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The political story of 2013: Quinn’s remarkable resurrection

Monday, Dec 23, 2013

* My Sunday Sun-Times column

Without a doubt, the biggest Illinois politics story of the year is how Gov. Pat Quinn went from hopelessly lame duck to sitting pretty.

I mean, who woulda thunk a year ago that Quinn would not be facing a serious primary challenge?

Heck, go back six months to the May 31 end of the spring legislative session, when the Statehouse collectively crashed into a brick wall.

The gay marriage bill wasn’t called for a vote in the House, and Quinn looked foolish by claiming (wrongly) that the votes were there to pass it.

The pension reform bill went nowhere and Quinn looked completely impotent.

Quinn refused to engage in talks on a federal appellate panel’s order to rewrite the state’s public gun carrying laws and ended up vetoing the bill — a true abdication of leadership.

By the end of the spring session, Attorney General Lisa Madigan was about to conclude a six-month fund-raising binge, which sure made it looked like she was gearing up to oppose Quinn in the primary.

Democratic gubernatorial contender Bill Daley visited the Statehouse near the end of session to loudly denounce the governor’s comically inept attempts at leadership.

Quinn was the guy who couldn’t get anything done. And he looked like he was toast to pretty much everybody.

But then, unexpectedly, things started going his way. Lisa Madigan decided not to run after (she claimed) she couldn’t convince her powerful House speaker father to retire.

Then Bill Daley abruptly decided he just wasn’t cut out for the political life and dropped out as well.

Hillary Clinton jokingly referred to Quinn as the “luckiest politician” on the planet. She wasn’t far from wrong.

But Quinn made some of his own luck. He came up with the idea of appointing a rare “conference committee” to deal with the pension issue. The idea was to get the negotiations out of the hands of the legislative leaders, who were basically at each others’ throats back then, and let some respected rank-and-file members handle it.

Speaker Michael Madigan initially hated the idea, but eventually allowed the committee to be appointed. He warned the governor, though, that Quinn would have to find the votes for whatever his new project came up with.

The committee idea worked. Members moved the ball forward in a spirit of compromise while the legislative leaders had time for their own tempers to cool off. One of the committee’s members, Sen. Kwame Raoul, seriously considered running for governor after Lisa Madigan dropped out, but decided against it because, he said, he needed to finish the pension reform work he’d started. Keeping a prominent African-American out of the race was a huge and unexpected side benefit for Quinn.

Eventually, the leaders took the issue back from the committee, came to an agreement and with a bit of help from Quinn (and, despite his earlier warnings, a lot of muscle by Madigan) passed it over the strong objections of three of the four Republican candidates for governor — another Quinn win.

And in the meantime, the House had passed the gay marriage bill, with an assist from Quinn. The governor signed the legislation into law in front of a packed Chicago auditorium, TV cameras everywhere.

The governor appears so silly at times and so inept that it’s always easy to count him out. But he held off Dan Hynes in the 2010 primary and won the general election during the worst Democratic year since Harry Truman’s days. Yes, his poll numbers still aren’t good, but you just can’t ever count this guy out.

* I’ve received some e-mail feedback from Sun-Times readers, including this gem…

Who paid you to write this hogwash??? Political comeback really, you mean when underlying reasons(Madigan) for others to dropout. Do you really think there’s enough staunch dems left to go along with the Crook County and lakefront liberals to elect this phony??? We call him the lying taxing proclamation man!!! He’s lost almost all union support and will cost the state millions in legal fees to fight his attacks on Illinois constitutional backed pensions. Which he did nothing for. Gun rights supporters hate him and as well as the educators. Let see you write about who doesn’t like him.
I hope im wrong when a long time precinct worker told me ” voters have the shortest memories”. Lets play it out!!! I can’t wait to leave this state.

Informed reader


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 8:50 am:

    “You had me at… ‘Crook County’. You had me at ‘Crook County’…”

  2. - wordslinger - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 8:59 am:

    In addition to the pension and gay marriage bills, I think getting the conceal-carry issue off the table is a net positive for Quinn.

    He gets props in some circles for his veto, but it’s now the law. No c-c would have been a red-meat issue for the GOP Downstate.

  3. - CareGiver - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 9:00 am:

    Rich, Pat Quinn has (maybe miraculously) made his own luck. He’s been underestimated always it seems. I credit this to his basic humility and ability to connect personally with voters.

    I met him on two occassions and there was simply no guile. Love him or hate him, he has pressed forward for positions that most voters like, most of the time and he does so without the hubris and venom of so many in power.

  4. - Kerfuffle - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 9:38 am:

    The old adage definitely stands truefor PQ: “I’d rather be lucky than good!”

    INFORMED READER misses the point. While PQ did in fact tick off a number of voting constituencies, politically he achieved more than anyone could have imagined a year ago and his chances at the polls are much improved from where they were just a short time ago. If the unions have a choice between PQ and BR they will end up standing with PQ because the devil you have is better than the one you don’t know. While the gun rights folks may hate him those supporting gun control like (tolerate) him. As he demonstrated in the last election he doesn’t need much more than Cook County to win an election and the Cook County crowd will be more aligned with gun control.

  5. - PhoenixRising - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 9:44 am:

    Hillary nailed it, Quinn is in the side car

  6. - Levi - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 9:46 am:

    I just think he’s an honest guy with a lot of energy. A good name and sweat are still worth something. It’s hard not to like a guy like that, even if you don’t always agree.

  7. - walkinfool - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 9:47 am:

    Entirely fair and accurate column.

    Quinn gambled big on pension reform, making it his highest public priority for two years — and it will pay dividends for him at the polls. The details won’t matter to most voters.

    The biggest single factor on keeping incumbents, in competitive districts, will be public perceptions of the economy. It will probably be higher next November than now, but who knows?

  8. - Soccertease - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 9:47 am:

    I for once agree with Hillary C - Quinn has been lucky. I also don’t think IL governor is a particularly popular position right now-unless you are BR who would consider it another investment. I also predict his pension “win” will be his demise and legacy once the SC gets through with the court cases.

  9. - Grandson of Man - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 9:54 am:

    Because politics is often about making the best out of bad choices, I believe also that Quinn could win the election. At some point he must begin advertising his accomplishments. He reformed pensions twice and passed landmark legislation like SSM and MMJ. This is not a small hill of beans. These are major accomplishments.

    I would imagine that if it’s Quinn vs. Rauner, unions may very well jump in for Quinn, not to support him, but to oppose Rauner. What choice will they have? Quinn did negotiate with AFSCME for the latest contract. Rauner would want to terminate contracts and try to stop the bargaining process in its tracks.

    With Quinn, defined pensions live to see another day. If the state goverment was tilted in favor of the IPI and Rauner types, we would kiss defined pensions goodbye, until a court would find pension reform unconstitutional.

    “I can’t wait to leave this state.”

    When jerks don’t like you, you must be doing something right. Keep up the good work.

  10. - A guy... - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 10:00 am:

    Good column. Spot on. For all of his occasional loopiness, Pat Quinn portrayed himself as the good government advocate he’s built his career on. No one should doubt his sincerity or his stubbornness when he thinks he’s got the right position. You can’t give everyone what they want, but you can inflict a little pain on everyone equally and build consensus. He’s not just a populist, he’s a sincere one. That’s what makes him dangerous to underestimate. Nobody thinks he’s as full of the puffery as much of the field is. Like him or not, what it says on the outside of the can is what’s in it. If the Senate can shift 3 seats the other way and the House can shift 6, every leader will be just about where they want to be, including MJM. He’s got a few cats he can’t manage and their intellectual lightweights. I believe he’d be happy to cut em loose for a more predictable opponent who’s on the other side. That’s where your opponents are supposed to be. Look for the Speaker to do a political biopsy.

  11. - Jim in Indy - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 10:09 am:

    Gov. Quinn’s lack of “hubris and venom” comment caught me. I’ve been in 12-15 Patriot Guard Rides and Governors Quinn, Daniels, and Pence were present at some. Not that it was required but Quinn was the only one who came over to our lines, shook all (60+) hands and said “Thank you.” He also stood discretly to the side without an entourage. His basic decency and unpretentousness is clear in other ways and, in my opinion, valued by the electorate. His opponents ignore that at their peril, probably because the concepts are alien to them.

  12. - Demoralized - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 10:28 am:

    ==I can’t wait to leave this state.==

    I love that refrain from people. And I’ll continue to say: “Go. See ya later. Don’t let the door hit you in the rear on the way out.” But here’ the thing. You can run but you can’t hide. The grass always looks greener somewhere else but anywhere you go is going to have their own set of issues. So all of you “I’m taking my ball and going home” people should do just that. Go.

  13. - Knome Sane - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 10:29 am:

    =“You had me at… ‘Crook County’”=

    I suppose it could have been worse. The state’s founding fathers could have been named Cook County “Elony County” or “Riminal County”.

  14. - Knome Sane - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 10:30 am:

    Meant to write it this way:

    I suppose it could have been worse. The state’s founding fathers could have named Cook County “Elony County” or “Riminal County”.

  15. - Rich Miller - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 10:31 am:

    Demoralized, I suggested to my correspondent that he not let the door hit him in his, um, posterior on the way out. His reply…

    ===Wow, nice finish there!!! Easy to hide behind a keyboard.===

    I suggested he was doing just that with his idiotic first e-mail. Unlike him, I signed my e-mail. He can find me if he wants.

    Needless to say, I haven’t heard back.

  16. - Norseman - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 10:45 am:

    I’d like to argue with Rich’s concluding comment, but I can’t. Whether it is luck or skill (skill at political posturing), you can’t count Quinn out.

  17. - Ghost - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 11:15 am:


    I have to say Goodwife has sucked me in, in part becuase I can see bits and peices of real events/life in Illinois mixed into their scripts.

  18. - Cheswick - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 11:20 am:

    I hear people like Informed Reader all the time, and I’ve come to the conclusion they are just trying to convince themselves of their own drivel. LIke maybe if they say it enough, it might come true.

  19. - Ghost - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 11:31 am:

    what would an uninformed reader look like?

  20. - Michelle Flaherty - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 11:37 am:

    People who can’t wait to live in other states usually haven’t lived in other states. You will usually find out that state government is pretty much state government no matter where you are and if that’s the number reason you’re living somewhere, sheesh, get a life.

  21. - wordslinger - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 11:44 am:

    Hillary made a joke, but that’s all it was. Luck had nothing to do with it.

    The Bill Daley “challenge” was embarrassing to watch. Quinn would have cleaned his clock one-on-one.

    Quinn also wasn’t “lucky” that Lisa didn’t challenge him. She would have done so if she thought it was a slam-dunk. It would not have been, and she was scared to lose.

    It’s dangerous to underestimate Quinn’s ability to play hardball politics. In 2010, his biggest supporters against Hynes were Ed Burke and Emil Jones — hardly goo-goos.

    Since then, Quinn has made great use of incumbency to solidify support among the county, township and ward barons. He would have been very tough to beat in a primary — that’s why he got a pass (Tio, aside).

  22. - Grandson of Man - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 11:56 am:

    “People who can’t wait to live in other states.”

    Many of these people aren’t going anywhere. They’re just acting like babies. The funniest one to me is when they said they’re leaving Illinois because of the income tax increase. Um, other states have higher income taxes than Illinois. It’s like going to Canada to escape socialism in the U.S.

  23. - wordslinger - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 11:59 am:

    –It’s like going to Canada to escape socialism in the U.S.–

    That was my favorite, too: those who were going to move to Canada if Obamacare was upheld by the Supremes, lol.

  24. - BoBo - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 12:16 pm:

    Call it luck or destiny, but Brady beating Dillard by 200 votes is pretty strange. Dillard would have romped in the general that year

  25. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 12:20 pm:

    Dillard lost, Brady lost. Quinn won.

    Wishing, wanting, “if only”-ing, is ignoring what happened, why it happened, and why Pat Quinn ain’t lucky, and should not be underestimated.


    Just like pick-up basketball; Winner’s Court, till you beat ‘em.

  26. - wordslinger - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 12:20 pm:

    – Dillard would have romped in the general that year–

    The Legend continues.

  27. - Rich Miller - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 12:22 pm:

    ===Dillard would have romped in the general that year ===

    I’m not so sure. Brady lost big in the northern suburbs mainly because of his position on abortion. Dillard has an identical voting record on that issue.

  28. - Political Neophyte - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 1:23 pm:

    I can’t wait for the Illinois GOP to nominate Bruce “look-at-my-cheap-watch-I’m-one-of-you!” Rauner to be Governor… so the Dems can annihilate him. Cheers!

  29. - olddog - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 2:17 pm:

    @ Political Neophyte

    Be careful what you wish for. Outside money and saturation advertising have bought just as many elections in “progressive” states like North Carolina and Wisconsin as anywhere else.

  30. - DuPage - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 2:32 pm:

    I think Quinn wanted something, ANYTHING to pass on pension reform. He can then pretend the budget crises is fixed and get re-elected. After the election, if the pension reform is thrown out, he has cover to keep the tax at the present level. “I was going to reduce taxes but because of the ISC my hands are tied”, might be what Quinn will say. In fact, Quinn is probably hoping for that because it will give him political cover to make the higher income tax rate permanent. Just think of the firestorm if the pension cuts are upheld AND the state still would need the higher tax rate! I think Daley, and Lisa Madigan decided that they didn’t want to be governor in the middle of all that.

  31. - Upon Further Review - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 2:38 pm:

    Quinn could win, but this comes from a state that elected Len Small as its Governor, not once, but twice. Quinn has not impressed as a good politician, but he is determined and he has enjoyed a fool’s luck at times.

    As for people being unhappy in Illinois on account of the political and tax environment, a question for those of you telling others not to let the door hit them in their rears on the way out, I would like to ask if you are also happy with Illinois being diminished in the US House and the Electoral College? In my lifetime, Illinois has lost ten seats in Congress. That is not progress or prosperity in my book.

  32. - Upon Further Review - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 2:48 pm:

    @Rich Miller:

    You may be right about Dillard versus Quinn in 2010, but it would have been a nail biter or a photo finish. Unlike Brady, who was almost completely absent in Cook County and the collar counties, Dillard would have campaigned in these precincts. Brady let the Personal PAC attacks go unanswered. I still am bothered by Terry Cosgrove being approved for a political appointment too.

  33. - RNUG - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 3:39 pm:

    Jim in Indy - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 10:09 am:

    Quinn’s support of Veteran’s has been rock solid and is one of is best traits.

  34. - RNUG - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 3:43 pm:

    wordslinger - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 11:59 am:

    I have a good friend who is a GP in Canada. We’ve had lots of discussions about “socialized medicine”. The single payer Canadian system has it’s faults … but it does a much better job of simplifying things and providing basic coverage compared to the Obamacare train wreck I’m watching here in the US. Still wouldn’t want to move to Canada, but they do get implement some things better than we do.

  35. - wordslinger - Monday, Dec 23, 13 @ 4:38 pm:

    RNUG, we’ve been yanking our cranks on universal health insurance for a century.

    TR was for it. So was Harry Truman. Churchill implemented it as Home Secretary in the UK. Thatcher defended it and made it better.

    All of our wealthy allies have it — Canada, Israel, Germany, UK, France, Norway, etc. So does every other half-way civilized country in the world.

    We’re the only ones who believe the insurance companies deserve 30% off the top from the privately insured, make their premiums pick up the tab for the uninsured and and their taxes pick up the tab for those now on VA, Medicare and Medicaid.

    It’s FUBAR beyond belief. And it’s crazy expensive.

    Obamacare sucks, not because of a website, but because it’s a half-assed Heritage Foundation, Romneycare solution to protect the profits of private insurance.

    The private insurers are like Noah Cross in “Chinatown” — he wanted to control access to water, they want to control access to health care.

    Think about health care the same way TR and Truman did — a necessary utility for the folks like water, heat and electricity — and you realize how empty the debate has been.

    Obama’s biggest mistake when he took office was letting Emanuel run the show on health care. That’s when I knew Emanuel was an empty vessel, a cheap hustler in the tank for big money.

    Ending the wars and a bigger stimulus should have been the only priorities for Obama in the first term. The end.

    We’ll have single-payer sooner rather than later. Like the rest of the world. It’s the only thing that makes sense not only from a moral point of view, but a fiscal point of view.

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