Gov. Bruce Rauner is continuing his sharp turn to the political right, hiring as chief strategist of his re-election campaign a man with ties a conservative group here but who otherwise is little known in political circles.
In an announcement tonight, Rauner’s campaign committee said the governor has brought in as his new chief strategic adviser Matthew Besler, who now is president of the Illinois Opportunity Project, a political group run by ex-gubernatorial hopeful and conservative radio talk show host Dan Proft.
The statement noted that Besler will fill the job that was supposed to have been done by Mike Zolnierowicz, Rauner’s former campaign chief and first chief of staff. Zolnierowicz walked away from the post last week after Rauner fired his chief of staff and several other relative moderates who had worked for former U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., or for the late Illliois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. Rauner replaced many of them with staffers from the Illinois Policy Institute, a libertarian research and political group based in Chicago.
The Illinois Opportunity Project and other conservative groups had some success in the 2016 legislative elections. But the group probably is best known for its PAC joining with Proft in an unsuccessful $1.3 million effort to save the career of former state Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, who had broken with Rauner’s arch-enemy, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan.
Besler was not available for comment, and a couple of GOP campaign vets I spoke with say they do not know who he is. A statement released by the Illinois Republican Party says GOP officials consider him as “a talented leader who understands the political landscape, the state’s critical issues, and the opportunity facing Illinois Republicans in the 2018 election.”
Besler’s LinkedIn page indicates he attended Northern Illinois University, worked as a legislative liaison for then-Cook County State’s Attorney Jack O’Malley, and then spent 11 years as director of public relations for Experian, an information services company.
At the Illinois Opportunity Project, he worked with Ben Tracy. He is the man who was hired and then immediately fired by Rauner today as his traveling aide or “body man” after reports emerged of racist and homophobic social media posts by him.
In an email, Proft confirmed that Tracy did work for the project under him and Besler as “a junior policy analyst” but the neither was aware of his tweets. We don’t use or condone that kind of language. He was wrong to say the things he said and he’s accepted the consequences.”
Proft said Besler also worked for the House campaign organization.