Facing increasing pressure to weigh in on a controversial cartoon from the Illinois Policy Institute, a spokeswoman for Gov. Bruce Rauner offered a lengthy response on the conservative think tank’s illustration Tuesday – but yet again refused to say whether or not the governor has seen it.
Hours later, the governor released another statement saying the initial response "did not accurately reflect my views."
The cartoon depicts a black child begging on the street, holding a sign reading "Need money 4 school" as a white man says, "Sorry kid, I'm broke," showing him an empty pocket as the other appears stuffed with wads of cash marked "TIF $."
Several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle derided the cartoon as “offensive” in an emotional discussion on the House floor on Wednesday, calling on both the IPI to apologize, and Rauner to denounce it.
However, on Friday, his office said he had not seen the cartoon at the center of the debate, adding on Sunday that “He doesn't have time to worry about political cartoons when we don't have an agreement on K12 funding. His priorities are where they should be.”
On Tuesday, Rauner’s spokeswoman Laurel Patrick offered the longest response yet to the controversy, but once again declined to say whether the governor had seen it. Her statement reads as follows:
Charges of racism must be taken very seriously. The tragedy in Charlottesville and its aftermath serve as sobering reminders that even today, some remain who would use violence and hate to divide us. We must never relent in working toward a future built not on what divides us, but what unites us.
The governor would never try to talk anyone out of their reaction to any piece of art, political or nonpolitical, right or left, good or bad. Those reactions deserve respect on their own terms.
The governor has great respect for the black caucus and members of the General Assembly who voiced concerns about the cartoon. The governor’s office has also heard from members of the black community who found truth in the imagery and do not find the cartoon offensive. Here is where things stand: The cartoon was removed days ago. And the governor – as a white male – does not have anything more to add to the discussion.
The fixation on this cartoon and the governor's opinion of it has been disappointing. What the media and political class should be concerned about is ensuring schools open on time and stay open with a fair funding formula. Now is the time to come together to do what’s right for all of Illinois’ children.
Rauner released the second statement late Tuesday night.
Earlier today an email went out from my office that did not accurately reflect my views. I can understand why some people found the cartoon offensive. And I believe we should do more as a society and a nation to bring us together, rather than divide us.
There are many passionate people engaged in public policy debates, and different people react differently.
It is not my place to comment on every cartoon or picture that comes from people outside the governor’s office or to tell people how they should feel.
I urge everyone to put this behind us so we can focus on solving the very real challenges of education fairness and economic opportunity facing our state.
The IPI - the group Rauner used to fill key positions, including his chief of staff Kristina Rasmussen, during his recent staff overhaul - has maintained that the cartoon was meant to be a commentary on TIF, or tax increment financing, districts in Chicago, which have become an issue in the ongoing school funding battle in Springfield.
Nevertheless, the IPI removed the cartoon from its website, refusing to offer an apology and instead choosing to "acknowledge [lawmakers'] critique" but ultimately stand by the image.
State Rep. Christian Mitchell, a Chicago Democrat who was among those who spoke out against the cartoon in the House, took issue with Rauner's latest statement, calling it a "display of cowardice."
"Refusing to comment on the Illinois Policy Institute's offensive cartoon 'as a white male' is a display of cowardice and a stunning abdication of moral leadership by Governor Rauner," Mitchell said in a statement.
"Furthermore, it raises more questions than answers. Is Governor Rauner's identity as a white male more important to him than his job as Governor? Will he no longer comment on issues affecting non-white Illinoisans? Will he no longer stand against reproductive rights for women, since he's a male? These are just a few of the questions now facing Bruce Rauner," his statement ended.