There is No Quit In Quinn
In Springfield, among Democratic legislators and politicians, Governor Pat Quinn is being lambasted with a four-letter word beginning with “Q.”
That eliminates quarrelsome, quivering, quaking, quack, querulous, quagmire (although that does describe the state’s finances), quizzical, quandary, questionable and queer (in a non-sexual context, like odd and incomprehensible).
How about “quit”? As in not running for re-election in 2014.
How about: In your dreams. Quinn is running again.
Illinois ranks among the nation’s worst-governed, least-solvent, most-overtaxed states. The state’s debt is $271.1 billion, the fourth highest in the nation, including a 2012 budget deficit of $5 billion, and an unfunded pension deficit of $83 billion. The $5 billion generated from 2011 income tax hike is gone. The state’s unemployment is still above nine percent, higher than in 2008. Gas prices are the nation’s second-highest.
Quinn, governor since Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment in 2009, has articulated no vision, unveiled no plan, uttered no words conveying any dire urgency, and is quite content to drift from moment-to-moment. One day he mumbles about pension reform, irritates the public sector unions, and blames the Republicans. Next day he vetoes the gaming bill, which would have opened new casinos and generated tax revenue. Next day he makes budgetary cuts, but then, when prison guards and social service agencies howl, he restores the funding. Next day he postures as a “reformer,” decries “pay-to-play,” but then takes unions’ money and gives pay hikes to state workers. And the next day he announces closures of Downstate state facilities, but not those in the Chicago area.
Other industrialized states with Republican governors – Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin, Virginia, South Carolina, New Mexico – have cut their budgets, eliminated their deficits, and not raised taxes. Quinn, like his liberal brethren in California, Maryland and Minnesota (and the White House), believes that government is a “helpmate,” not a hindrance, and that more taxes and spending will cure Illinois’ economic ills.
As a protégé of former Governor Dan Walker, Quinn has mastered the philosophy of “living for the moment,” sort of like a pet. In other words, never do today what you can delay until tomorrow. Never worry about solving problems, since the state always seems to muddle through, with borrowed money, or tax hikes, or “raiding” other state funds. He is the modern incarnation of Calvin Coolidge, the laconic 1920s Republican president who opined that “if you see ten troubles coming down the road, don’t worry, since nine will drive into the ditch before they get to you.”
And Quinn never lets his ego get in the way. Losing, to him, carries no shame and no disgrace. He is proof that if you run enough times, eventually, somehow, someway, you inadvertently and/or unexpectedly win. Teamed with Blagojevich in 2002, Quinn won the state’s Number Two job, where he vegetated for six years. But for Blagojevich’s ouster, Quinn would never have become governor.
But Quinn’s greatest advantage is that he is a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, and that no formidable Democrat has yet emerged to challenge him in the 2014 primary. According to party insiders, there is no shortage of aspirants who covet the governorship. There is, however, a dearth of contenders who can beat Quinn, especially in a multi-candidate primary.
Remember this: Quinn, age 63, may be durable and persistent and impervious to setbacks, and unafraid to lose (as he often does), but he is not well-liked and is certainly not well-loved.
In the 2010 election, against a flawed Republican, Quinn eked out a 31,834-vote victory (46.8 percent), with 45.9 percent to Bill Brady and 3.6 percent to Scott Lee Cohen, losing 99 of Illinois’ 102 counties. Quinn won Cook County by 500,533 votes, lost the suburban collar counties by 114,583 votes, and lost Downstate by 354,116 votes.
In the 2010 primary, against comptroller Dan Hynes, Quinn won by a minuscule 8,372 votes (50.5 percent), losing 88 of 102 counties. It was Quinn’s 40,079-vote win in Cook County, fueled by his solid vote in the black-majority wards and townships, which pulled him through. Quinn topped Hynes in the city’s black wards by 87,959-58,466.
Quinn only wins primaries against non-entities, relying on his Irish surname and general name familiarity. In 2002, after eschewing a run for governor, Quinn ran for lieutenant governor, facing an obscure black female and a Downstate college professor. He won with 42.1 percent, losing Cook County to Joyce Washington by 849 votes. In 1998, he ran for lieutenant governor, and lost to the party-endorsed Mary Lou Kearns by 1,468 votes (49.9 percent). Quinn won Cook County by 40,639 votes, and took 26 of 102 counties. In 1996, the indefatigable Quinn ran for Paul Simon’s open U.S. Senate seat against obscure Downstate congressman Dick Durbin, but party bosses stuck it to him. Quinn lost Cook County by 126,370 votes, lost 101 of 102 counties, and got a humiliating 29.5 percent (to Durbin’s 64.9 percent).
In 1994, finishing his first term as state treasurer, Quinn ill-advisedly ran for Secretary of State, and was demolished by none other than George Ryan (R), losing by 685,515 votes (38.3 percent), but he did win the primary with 70.5 percent against a Quad Cities state senator. In 1990, running for treasurer against the endorsed Peg Breslin, Quinn pulled a 19,632-vote primary upset (51.1 percent). In 1986, also running for treasurer, Quinn finished third in a four-man field with 26.2 percent.
So here’s Quinn’s primary scorecard: His vote statewide totals were 208,775 (1986), 449,442 (1990), 641,897 (1994), 233,138 (1996), 389,905 (1998), 471,038 (2002), and 462,049 (2010), for an average of 408,000 votes. In those seven primaries, total turnout was 7,544,870, or an average of 1,077,838 each. Quinn averaged an unintimidating 37.8 percent per primary
There is definitely “Quinn fatigue.” His polling numbers are in the tank. The most recent polls indicate that his “favorables” Downstate barely top 20; only among blacks in Cook County do his favorables exceed his unfavorables. He’s not trusted. He’s not respected. He is a master vacillator. He has over $900,000 in his campaign account, but can’t expect the public sector unions, like AFSCME and SEIU, to pour in $5 million, as they did in 2010.
“He’s going to run again,” predicted one Northwest Side Democratic insider. “Why should he quit? He’s governor. What else can he do? He doesn’t care if he loses. And if he faces a big field (of opponents), with no black (candidate), and if he gets heavy black support, he wins.
Here’s the looming Democratic field:
The “A-Team” consists of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, state Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former U.S. Commerce Secretary and Obama chief-of-staff Bill Daley, and Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle.
Emanuel’s term expires in 2015, so a 2014 governor’s bid would be a free shot – and a fast-track to a presidential bid in 2016 or 2020. The mayor is livid with Quinn for vetoing the gaming bill, which would have included a Chicago casino. The upside is that Emanuel could easily raise $10 million, run on a “get Illinois moving” platform, and have near-universal backing from party leaders. The downside is that he’d spend a year campaigning, and not focusing on Chicago problems; he’d surely beat Quinn, but not necessarily a Republican, and put his 2015 re-election in some jeopardy. Odds of running: 20 percent. Better to win in 2015, and then go for governor in 2018.
Madigan has over $3.3 million in her campaign account. She was elected in 2002 by 114,946 votes (50.4 percent), but is now impregnable; she won in 2006 with 72.5 percent, and in 2010 with 64.7 percent. Madigan is cautious to the extreme. The next governor will have to make painful budget cuts or painful tax hikes. Odds of running: Ten percent. She’d easily demolish Quinn. But better to let a Republican win in 2014 and take the heat. Then she can run (and win) in 2018, or make a state Supreme Court bid.
Preckwinkle’s performance as board president has been competent, but not stellar. “Reform” has been glacially slow, and the same old politically-connected crowd still dominates county government. Preckwinkle has said she is running for re-election.
The aging Daley has floated his name so many times that he’s waterlogged. In a one-on-one, he would beat Quinn. Odds of running: zero
Then there’s the “B-Team,” obscure all, waiting for the A-Team to fold. It consists of state representatives Lou Lang, of Skokie, and Jack Franks, of McHenry; state senators John Sullivan, of Quincy, Jim Clayborne, who is black, of East Saint Louis, and Dan Kotowski, of Park Ridge; Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon, who has been utterly invisible in state government; 2010 primary loser Dan Hynes, who has not maintained a high-profile; and two Cook County officeholders – Sheriff Tom Dart and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who is mired in the Kotschman case.
All have minuscule bases, and would need $2 million. Multiple B-Teamers would run if no A-Teamer does, aiding Quinn.
The outlook: In 2010, the Democratic primary turnout was 959,521, with 596,147 (62.1 percent) cast in Cook County, and 339,560 in Chicago. The collar counties cast 138,820 (14.5 percent), and Downstate 224,554 (23.4 percent). Going into 2014, Quinn’s odds of re-nomination and re-election are at least 50-50.
Russ Stewart is a political analyst for the Chicago Daily Observer. E-mail Russ@russstewart.com or visit his website at www.russstewart.com.
image noted dog-lover Pat Quinn