Rauner stuck with embarrassment
Ken Dunkin, rewarded with a political appointment for sabotaging legislation, thumbs his nose at both accusers and the governor
By Ted Cox
In dealing out some political payback to a renegade Democrat, Gov. Bruce Rauner suddenly finds himself enmeshed in the #MeToo movement.
The main figure in the controversy is Ken Dunkin, the former state representative voted out of his Chicago district in 2016 after bucking Democrats in the General Assembly in their bid to override some critical Rauner vetoes.
Dunkin last week was charged with sexual harassment by a state employee, a woman who said he told her and another woman that he wanted to "take both of you home and see which one will be naughtiest."
Dunkin denies the incident took place, but the unresponsive handling of the harassment complaint cost Tim Mapes his job as chief of staff to House Speaker Michael Madigan.
It's hoped by all that the complaint will now get a full hearing, and some sort of determination will be made. But while that plays out, let's return to what we know and connect the dots on how Dunkin came to get a $70,000 job on the board of Chicago's Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.
Dunkin was considered a loyal Democrat in the General Assembly until he suddenly missed a series of critical override votes in 2015, when Rauner was trying to impose his "turnaround agenda" on lawmakers. Rich Miller wrote at the time how an ailing state Rep. Esther Golar, a Chicago Democrat, was ushered onto the House floor in a wheelchair for the votes — while Dunkin deliberately remained in New York City on a trip.
"Numerous override motions failed by a single vote," according to Miller, "as well as a bill designed to reverse the governor's 90 percent cut to child-care services."
Consider that, when the override was sustained, that helped lead to chaos in state child-care programs that caused misery for working parents across Illinois.
Rauner later boasted in a Wall Street Journal story that he'd pulled strings to get Dunkin to miss the votes.
"Boy, did we work our tails off," he was quoted as saying. "We got one Democrat to stay in New York at the U.S. Open (tennis tournament) during the vote override."
Dunkin claimed he was trying to be bipartisan, and he cheered a 2016 address to the General Assembly by President Barack Obama when the former state senator spoke on the need for compromise. Yet Obama chided Dunkin on the spot, saying, "We'll talk later, Dunkin, you just sit down."
Dunkin was targeted for removal by Democrats in what became a proxy war between Rauner and Madigan. Dunkin got a $1.3 campaign contribution from the Illinois Opportunity Project, co-founded by former Republican governor candidate Dan Proft, who was then widely perceived to be acting as Rauner's bag man.
Madigan backed the capable contender Juliana Stratton, as did Obama himself. Stratton not only beat Dunkin, she went on to be tapped as the potential lieutenant governor as running mate to J.B. Pritzker this year.
Dunkin was for the most part a forgotten politician — until Rauner rewarded him with the appointment to the water-district board last month. When the harassment allegations broke last week, Rauner called on Dunkin to resign, only to have Dunkin respond that he wasn't going anywhere.
Dunkin holds an interim spot on the board that will be filled in the November general election, but for now Rauner's office said the governor was powerless to force Dunkin's resignation or otherwise remove him.
So Rauner appointed a former lawmaker to the water board as a political favor in thanks for sabotaging override legislation in the General Assembly, only to find that renegade has now been charged with sexual harassment in the #MeToo movement — and he's powerless to reverse the appointment.
However Dunkin's harassment case plays out, the entire situation can't get much worse for the embattled governor.