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Quinn’s “new and muscular course”

Friday, Apr 27, 2012

* My Chicago Sun-Times column

Gov. Pat Quinn’s job-approval ratings have at times fallen as low as 23 percent. And polls taken so far this year have pegged his rating at between 30 and 36 percent.

He barely won his 2010 election, beating a weak, socially conservative Republican challenger by fewer than 32,000 votes. Quinn had to spend a fortune to eke out that win, partly because his job-approval rating was measured at just 32 percent a few days before 2010’s election day.

In other words, this is not a popular governor. His approval peaked not long after he was sworn into office, in the wake of Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment. But his numbers went straight downhill not long after, when the reality of the state’s horrible fiscal health and the horrors of the “Great Recession” began to infuriate voters.

Quinn hasn’t made it any easier on himself. He has trouble focusing his mind, he has trouble making up his mind, he has trouble following through when he does make up his mind, he has trouble sticking to his word, he has trouble articulating his words, he has trouble getting anybody to go along with his plans.

Some truly important things have been accomplished since Quinn took office. But the governor didn’t really have much to do with any of it, so he didn’t get any of the credit. He’s taken the brunt of blame for the accomplishments that the public hasn’t liked, including the income tax hike, though he never could’ve passed that stuff on his own.

But things have started to change, although the public hasn’t really noticed yet.

Last November, Quinn hired Gary Hannig to run his legislative operation. Hannig is an old Springfield hand. He was one of the most trusted members of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s leadership team before becoming the state’s secretary of transportation. He’s respected by pretty much everyone at the Statehouse.

Hannig brought some of the “Madigan way” with him to the governor’s office. Madigan and his team bat around all possible angles before they do anything. And they may be “yes men” once they’re in public, but that’s only after they have robust debates on how to proceed when they’re behind closed doors.

Quinn, for his part, has actually listened to Hannig. He doesn’t do that often or with many people outside his family. As a result, the ship has slowly, almost imperceptibly started righting itself over the past six months. Those of us who follow Quinn closely have noticed.

Until last week, almost nobody else did.

You probably saw the three editorials this newspaper published over the past week praising the governor’s new Medicaid and pension reform plans. I can’t remember a time when the Sun-Times, or any editorial page for that matter, has praised this governor three times in just a few days. He just didn’t deserve it.

The Sun-Times isn’t alone. Other newspaper editorial pages throughout the state have recently heaped praise on the governor for setting a tough but wholly necessary course for Illinois’ short-term and long-term fiscal health.

The details of Quinn’s reforms probably won’t be popular, and the General Assembly will likely alter the final product. But Quinn has demanded action this spring, and legislators aren’t automatically brushing him off as they have in the past. The public may soon start to see that today’s Pat Quinn is quite different from the Pat Quinn they’ve come to expect.

Quinn talked about running for re-election the other day. If he can stay this new and muscular course, he might just pull it off.

* Including a new one today, the Sun-Times’ positive editorial count is now up to four. Here they are…

* Editorial: Time for statesmanship, not partisanship, for Illinois

* Editorial: Raising cigarette tax $1 makes sense for Illinois

* Editorial: Quinn’s pension reforms will defuse time bomb

* Editorial: Gov’s Medicaid cuts get to what’s morally right

* Related…

* Cancer Society supports tax hike

* Progressives Join Together Against Quinn Medicaid Cuts

* Zorn: Inquiring minds want to know about teacher pensions and Quinn’s reforms

* Pension presentation in Naperville draws hundreds of suburban teachers

- Posted by Rich Miller        

23 Comments
  1. - Robert - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 9:00 am:

    ===He has trouble focusing his mind, he has trouble making up his mind, he has trouble following through when he does make up his mind, he has trouble sticking to his word, he has trouble articulating his words, he has trouble getting anybody to go along with his plans.===
    Great line! Regarding pension reform, Medicaid cuts, and cigarette tax hike, I wonder how Gov. Quinn will do in “sticking to his word” and “getting anybody to go along with his plans.” It certainly helps some that the newspapers are behind the ideas.


  2. - foster brooks - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 9:09 am:

    The ONLY reason quinn was elected is because of bradys intentions with the pensions. Good luck with that now


  3. - Skeeter - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 9:14 am:

    Great column. I definitely have noticed. I didn’t connect Hannig to it though. Thanks for an interesting perspective explaining the reasons behind what I observed.

    The Gov. seems more engaged this year. In the past, he was sort of like Blago — a career back bencher who would toss out ideas that got press but had no real chance. This year he’s putting out real solutions. He’s showing some leadership. It is a whole new Gov. Six months ago, there was no way I would vote for him. Now, I might.


  4. - Wensicia - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 9:15 am:

    Quinn’s great at grandstanding, but not so great at working with legislators. His problems with consistency also hurt the process.
    Good column.


  5. - Tommydanger - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 9:18 am:

    His recent attempt to remake himself as a statesman is nothing more than putting a coat of paint on a burning house.


  6. - Mixed Reviews - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 9:20 am:

    I believe he is making great strides in showing leadership but sometime the “old” PQ emerges. For instance, he looked wishy washy in addressing the threatened mass exodus of state employees in response to his pension reform proposal. How can you make real budget changes if you phase reform in? Where’s the hammer on getting folks to switch to Tier 2 if its phased in? Won’t Tier 2 employees starting asking to get in on the phases once we open that door? It was as if there was no thought and prior messaging developed to address this very apparent issue.


  7. - kerfuffle - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 9:22 am:

    Quinn is showing some signs of growth but he has a tremendous capacity for self destruction. Only time will tell. As far as re-election, it only took 3 counties to elect him. If he has another weak opponent he could probably pull it off without accomplishing one thing.


  8. - wordslinger - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 9:23 am:

    The tax increase passed, but now the federal money boost is gone. Those options are spent, and after a while, the math catches up with anyone.


  9. - Cassiopeia - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 9:29 am:

    Quinn is his own worse enemy. He has had a good week with proposals, but the editorial writers may not be so kind if/when the legislative session goes into overtime with no resolution to the fiscal situation. Thus far he has not actually accomplished anything, just proposed some possible solutions.

    I think the press corps in their usual groupthink mode is just astonished that he has been acting like an adult recently and hasn’t veered too far into goofiness.


  10. - Rich Miller - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 9:37 am:

    ===but the editorial writers may not be so kind if/when the legislative session goes into overtime with no resolution to the fiscal situation===

    If it goes into overtime, that’s the GA’s fault. If there’s no resolution on either problem, that’ll be Quinn’s shared fault.


  11. - LIberty_first - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 10:03 am:

    The Hannig angle is interesting but Quinn walked into a terrible situation. He is taking the grief of the mess created by past legislatures and administrations. He is at the forefront of PR. Half the idiots in Illinois don’t know who Madigan is. Bold proposals more often than not get watered down and the citizens of Illinois want more government than they are willing to pay for. We will see Quinn’s leadership ability when he sits down with the unions.


  12. - South Sider - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 10:19 am:

    The devil is in the details and there are still a lot of details to be hammered out.
    I saw Quinn on Chicago Tonight last evening. Man, the guy loves sound bites!


  13. - Tommydanger - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 10:29 am:

    If Quinn should win reelection, he should change his name to Lazarus.


  14. - Silent majority - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 11:12 am:

    Excellent column. Feels like Speaker and Cullerton may have hand in this via Hannig…interesting that Dems may see Quinn’s current moves as good for party in November.


  15. - Fed up - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 11:25 am:

    He deserves the brunt of the blame on the income tax hike. He lied to every voter in the state about the income tax hike.


  16. - Skeeter - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 11:36 am:

    “He deserves the brunt of the blame on the income tax hike. He lied to every voter in the state about the income tax hike.”

    Come on. Do you really think Brady was telling the truth on that one? There are legitimate reasons to rip Quinn, but that one is sort of a farce.


  17. - Robert - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 12:00 pm:

    ==He deserves the brunt of the blame on the income tax hike. He lied to every voter in the state about the income tax hike.==
    I can’t disagree more. How many politicians promise a tax hike as part of their campaign and win? Quinn actually did this.


  18. - mokenavince - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 12:39 pm:

    Quinn has gone from Clark Kent to Superman.Lets hope that he says this way.


  19. - Immi - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 1:07 pm:

    I don’t have much insight into Hannig’s role in Quinn’s evolution, but I’m inclined to think it is more due to the bleak fiscal realities staring him in the face. Civic Fed reports and bond ratings threats can be a cold dose of reality.


  20. - reformer - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 2:19 pm:

    Fed up
    You accuse candidate Quinn of lying on the income tax, yet he had the rare courage to tell voters before the election that he wanted to raise the income tax. That’s something previous governors failed to do.


  21. - western illinois - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 2:39 pm:

    Civic Club plus Ratings agencies makes him Gov 1%.
    Perhaps they will fund his next campaign may union better not.
    I would suggest the Unions look at what the Club for Growth is doing to left wing apostates like Richard Lugar next door in Indiana


  22. - OneMan - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 3:26 pm:

    == I can’t disagree more. How many politicians promise a tax hike as part of their campaign and win? Quinn actually did this. ==

    Didn’t he say he would veto it if it was larger than x% and didn’t it turn out to be larger than x%.

    That is sort of like saying, well he did say he was going to kick me, he just kicked me harder than he said, so no big deal.


  23. - Whelp - Friday, Apr 27, 12 @ 4:06 pm:

    How many 66 year old police officers do you want saving you from beating on the street and how many 66 year old firefighters do you want carrying you out of a burning building. Its not pension reform its workman’s comp and lawsuits waiting to happen.


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