Gov. Bruce Rauner's November election victory landed his party a summer prize Illinois Republicans haven't had in dozen years --- the pride of having Governor's Day at the Illinois State Fair. But Rauner's day of political revelry Wednesday ended with a stinging defeat.
Rauner didn't miss the opportunity to make a grand entrance to his first Governor's Day at the fairgrounds, riding in on his black Harley.
Rauner -- decked in his state fair uniform of Wranglers, black cowboy boots, and a plaid shirt -- took off his helmet, and greeted some fans who'd been waiting for his arrival.
Picture-perfect, save for the hundreds of protesters lining the roadway, booing Rauner as he rode on by. Most are members of the SEIU union and will be affected by cuts the governor is pushing. Namely, to programs that use state money to help low-income parents pay for child care, and that cover home care services for the disabled. The protesters' presence was a visible and audible reminder of the budget standstill that has gripped Illinois government for a month-and-a-half, and counting. Illinois Democrats and the governor are feuding over an agenda he says would make the state more competitive, including by reducing unions' power.
Rauner justified holding the fair, despite the impasse that's left services in a stranglehold.
“This is all about celebrating what's great about Illinois," he said. "People have said, 'well governor you shouldn't have a state fair if you don't have a budget.' The reality is we spent a lot of money well before we had this crisis to get ready for this fair and this fair brings in a lot of money. It would have cost the taxpayers more not to have a fair than to have had it.
And went on to blame Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan for Illinois' troubles.
"He doesn't care about central Illinois, he doesn't care about agriculture. He's about the Chicago machine," Rauner said to reporters. On stage, he raised the rhetoric, saying.
“I love Illinois. This is home and boy, I'm a feisty guy. You mess with my home, Speaker Madigan, you have picked a fight with the wrong guy! You have picked a fight with the wrong guy!”
While the official theme of the event was "Our Home," it may as well have been an anti-Madigan rally.
Over in Iowa, the presidential race has seemingly taken over the state fair, but there was barely a mention of it among Illinois Republicans.
Nor did politicians spend their stage time promoting Republican U.S. Senator Mark Kirk, who'll have to defend his seat next year. Kirk wasn't there to do it himself; his campaign spokesman says the Senator was in Chicago getting briefed on issues related to the Iran treaty.
Pope County Republican Chairman Kelvin Kunath admitted, the stalemate that remains the focus in Illinois has him weary.
"It's getting very frustrating, yes. I wish that they would sit down, be reasonable and acturally be reasonable and not just be so bull-headed."
Kunath says the fault likes with Madigan, not Rauner. Other the party faithful, like Christine Dolgopol, a Republican from Wheeling, also said they're sticking behind their governor and pointed the finger at Madigan.
"It's outrageous that that man has controlled this state for all this years, and driven us into the toilet, except for his buddies and himself and all the rest of all of that," she said.
Yet it wasn't in Madigan's Illinois House where, after the crowd at the fairgrounds had dispersed, Rauner suffered his defeat. That happened in the state Senate.
Rauner had intensely lobbied lawmakers to leave untouched his veto of a bill he's called the "worst" Illinois has seen. The measure would strip the governor of some negotiating power, as he and the AFSCME union struggle to settle a contract covering some 38,000 state employees. Should they reach an impasse, it'd make using an arbitrator mandatory. AFSCME says it's needed to protect workers from Rauner's harsh demands.
Wednesday was the Senate's final chance to override Rauner's veto and keep the measure alive.
Not only did the Senate do it, they did it with help from a Republican, Sen. Sam McCann of Carlinville.
"It's a very simple," McCann said of his vote. "I'm sent here to protect and defend the constitution, I'm sent here to be the voice and the vote of my district. The vast majority of the folks who contacted me in regards to Senate Bill 1229 asked me to cast a yeah vote, and I did so."
It's a rare sign that Rauner's ability to hold Republicans in lockstep with him is not absolute. In a statement, Rauner said "Every Senator who voted to overturn our veto chose special interests over the taxpayers."
A few miles away, fairgoers kept riding the Ferris wheel and eating fried foods on sticks, mostly oblivious to the activity at the statehouse.