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Question of the day

Monday, Jan 30, 2012 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Last week, House Speaker Michael Madigan talked about the governors he’s worked with over the years

Gov. James Thompson (1977-1991):

“Governor Thompson is a very intelligent person, quick learner, very flexible. Understood that he was involved in government, where everybody is entitled to their due and that you need to fashion compromise if you wish to move forward.”


Gov. Jim Edgar (1991-1999):

Edgar “was a little more strident than Governor Thompson. Jim Edgar was and is a student of government. Thompson had another career. He was a lawyer. He was a U.S. prosecutor in Chicago. Edgar was involved in government, I think, all his life, and he made himself a student of government. And so he’d be far more interested in heavy discussion about government policy, government operations. He’d be far more willing to engage in protracted negotiations in order to get what he wanted, especially on the budget, which is exactly what he did in 1991.”


Gov. George Ryan (1999-2003):

“Very flexible, very interested in just identifying problems and fashioning solutions. One of Governor Ryan’s favorite approaches … would be to convene leaders. He and I would be in the room with the other leaders and George would just say, `Well, look. We’ve got problem A. What do we have to do to solve this problem?’

“That’s what he was like. And of course in these situations, (leaders) might want to evade the question, they might have their strategic plan that they’re working on and they don’t want to answer today. And George would just pursue, persist: `I want an answer.’”

* The Question: Of the three governors Madigan mentioned above, who in your opinion was the best? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please. Thanks.


  1. - OneMan - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 11:36 am:

    Jim Thompson, it was nice having the same guy as governor during my entire childhood.

  2. - Hillside - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 11:42 am:

    “`Well, look. We’ve got problem A. What do we have to do to solve this problem?’”

    Spend borrowed money on it?

    Held my nose and voted for Thompson, he did the least of this….

  3. - Today? - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 11:42 am:

    How can you look at the state of IL’s budget/pensions/unpaid bills and think that any of these men (or the speaker) were effective while in office?

  4. - Bill - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 11:45 am:

    I think Thompson was the least deplorable.

  5. - Gov Watch - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 11:48 am:

    Wasn’t it Big Jim who created the Big Pension Deficit by deferring payments? Let’s name a building after him.

  6. - Irish - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 11:51 am:

    Jim Thompson - I know he was blamed for a lot of the debt that Gov. Edgar faced when he took office. However he always seemed positive. I met him a couple of times and enjoyed an evening with my wife and three kids on the Governor’s reviewing stand for an Alabama concert at the state fair. Gov. Thompson came over and sat with my kids and talked to them like he was one of the family. He autographed a couple “A fan of Governor Thompson” fans the kids had gotten. They thought they were pretty special. He was very down to earth with no pretenses whatsoever. That night he wore a pair of blue jeans and a plaid shirt and had a long neck beer in his hand. But not when he sat down to talk to the kids. A class act.I was impressed.

    Governor Edgar seemed to be a little strident. I can remember him cutting DCFS and some Human Services pretty deeply, and after the cuts there were a couple cases of pretty severe child neglect in the Chicago area. I also remember being told that he went bike riding at what was then site M and didn’t like riding on gravel. Shortly after that several of us lost road projects that had been planned for a while. They went to Site M to pave the roads. Site M was later named Jim Edgar/Panther Creek.

  7. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 11:56 am:

    I voted Edgar …

    Thompson’s fingerprints were all over the Blago fiasco from Day 1 to Transition … Thompson wears part of a huge jacket that IS Blago …The Thompson “style” encompasses the Thompson “choices” so Big Jim’s style is a non-starter for me…especially now.

    Everythng I loved about George …is what turned out to be all that was bad about George. George should be released, now, but George got what George deserved in a conviction. Not a sad day for me when “Scotty” went away, and George and Scotty were tight, and Geroge “knew” how Scotty operated, and Edgar warned George about “Scotty” (so the story goes …)

    On George’s style, and to the question, I love George’s style, but it also led to too many shady “relationships”. You don’t want to see sausage and laws made, but here is a time where the laws were as rank as bad sausage.

    Edgar by defalt, but there are many in the GOP ranks that miss him. Compared to Blago and Quinn, I will have to see I miss Edgar too.

  8. - jake - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 11:57 am:

    They all looked good compared with the one who followed (Blagojevich). But they all contributed to the pension shortfall, as did the Speaker. There was a bipartisan consensus to kick the pension plan down the road. Even the State Supreme Court played a role. There was a law suit that would have forced the state to fully fund the pensions, but the Court ruled that the Constitutional requirement to the pension system was fulfilled as long as the State did not fail to pay any actual pensions. Failure to put in the amount necessary to pay pensions in the future did not violate the Constitution, they ruled. Had they ruled the other way, we would be in much better shape. Probably all of us who did not beat on the system harder also have a share of the blame. Any screw-up this large must have a lot of participants.

  9. - Chicago Cynic - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 12:06 pm:

    A poll like that reminds me of what lousy choices we have had over the years. Aside from him being a crook, I had to vote for George. I remember what a breath of fresh air he was for legislators to deal with and what a huge change he was from Edgar. He had a lot of faults, but the man knew how to govern.

  10. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 12:07 pm:

    Thompson. Not only because he’s a gentleman who genuinely hugged his way across the State for so long (as Irish said: he’s positive, friendly, and kind), but because of his deep commitment and dedication to both our State and Country (don’t forget ALL of his years of service). He’s also a great Administrator who seemed to believe that some consistency throughout Administrations is a good thing and therefore you can’t just cut and ignore those from previous Administrations based on “politics”. Contribution based on merit is something that should be more common in government and it takes a confident person to embrace that.

  11. - GMatts - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 12:09 pm:

    Edgar was the best in that he was MOST interested in good government vs. side business that would pay off later. Had a tough economy/budget but weathered it well due to his fiscal rectitude. An introvert that did well in politics - wish he would have ran again, but understand why he didn’t.

  12. - Stones - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 12:16 pm:

    I’ll say Thompson only because he worked the floor to save the White Sox for Chicago.

  13. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 12:20 pm:

    =he was MOST interested in good government vs. side business that would pay off later.=

    I’m not going to get into it here, but maybe that’s why Thompson was SO confident. There’s nothing wrong with leaving office and either teaching OR showing that once you’ve left office, you can still move back into–and actually be successful in–the private sector for more than just being a “figurehead”.

  14. - Louis Howe - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 12:28 pm:

    George Ryan was the best, Edgar the worst. Ryan was a practical politician and knew how to get things done. Edgar enjoyed a very fortunate political career which started out when Gov. Thompson appointed him Sec. of State. I think Gov. Thompson would agree that was not one of his best decisions.

  15. - Give Me A Break - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 12:29 pm:

    I would say Edgar simply because of the mess he found and tried to clean up. However, what strikes me is I don’t think any of three would be able to get much done in today’s climate in the GA.

    It seemed to end with George, but at one time there was a sense that you may not be able to get all you want, but you could get some of what you want even when it means working with your opponents.

    Today it seems every issue is a go to the mat, knock down drag out, with few people willing to understand the art of compromise. Today’s climate would test even Big Jim’s ability to work an issue.

  16. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 12:31 pm:

    You didn’t give us a “none of the above choice.”

  17. - Wensicia - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 12:37 pm:

    There isn’t a best here. The least worst would be Thompson.

  18. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 12:38 pm:

    I have to disagree with GMB regarding Thompson’s abilities in today’s world. He STILL has a very strong presence that says “I’m in the room; let’s get to work to meet our objectives”–and that’s what true leaders possess.

  19. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 12:40 pm:

    And then, of course, there’s Anon 12:31 who can’t even stay on topic.

  20. - Irish - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 12:50 pm:

    I find it interesting that MJM seems to feel that all three had abilities to work towards a compromise. He recognizes that is an important asset if one is going to make progress. Yet he doesn’t seem to show that quality himself. I know that Blago was not someone you could compromise with on most occasions. But as the senior leader he could reach out to governor Quinn to have a sit down with all the other leaders and he could be the real leader in solving the states problems.

    Is he so entrenched in his position that he feels it is the Governor’s place and will not take the initiative in spite of the fact that he could actually solve some problems by being the leader?

    Or does he know that some of the ways the problems have to be solved would be unpopular and he wants someone else to take it on the chin. So he is preserving himself at the expense of the State.

    All three of the above named Governors at least made progress of some sort and stood by their convictions. I don’t recall any of them sittng idly by watching rather than being totally involved. It is sad to remember all three administrations and then see what we have today.

    Unsolicited advice to the Speaker. You could be like all three of these guys and be a problem solver if you want to be. Or you could continue to play the puppetmaster and stay in the shadows protecting your fiefdom.

  21. - Ahoy - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 1:06 pm:

    Edgar was the best at the budget. He fixed Thompson’s mess and allowed Ryan to spend like he was in Congress. I wish Edgar would come back.

  22. - Six Degrees of Separation - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 1:08 pm:

    Thompson. His successes were largely a product of the times, but he built good relationships with both sides of the aisle and things got done. And I did 3 events with him - his advance man Jim Skilbeck was a hoot.

  23. - PPHS - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 1:32 pm:

    I felt like Edgar was smoke and mirrors. Once you knew him personally, …. oh, well.

    That is part of my problem, I know these guys. I voted Ryan.

  24. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 1:41 pm:

    Not mentioned by Madigan re: Jim Thompson.

    It was Thompson who gave us the Rutan decision.

    He actually tried to implement an executive order requiring all applicants for state jobs be recommended by their GOP county chairman.

    Ryan’s corruption as Secretary of State kind of pales by comparison.

    That’s not to say that Edgar was squeaky clean. BUT he was a policy wonk. And when he realized he made a mistake in opposing Netch’s tax hike plan, he tried to fix it, much to his credit.

    BTW, Illinois’ greatest governor is buried not in Chicago or Springfield, but Jacksonville.

  25. - mokenavince - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 1:59 pm:

    I like Ryan’s Illinois 1st and I liked Thompson
    keeping the White Sox on Chicago.

  26. - Downstate commissioner - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 2:01 pm:

    Voted for Edgar mainly because he seemed to be the best with money. (Dr. NO). Still wonder if Madigan would have foted for him in the secrecy of the ballot box if he had came out of retiremsnt to run against Blago
    Liked Thompson-very down-to-earth and moved among the citizens sometiimes anymoously-Saw him at McDonald’s in Lincoln-just him and one aide, surrounded by people who didn’t even notice him. Ryan will go down as the old-style governor who got the most done for the state, but simply didn’t understand that the corruption rules had changed.
    Politices aside, they were more effective than the last two, although agree with “Give Me A Break” that they might have had more problems in today’s atmosphere, but then again, believe that most of that is Blago’s fault.

  27. - Downstate commissioner - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 2:02 pm:

    Oops! sorry for spelling and geammatical errors-in a hurry.

  28. - Dirty Red - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 2:30 pm:

    Edgar had to be seriously talked out of coming back to government during the Blagojevich years.

  29. - Fair Share - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 2:30 pm:

    Edgar - Give me a Break. It was Edgar and Madigan who conceived of and executed the derailment of the pension funding train. They charted the now “infamous” course of underfunding the annual pension contributions by coming up with an arbitrary funding formula that bore no relationship to actuarial needs.

  30. - Sunshine - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 2:34 pm:

    I liked George. He was an old time politician but he did know how to get things done. He worked both sides well.

    As to Edgar…anyone who doesn’t like beer at the state fair is a bit over the edge.

  31. - steve schnorf - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 3:32 pm:

    FairShare, it’s obvious you either have no idea what you’re talking about or…

  32. - Voter USA - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 4:33 pm:

    ….. wish I can pick non of the above, but I would say Thompson, Least would be Edgar hands down, he surrounded himself with some real winners, that are in jail, or about too… Also, he did many of the things Ryan was accused of doing.

  33. - Soccertease - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 4:43 pm:

    Jim Thompson-My observation after working in Departments under all three (even worked briefly under Walker): Given the question posed to G Ryan “look, we’ve got a problem. How do we solve it?” J Thompson would choose the solution that that was in the best interest of the state; Edgar would take the solution that was least controversial and Ryan the 1st solution that just made it go away.

  34. - steve schnorf - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 5:20 pm:

    Voter, for we less knowledgeable than you, give us a quick list of those now “in jail”, maybe even throw in a few “about tos”

  35. - One of the 35 - Monday, Jan 30, 12 @ 5:29 pm:

    Edgar made the difficult choices necessary for budget reasons. Not a popular guy because of that fact. But it is a fact that he took office with a large deficit and left office with a small surplus. Others could take a lesson from him in that regard.

    I would love to tell the story about Ryan’s first day in office regarding the “Access Air” funding project. It was sign of how freely and carelessly money would be spent during his administration.

  36. - Excessively Rabid - Tuesday, Jan 31, 12 @ 8:06 am:

    Next day, I declined to vote but would gladly take any of them in preference to either of the last two, or the one before.

  37. - dupage dan - Tuesday, Jan 31, 12 @ 9:01 am:

    I probably don’t know enough about each of these former governors in comparison to many who write here. I know what the press and jury said about them. Thompson had the whole unfunded mandate thing hung on his neck. Ryan could be considered a good governor except for the whole SoS scandal and his refusal to accept responsibility. I came to state employment at about the same time that Edgar was elected. He made that time difficult for many state employees because of his belt tightening. For me and my agency, there was a proposal to eliminate our agency which never did happen but it sharpened all of our senses in ways that stay with me to this day. One thing he did which was not publicized much was he stopped paying the premiums on our health insurance. I found this out circuitously when my carrier refused to pay a bill for an operation and the service rep cited some obsure unfathomable reason for it. 2 days later I read an article where AFSCME had filed a class action greivance re the non-payment. Edgar paid the premiums a few days later. Seems to me he was probably shuffling around funds in a similar way to how I budget my funds sometimes.

    While Edgar had his faults (teatotaler - what’s up wid dat?), he seemed to really be concerned about the taxpayers bottom line. That was not a quality either Thompson or Ryan shared. For that reason he gets my vote.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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