Governor Bruce Rauner was elected in Illinois in 2014, replacing the interim governor Pat Quinn who took over after the indictment of Rod Blagojevich. While one of the biggest criticisms of his administration has been the state’s failure to pass a budget for over a year, what many critics fail to further recognize is Rauner’s questionable track record concerning minority inclusion.

To be sure, Governor Rauner has made an effort in the past year to promote minority inclusion. In January of 2015, he signed an executive order that attempts to promote diversity in the workplace by calling for reports on the number of minorities in contractor’s training programs. Then, in January of 2016, Rauner announced the creation of a program to promote minority entrepreneurship. Additionally, in the past few months he ordered a study to be completed by the Illinois Department on Human Rights concerning diversity and inclusion in Illinois. All of these actions show that Rauner hasn’t entirely forgotten minority communities in Illinois. Unfortunately, what speaks louder than his action has been his overwhelming inaction in protecting Illinois’ minority communities.

His first blunders came immediately when he entered office in the form of his hiring practices. According to State Senator Iris Martinez, 19 out of 29 Latinos in the Governor’s staff have been let go, and only a handful have been replaced by other Latinos despite the fact that under Quinn only 4% of government workers were Latino. Additionally, four Latino cabinet members were let go. This is very concerning because the Governor is publicly promoting inclusion in the workplace without practicing it himself. In addition to removing the Latino voice from his cabinet, he scrapped the Muslim Advisory Council that was created by Quinn to speak for Illinois’ Muslim community. According to their website, the group has not met since January of 2015, meaning that the Muslim voice has been largely absent from state government for the past year and a half. The Illinois legislature recently overrode Rauner’s decision by passing a bill to bring the Muslim Advisory Council back, but the fact that he got rid of it in the first place speaks to his general lack of concern for many of Illinois’ minority communities.

Rauner-Minorities-Inline01The issue that has caused the biggest backlash against Rauner in the past year has been the lack of a state budget under his administration. While this is a problem that affects many diverse aspects of life in the state of Illinois, it has had an especially profound effect on minority communities, an effect that the Governor has done little to nothing to mitigate. No budget means no funding for crucial services such as support of vulnerable youth in minority communities and employee training for workers from low-income communities. Public universities have also been severely affected by the lack of funding, which may cause them to raise tuition by up to 55%, effectively excluding many low-income minority communities that rely on these schools to provide low-cost education and the resulting rise in opportunities. Even services such as providing safe cribs to low-income families in order to prevent sudden infant death syndrome are at risk. However, by far the most high profile lapse in service that disproportionately affects minority communities is the Chicago Public School System.

Since the legislature failed to pass any sort of budget for this fiscal year before the session ended, the Chicago public schools may not open in the fall, and even if they do, services will be significantly limited. While this will severely impact children throughout the city, schools in minority communities that rely almost entirely on state funding and lack significant private donors will be affected much worse. Additionally, if school is cancelled altogether, low-income families who rely on being able to have children in school and go to work during the day will either have to pay for the crippling expense of childcare or leave their jobs. To be sure, many higher income families use this arrangement as well, but they are far more likely to have some kind of savings or other alternative income, and they do not also have to deal with cuts in service in other areas of their communities.

Photo by Najla Iqbal
Photo by Najla Iqbal

Governor Rauner has not responded well to these concerns, instead choosing to attack schools in minority communities by calling them “crumbling prisons,”even though they are just doing their best with the money that they have, and they do not lack in students, teachers, and parents who truly care about them. Governor Rauner, on the other hand, continues to act like these schools do not matter by proving unable to provide them with funding. Overall, the CPS crisis implies that Rauner does not place great priority on the wellbeing of Illinois’ minority communities, because he is willing to let them sink even further into poverty by not providing them with the state-funded services they rely on.

Governor Rauner may be attempting to provide equal services for all communities in his relatively new role as state governor, but it is clear that he has a lot of work to do before his administration can truly be called effective and inclusive. The ongoing project of the IDHR Diversity study will hopefully be a good starting point for determining some best practices that the Governor can put in place in order to better reach out to minority communities. However, the first priority should clearly be to find some sort of solution for the budget crisis, particularly to prevent CPS from being forced to shut its doors. Working with the legislature to pass a budget would be the first step in providing proof that Illinois made the right decision for its new governor, and that he is capable of pulling the state out of the crisis that it finds itself in. Until then, minority communities will be forced to watch as services continue to be cut, with no end to their troubles in sight.

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