CHICAGO — After months of bashing top Illinois Democrats for their leadership, Republican Governor-elect Bruce Rauner met privately Thursday with House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton in talks described as "positive" and "forward looking."
The trio gathered for roughly two hours at the members-only Chicago Club two months before Rauner — Illinois' first GOP governor in over a decade — is set to take office. The Winnetka businessman had been trying to speak to the legislative leaders since ousting Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn last week, mentioning in his victory speech that he'd called them as one of his first acts as a newly elected leader. But Rauner didn't actually speak to either that night, forcing him to clarify during his first news conference as governor-elect two days later.
The tone of Thursday's meeting was in contrast to the hard-fought gubernatorial contest during which Rauner often criticized Cullerton, Madigan and Quinn. In one Rauner campaign ad, an announcer added up their collective years in office — along with those of imprisoned ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich — and deemed it "100 years of failure." Spokesmen said Thursday's gathering, which included staff members, was "positive" and "pleasant."
"It was very forward looking for how people can work together and get to know each other," said Cullerton spokesman John Patterson.
Madigan said the biggest challenge ahead is Illinois' budget. Lawmakers have to decide what to do when the state's temporary income tax increase rolls back in January, eventually leaving Illinois billions of dollars short in revenue.
"The speaker felt it was a productive meeting," said Madigan spokesman Steve Brown. "He plans to work professionally with the governor-elect."
The closed-door meeting falls ahead of next week's veto session and the January "lame-duck session." While agendas for both are in the works, Rauner has been meeting individually with lawmakers and requesting they avoid major issues until he's governor. He reiterated the request in the meeting with Cullerton and Madigan.
"He expressed his interest in working with them to forge bipartisan solutions to make Illinois the most compassionate and competitive state in the nation," said Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf.
But Quinn, who addressed reporters for the first time since conceding the race, said lawmakers have a job to do.
"You're not sworn in for part of your term. Every day counts," he said at an event marking the second open enrollment season under President Barack Obama's health care law. "Every day of your term you have to be ready to do your job and I would say to all the legislators, 'This is not holiday time. This is workin' time.'"
The Chicago Democrat said his advice to Rauner in working with legislative leaders was to pass the minimum wage.
He made raising the state's $8.25 rate to at least $10 a key campaign issue in seeking a second full term. Two-thirds of those who voted supported a nonbinding ballot measure calling for an increase by January. Rauner changed his stance during the campaign, but now supports raising the wage if done in conjunction with other business reforms.
Quinn disagreed, saying it was clear the public wanted an increase.
"No conditions. The people of Illinois spoke," he said. "Raise the minimum wage. That's the best way to help many, many people escape poverty."
Quinn and Rauner have interacted little since the Nov. 4 contest.
Both attended a Veterans Day event in Chicago this week, but didn't speak. Quinn called Rauner on Wednesday for a brief conversation about the Affordable Care Act. Quinn has vowed to get as many people covered as possible. The deadline to sign up is Feb. 15, more than a month after Quinn is set to leave office.
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