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.