The libertarian-leaning Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) has tried reaching out more to Democratic legislators since Governor Bruce Rauner lost his reelection bid. Rauner at one point was so close to the group that he fired several of his longtime staffers and replaced some of them with IPI staff, which did not work out well, to say the least.
The organization's political wing has contributed money to more than a few legislative Democrats' campaign funds in recent months and they were able to introduce some bipartisan legislation last year and this year — although the spring session is now mostly a bust because, as I write this, the General Assembly has no set plans to return amid the pandemic.
An IPI staffer even posed for a picture with Governor JB Pritzker and posted it on Twitter last year. "Looking forward to working with his administration," the caption read. It's been on a serious mission to change its image.
If you go to its website, you'll see the IPI has devoted an entire section to empathetic interviews with small-business owners about how they're faring during the pandemic. They're well-written, including one featuring the owner of a Chicago restaurant.
"In general, everyone is standing, waiting in the wings until we're allowed to open back up regularly, which obviously no one knows when that's going to be yet," the owner was quoted as saying.
The organization claimed this week in a private Facebook group it runs that it wants the state to begin planning to reopen the economy and "give people visibility on what that might look like."
But then it tipped its hand in the comment section.
"As an owner of 2 small businesses, one essential (radon mitigation), one a restaurant... nothing I can say will express the absolute disdain I have for this man or his policies," a commenter complained about Governor Pritzker.
A Policy Institute staffer replied to her comment asking if she would be open to speaking to a member of the IPI team. "We've been doing our best to give our community a voice on our site and pressure JB to reopen the state's economy."
Another commenter predicted that Pritzker "and his boss lori lightfoot will kill Illinois." An IPI staffer replied with the same request to speak with her about her story. "We've been featuring small business owners on our site to try to pressure the governor to reopen the state's economy."
The IPI's privately admitted agenda did not go over well with the governor's press secretary, as you might imagine. She let it fly.
"COVID-19 has left a trail of devastation across the globe — there is no country, no city, no community that is immune," wrote Jordan Abudayyeh. "Every day, we grieve with the families who have lost loved ones in this battle. And we yearn for the time when life can return to normal," she continued.
"We usually ignore the Illinois Policy Institute's institutionalized and reflexive partisanship, but in this time of crisis, we cannot afford to let this dangerous ideology go unanswered. We all want the economy to reopen — no one more than the Governor. But to suggest that should happen before the science says it is safe is not only foolish, it's dangerous.
"In Illinois, more than 500 people have succumbed to the virus and more than 16,000 people have been sickened. Those numbers climb every single day and because of that fact, an overwhelming majority of Illinoisans are working together to flatten the curve. The IPI has lobbied for some atrocious policies in the past, but this time their efforts could mean the difference between life and death for many Illinoisans. They need to stop lying to people about what's at stake in this crisis and own up to the public responsibility we all have to be committed to a truthful and honest conversation about our collective public health."
A spokesperson for the IPI said they want the governor to establish "a process and timeline to safely and effectively open the economy, so we are not only protecting lives but also safeguarding livelihoods."
But a timeline simply isn't possible right now because literally nobody can say with certainty when this will all end.
The spokesperson went on to say that the governor's refusal to discuss this is causing uncertainty, which is "making residents wary."
Wary of what, he didn't say.
"We will continue to tell their story," he said. And continuing the pressure, no doubt.
I'm thinking there will be no more photo-ops with the governor.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.