Illinois Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner, a Republican, will soon face the first real test of his reform agenda. Next month, he’ll name a successor to fill the term of the late Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.
Topinka, who for a long time was the sole Republican constitutional officer in the state, died suddenly of a stroke after being reelected in November.
Rauner, a businessman, defeated Quinn in the governor’s race last month. Rauner ran on a broad platform of government reform. Illinois faces an ongoing fiscal crisis, with its debt nearing junk bond status. The state has recently hiked income taxes and its unemployment rate remains higher than the national average. It is, by many measures, the worst performing state in the country.
The Illinois Comptroller is a constitutional officer in charge of the state’s checkbook. It has for years been a sleepy office that keeps track of the state’s accounts and processes the state’s bills. That said, virtually every dollar the state spends flows through the office and it has the ability to track the specific individuals and entities receiving state funds.
The ability to appoint an individual to any constitutional office for a full four-year term is an unprecedented opportunity for the Governor-elect. To hand-pick the person responsible for overseeing every dollar spent by the state is an amazing gift if one is set on a thorough reform of state government. A comptroller focused on simply exposing waste and fraud of the state’s dollars would be an enormous assist in getting control of the state budget.
Of course, the political establishment in Illinois is already rushing to ensure the Comptroller’s office remains a sleepy backwater of state government. Liberal columnist Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune argues that former Republican House Leader Tom Cross should be appointed to the job. Cross lost the race for state Treasurer last month in an otherwise banner year for Republicans. He is a “go along to get along” Republican that is the sad legacy of the party in the Land of Lincoln. With backing from a liberal like Zorn, it seems certain that Cross would continue the tradition of signing the state’s checks and not asking questions.
Appointing Cross or another run of the mill Republican politician would send a strong signal that Rauner will focus only on reform at the margins. It would represent the theatre of reform, rather than the thorough cleansing the state desperately needs.
A bolder choice for Rauner would be someone such as self-made businessman Adam Andrzejewski. He almost won the GOP primary for Governor in 2010, despite a tongue-twisting name and being outspent by orders of magnitude. His platform of “auditing” the state budget captured the grass roots and toppled several high-profile Republicans. He ran for Governor, but his platform is perfectly suited for the Comptroller position. Imagine an audit of the state checkbook?
Since his loss in the primary, Andrzejewski has founded American Transparency, which is carrying out a groundbreaking “Open the Books” project. It’s building one of the largest private databases of US government spending. It allows citizens to track 1.5 billion government spending records. It catalogs almost all federal and state spending in the US, giving citizens the power to see spending down to the zip code.
“Open The Books is the result of my 2010 gubernatorial campaign promise to post ‘Every Dime, Online, In Real Time,'” Andrzejewski tells Breitbart News. “We believe that aggressive financial transparency of public spending coupled with robust oversight is the fasted way to limit the over-reach of government power and squeeze-out corrupt practices.”
“Our efforts have been influenced by the ground breaking work of U.S. Senator Tom Coburn,” Andrzejewski adds. “Mr. Coburn pioneered the effort at the federal level to hold the political class accountable for tax and spend decisions, and we intend to carry on his legacy.”
This effort provides a strong policy argument for Andrzejewski’s selection. There is an equally powerful political argument. A young conservative with strong ties to the grass roots, Andrzejewski helps Rauner and the Republicans tap into the kind of energy the party sorely lacks. A Polish-American, Andrzejewski also provides new inroads into a significant portion of the Democrat voting base. Eastern Europeans make up an enormous number of voters in Illinois and Lech Walesa’s endorsement of Andrzejewski in 2010 sent shock-waves through the state’s politics.
Rauner is expected to announce a decision in the coming weeks. Memorial services for Topinka are this week and most elected officials are remaining silent on the matter out of respect for her. Whatever happens, voters in Illinois will soon get an early preview of how seriously Rauner plans to push reform in Springfield.