In announcing Wheaton City Councilwoman Evelyn Sanguinetti as his lieutenant governor pick Tuesday, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner seems to be doubling down on an outsider strategy in his campaign.
It’s a risky move, and one not certain to pay off.
Clearly, she has a fascinating life story. Sanguinetti, 42, served as assistant attorney general under then-Attorney General Jim Ryan before she was elected the Wheaton City Council in in 2011. In making his choice, Rauner pointed to her compelling personal story: The daughter of an Ecuadorian immigrant and a Cuban refugee, she was born to a 15-year-old mother in Miami and pulled herself up by the bootstraps to become a lawyer and politician, despite having multiple sclerosis.
But while candidates in and out of Illinois politics have led inspiring lives, Rauner seems to be banking more on Sanguinetti’s status as a political unknown, which is where his choice could backfire. Sanguinetti herself pointed this out during a press conference announcing the choice. "I'm sure a 4-foot-11 Latina with an Italian last name and three small children is certainly not what the career politicians out in Springfield expected," she told reporters.
To say his new running mate is an untested commodity is to state a bit of the obvious. In a 2011 candidate questionnaire for her candidacy as Wheaton councilwoman, the most pressing issues listed were restoration of a local theater, funding for a history center, plans for a former middle school property, flooding and the redevelopment of a former grocery store.
While the job as lieutenant governor has long been seen as more figurehead than policy wonk, political wisdom has long held that the number two job in state government should be able to step into the top spot at a moment’s notice.
Which is where Rauner’s choice runs smack dab into reality. During the press conference announcing the choice, Rauner himself laid out his vision of what the jobs of governor and lieutenant governor really are, and it was a far cry from the image of nuts and bolts politicians who like to get into the details of making government work:
You know, this is not rocket science. Springfield is not some complex thing where you need an advanced engineering degree to understand. This is common sense.
This is about creative problem solving, this is about tough negotiation. This is the same process we do in business every day. We’ll have allies to help us navigate the subtleties of Springfield. It ain’t that hard.
Many political observers around the state have pointed out that in choosing someone from DuPage County, Rauner could be engaging in a pre-emptive strike against fellow candidate Kirk Dillard, who was hoping to lock down DuPage, a county rich in Republican votes.
But judging from Rauner’s own reasoning, he seems instead to be banking on the idea that in a political era rife with disgust with politicians and political insiders, all it will take is someone with a compelling story and an outsider’s stance to prevail in November.
As they used to say in Chicago, however, politics ain’t beanbag. Voters in Illinois realize that the state faces some crushing problems, such as the worst in the nation pension liability, crumbling infrastructure, faltering education, high taxes and a slew of other challenges.
And that the entrenched political structure in Springfield isn't exactly the kind of a place to learn on the job.