburbs and the small and mid-sized cities spread across the prairie: Rockford, Peoria, Decatur. But campaigning downstate is also a good way to reassure voters worried about electing another vertiginously wealthy Chicago businessman four years after sending Rauner to Springfield. “We took a philosophy very early in the campaign that we were going to send him everywhere,” Caprara said. “And I said to him when we first sat down, I think if there’s one thing that’s going to defeat the idea that you’re not gonna work hard or that you’re just coming into this as a billionaire and don’t bring something else to the table, it’s going to be having people actually meet you.”
Pritzker doesn’t seem like a billionaire on the campaign trail. He’s a big man, with dark, almost preternaturally thick hair slightly flecked with gray, and his girth somehow makes him seem less like one of the country’s richest men. With his booming voice, he almost could pass for a local union boss, if not for the Apple Watch on his wrist.
Pritzker’s great-grandfather, Nicholas Pritzker, was a Jewish Ukrainian immigrant who arrived in Chicago with his parents as a child in 1881 and later founded the law firm that began to build the Pritzker fortune. Pritzker and his descendants spent nearly a century assembling a far-reaching empire that included, over the years, businesses as diverse as Ticketmaster and Royal Caribbean Cruises. In the 1970s, the Pritzkers struck up a partnership to renovate the old Commodore Hotel in New York with a young real estate investor, Donald Trump. Trump later sued J.B. Pritzker’s uncle and the family patriarch, Jay, for $500 million in damages, accusing the Pritzkers of cheating him by using questionable accounting methods. Jay Pritzker responded by telling The New York Times, “If you want to see what kind of partner Mr. Trump is, read his book,” referring to The Art of the Deal.
After Jay Pritzker’s death in 1999, J.B. Pritzker and his siblings and cousins fought over control of the Pritzkers’ $15 billion business empire in a battle that was resolved only when they agreed to divide it among themselves. The arrangement turned even more acrimonious when J.B.’s 19-year-old cousin, Liesel, sued her cousins for cutting her out of the deal. The feud landed the Pritzkers in the pages of Vanity Fair in an article headlined “Shattered Dynasty” and was settled only when Liesel and her brother, Matthew, dropped their suits in 2005 in exchange for $900 million. The bitterness seems to have healed somewhat as the Pritzker empire has been subdivided among the cousins. Matthew Pritzker gave $250,000 to J.B. Pritzker’s campaign in June; J.B.’s sister, Penny, the former commerce secretary, told me she talks with J.B. several times a week to advise him on his campaign. “Frankly, that’s long behind us,” she said.
Jay Robert “J.B.” Pritzker was born far from in Illinois, in California, where his father, Donald, had moved in 1959 to help run the newest Pritzker business, the fledgling Hyatt hotel chain. Pritzker talks on the campaign trail about his early interest in progressive politics, spurred by his parents. “My mother was very progressive,” he told me. “And so many of the candidates that we were out advocating for were — back then the word ‘progressive’ hadn’t taken hold, so everybody called them liberal Democrats.” David Goodstein, the prominent gay rights activist, was a close family friend. Senator John Tunney, the California Democrat elected in 1970, sometimes slept at their house. Pritzker campaigned for Senator Ted Kennedy when he challenged President Jimmy Carter in the 1980 Democratic primary. After college, he moved to Washington and worked on the Hill for Democratic Senators Terry Sanford of North Carolina and Alan Dixon of Illinois. He met his wife while she was working for Senator Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).
Pritzker had little reason to return to California. His father had died of a heart attack in 1972; his mother, Sue, passed away after struggling with alcoholism a decade later, while J.B. was still in high school. So in 1990, he moved to Illinois, where much of his remaining family lived, for law school and stuck around after graduating from Northwestern. After losing the race for an open House seat on Chicago’s North Side in his early 30s, Pritzker devoted himself to philanthropy, in particular efforts to improve early childhood education, and to building a career in venture capital and private equity with his brother, Tony. He invested early in Facebook and other startups. His work brought him into contact with many of the businessmen who encouraged Rauner to run for governor four years ago. “Virtually everybody who’s been in the Chicago investment community has interacted with both of these guys for years,” Howard Tullman, a longtime Chicago businessman who’s the former chief executive of 1871, the Chicago startup incubator that Pritzker helped found, told me. (He’s also the brother of a Rauner donor, Glen Tullman.) Pritzker’s decision to self-fund his campaign has made their lives easier by letting them avoid choosing sides. “Everybody is stepping very lightly,” Tullman said.
Although Rauner and Pritzker are both part of the elite sliver of Illinoisans who are used to lunching in the wood-paneled dining room of the Chicago Club, their passing familiarity with each other hasn’t led to a gentlemanly campaign. Rauner clearly doesn’t like or even respect Pritzker. “He was one of the guys who sort of loafed it and didn’t really chip into the family, didn’t really help run the family business, where all the wealth was created,” Rauner told me. He doesn’t have anything against the rest of the family, he added. “A couple of them are supertalented and I respect them,” he said. “I mean, they’re very accomplished. He is not.”
I met Rauner one afternoon in Springfield, at a campaign office in what appeared to be an abandoned strip mall. He is 6 feet, 4 inches tall and rail thin, with blue eyes and thinning sandy hair. He wore cowboy boots, light-colored jeans, a Western shirt open at the collar and a blazer, as well as an enormous belt buckle engraved with the words “JACKSONVILLE, IL.” He looked a little like the actor James Cromwell did in the 1990s, when he played the police captain in L.A. Confidential.
Rauner has warned that Illinois faces a bleak future if he loses. In one of his TV ads, a narrator laments the power of the Democratic machine in Springfield. Then the camera shifts to a lone Harley-Davidson speeding down a rural road as a defiant guitar comes in. “In spite of the odds, millions of us believe in the future our kids deserve, and the possibilities of this great place we still call home,” the narrator says. The camera cuts to a close-up of the motorcyclist’s leather vest. A yellow patch on the left breast reads “GOVERNOR.” “Now, we have a choice,” the narrator says. “We can leave our future to the same corrupt career politicians, or we can fight.” The Harley comes to a stop and the rider’s black boot kicks down the kickstand. Then he whips off his sunglasses.
“I choose to fight,” Rauner says.
During his first campaign, Rauner talked about “bringing back Illinois” if he was elected — the same promise Pritzker is now making in his own TV ads. I asked him whether he thought he’d brought the state back in his first term. “Well, we’ve made progress on it,” he replied. “But we have a long way to go.” He clearly envies the Republican governors of neighboring states, who, unencumbered by Democratic majorities in their legislatures, have been able to pass more of their agendas. Three of them — Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Eric Holcomb of Indiana and Eric Greitens of Missouri — even cut an ad for Rauner last year in which they praised Mike Madigan, Illinois’ state House speaker, for “blocking Rauner’s reforms” and helping to lure jobs to their states. (Rauner’s campaign stopped running the ad after Greitens admitted to an affair; Greitens later resigned rather than face impeachment.) Those states have managed to get on what Rauner calls “the virtuous side of the cycle,” when, he says, cutting taxes and regulations leads to stronger economic growth. “Then you can cut taxes even more,” he said. Illinois, he went on, is stuck in the opposite kind of cycle: a “death spiral.”
Rauner often seems to be running for reelection not against Pritzker but against Madigan, who’s the longest-serving state House speaker in the country’s history. Madigan, who represents a heavily Democratic district on Chicago’s South Side, has served as speaker for all but two years since 1983 and is also chairman of the state Democratic Party. He is arguably the most powerful politician in the state. Rauner himself has made this argument, telling reporters last year that he was “not in charge” of the state’s government. He’s attacked Madigan during the campaign in terms that might raise eyebrows even in Washington, calling him “one of the most corrupt, corrosive elected officials in America.”
Without miraculously removing Madigan from power, though, there’s little reason to think Rauner’s second term would be any different from his first, in which Illinois’ intractable budget problems have grown only more dire. From 2014, when Rauner was elected, to 2017, the most recent year for which figures are available, Illinois’ unfunded pension liabilities rose by nearly $25 billion, hitting $129.1 billion, according to state data. When I asked Rauner why the state’s pension funds were in worse shape now than they were when he was elected, he didn’t seem to understand the question. “No, I don’t think that’s true,” he said, promising to get me some numbers. Alex Browning, a Rauner campaign spokesman, later said in a statement that the governor had made “incremental changes” to the pension funds such as reducing management fees “that he plans to expand upon in his second term.”
Rauner is no longer running on bringing back Illinois so much as keeping it from getting worse. “A lot of businesses are holding their breath to see whether I can win or whether Pritzker wins,” he told me. These companies — which he declined to name — have “come to me and they’ve said, ‘Bruce, we’re here because you won. We’re here as long as you or somebody like you who’s fighting to make us more pro-business [is governor]. But if Pritzker’s in, we’re gone. We’re out of here.’ Many of those. I can keep them here by winning.”
“I feel like I’m the guy with my hands up against the dike,” Rauner told me earnestly. “My thumbs and fingers are all in the cracks trying to hold back the tidal wave of taxes and regulations and corruption that will just lead us to a bad future. Our children will not have a good future. That’s what’s at stake.”
When Rauner was first elected, voters in two other blue states elected Republican governors of their own. Four years later, Governors Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan of Maryland are leading their Democratic challengers by double-digit margins in their reelection campaigns, in marked contrast to Rauner. “They’re better politicians than he is,” David Axelrod, the Democratic consultant who helped elect Obama and who now runs the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, told me. “He’s so shackled by his ideology that he hasn’t been able to do anything.” Rauner’s unwillingness to compromise, Axelrod said, couldn’t work in a state in which Democrats held big majorities in the legislature.
So instead, Rauner has bet his reelection on convincing voters that Pritzker will raise their taxes without fixing the state’s fiscal troubles any more successfully than he has. It’s not a hard argument to make. Pritzker is running as an unabashed progressive, with the confidence of a Democrat running in a blue state in what’s shaping up to be a Democratic year. He’s endorsed raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and creating a state health insurance program modeled on the “public option” proposed by Obama nearly a decade ago. And he has called for raising taxes on the rich by replacing Illinois’ flat income tax of 4.95 percent with a progressive one similar to the federal income tax, under which people who make more money pay higher tax rates.
To sell the idea — which would need to be approved by voters because it requires changing the state constitution — Pritzker has promised to cut income taxes for “the vast majority” of Illinoisans, including “the middle class and those struggling to get to the middle class.” But he’s refused to say where the cutoff line falls between the middle class and those beyond it, or how much more wealthy Illinoisans would pay. His reticence has generated endless questions from the state’s political reporters and fear among the well-off voters of Chicago and its wealthy suburbs that their taxes will skyrocket. “They’re scared to death of it, because they don’t know what that means in actual numbers,” says Bill Daley, the White House chief of staff under Obama, and a former hedge fund executive, who’s running to replace Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
During a debate in Chicago last month, Pritzker dodged a question and three follow-ups from the moderator, Carol Marin, on what tax rates he envisioned under his plan, saying only that “we need to ask the wealthiest people, like Bruce Rauner and me, to pay a higher rate” while cutting taxes on the middle class. Rauner smirked next to him, ready with a riposte.
“Carol, Mr. Pritzker is dodging your question because he doesn’t want to tell the truth to the people of Illinois,” Rauner said. “He is proposing a massive new income tax hike on all the people of our state. He doesn’t want to talk about it because the truth is so painful and politically unpopular.”
Rauner was right in at least one respect. Illinois’ pension problems have festered for so long that any steps toward genuinely solving them — raising taxes, cutting state services, defaulting on the state’s debt or some combination of the three — will be, as he put it, “painful and politically unpopular.” While Illinois’ fiscal troubles have been building for decades, they have reached a breaking point in the years since the recession strained state budget. “The state’s depleted reserves, ongoing budget deficit, severely underfunded pension systems, backlog of unpaid bills, and lack of political consensus on how to proceed leave it ill-prepared to withstand additional stress,” Standard & Poor’s, the ratings agency, wrote in a recent report.
Illinois voters seem to sense intuitively that some measure of pain is inevitable. During one stop in August in Bloomington, a college town in the middle of the state, Pritzker strode into his storefront campaign office to cheers from around 70 Democrats who crammed in the long, narrow room, which had old tin ceilings and beaten-up wooden floors. Pritzker tore into Trump, as he had at other campaign stops, and “his silent partner here in the state of Illinois, Bruce Rauner.” But the state’s fiscal troubles were clearly on voters’ minds. As Pritzker worked the crowd after speaking, Michelle Sleevar, 48, an instructional assistant professor of education at Illinois State University with a freshly inked “Nevertheless She Persisted” tattoo on her right forearm, came up to ask a question. Would Pritzker consider taxing Social Security or other retirement benefits as a way to help balance the state’s budget?
Illinois doesn’t tax such benefits, but most other states do. Some budget experts have suggested it as way to help raise money to ease the pension crisis. But standing on the sidewalk afterward as it began to drizzle — an aide opened an umbrella and held it over his head — Pritzker told me he’d ruled out such a tax. He also doesn’t see the state slashing pension benefits to state workers — perhaps unsurprising, given that their flagship labor union has endorsed him. “I think the workers of the state have been put upon enough,” he said. The state will come up with the money, he went on, to pay them what they’d been promised if he’s elected.
Without any detailed numbers, it’s impossible to say whether Pritzker will be able “to finally get Illinois back on track,” as he says in one of his TV ads, or even to make the gargantuan pension contributions Illinois must cough up each year simply to avoid falling further behind. He has proposed ideas for raising revenue in addition to hiking taxes on the rich — legalizing recreational marijuana and sports betting — but he’s also called for spending more on schools and for cutting local property taxes. The state still has to pay off the billions of dollars in unpaid bills left over from the budget stalemate. None of that will be cheap.
When I pressed Pritzker on how he’d manage to make the numbers work, he suggested, in his easygoing way, that he deserved some credit for campaigning on the politically unpopular idea of raising taxes at all. “I’m sure there are consultants out there who would tell somebody not to talk about that,” he said. “But the reality is that people need to know what the things are that you need to do to fix this state, to get it back on track.”
Pritzker is betting, in essence, that Illinoisans are so sick of living in a broken state they’re willing to raise taxes on themselves — or at least on the richest among them. He wouldn’t be the first governor to win such a bet. In 2012, as California confronted its own crippling budget crisis, Democrat Jerry Brown staked his governorship on persuading voters to approve a $6 billion package of tax increases. The ballot measure passed, and California’s fiscal wounds started to heal. Brown easily won reelection two years later, and the state’s credit rating — which was weaker than Illinois’ as recently as 2012 — has rebounded.
So it’s not impossible. But Pritzker’s bet that he can bend Springfield to his will may not be any more successful than the same wager made by Rauner and so many others before him, Axelrod told me. “I think anyone who gets elected governor at this juncture in our history,” he said, “has to view it as a cause rather than a career.”