A provocative political cartoon from the Illinois Policy Institute, the conservative think tank Gov. Bruce Rauner used to fill key positions during his recent staff overhaul, has sparked headlines and backlash as the governor has continually refused to say not only whether he believes it is racist - but if he has even seen it.
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 $."
The IPI 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.
Rauner’s amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1, the measure to move Illinois to an “evidence-based model” of education funding on which all state aid to schools hinges, included changes to the way property values are factored into the funding formula – accounting for growth in TIF districts (that schools can’t tax) which would subsequently reduce the amount of state aid Chicago receives.
Regardless of their side on the school funding debate, several state lawmakers were among those calling the cartoon offensive in a heated and emotional discussion on the House floor last week, with members of both parties standing to denounce it and call on the IPI to apologize.
The cartoon was removed from the IPI's website, though the group refused to offer an apology, instead choosing to “acknowledge their critique” but ultimately stand by the image.
“We have taken down the cartoon, not because we think it is racist, but because it is a distraction from another truth – the failure of political leaders to address the root cause of our struggling education system,” IPI CEO John Tillman said in a statement, adding, “what we find sad, and frankly offensive, is that in a world where so much real, harmful racism exists, political leaders are using the false charge of racism in an attempt to smear policy opponents and distract the people of Illinois from politicians’ failures.”
But several elected officials maintained that the cartoon is “shameful,” particularly amid heightened racial tensions in the wake of deadly violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and called on Rauner to speak out against the message from the group with which he has been closely aligned.
“At the same time the President of the United States is throwing his arms around neo-Nazis and Klansmen, Governor Rauner’s brain trust at the Illinois Policy Institute weighed in on the SB1 debate by publishing an unambiguously racist cartoon,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Public Schools' CEO Forrest Claypool and Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said in a joint statement.
“We’d call upon the Governor to use his influence as IPI’s largest funder and alumni-employer to demand this tasteless cartoon be taken down, but what’s the point? Instead, it provides a useful window into his outlook and determination to continue punishing poor and minority children instead of grasping the opportunity in front of him to right decades of unfair and unequal funding for school districts across Illinois. What a disgrace,” their statement ended.
But as pressure mounts on Rauner to weigh in, he has refused to join the conversation, with his office saying Friday that he had not seen the cartoon at the center of the debate.
“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,” Rauner’s spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said Sunday, again declining to say if the governor had seen it.