SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A humbled Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, one of the most endangered state executives in the country, promised Thursday to be less confrontational and more understanding of his political opponents' views if voters give him a second chance in the November election.
Fighting an uphill battle for re-election in a Democratic-leaning state, the first-term Republican delivered an unorthodox address that was part apology, part State of the State address, and part stump speech.
Gone was the brash talk of the private-equity investor who once suggested a government shutdown might be necessary to reform the state. Rauner acknowledged that he misjudged the difficulty of government change, and that his stubbornness helped enable a painful, two-year budget standoff with majority Democrats in the Legislature.
"In divided government, you can't fix things all at once. You have to be willing to accept incremental improvements. You can't sacrifice progress for the sake of winning an argument," Rauner said.
A multimillionaire who swept into office in 2014 with a "turnaround agenda," Rauner promised to cut taxes and spending, crimp union power, curb business regulation and restore trust in government with term limits. But he walked head-on into a Democratic-controlled General Assembly and Michael Madigan of Chicago, the longest-service state House speaker in the nation's history.
Their locked horns prompted a fiscal stalemate that cost billions of dollars in debt and decimated social services and other programs.
He managed to anger both Democrats and many of members of his own party, and barely eked out a win in the Republican primary for re-election in March over a conservative state legislator. An NBC News/Marist Poll released Aug. 22 had him trailing Democratic governor nominee J.B. Pritzker by 16 percentage points with 13 percent of the registered voters surveyed undecided.
Pritzker, the billionaire heir to the Hyatt hotel chain who has poured tens of millions of his own money into the race, said in a statement that the governor has been a failure.
"For four years, Rauner lurched the state from crisis to crisis, failing to accomplish anything of note on his agenda and wreaking havoc on Illinois' families," Pritzker said.
Rauner acknowledged that the budget mess was "painful" and kept him up nights "worrying about the disruption that many families experienced. All of us elected officials let you down in that struggle."
But he took credit for creating 210,000 new jobs during his term, increasing spending on public schools, and for education funding reform Democrats and the GOP worked out in the Legislature and which Rauner signed.
The governor also praised the bipartisan way a second consecutive state budget was agreed last spring after he was at loggerheads with Democrats during the first two years of his term.
"The disruption, the arguments, the negotiations of the past four years have laid the groundwork for real and necessary change," Rauner said. "We can continue to move, albeit more slowly than I'd proposed, towards the change that Illinois needs."
Associated Press writer Sara Burnett contributed from Chicago.