Pat Quinn: A Gadfly Becomes Governor

Who is Pat Quinn? CBS in Chicago has this to say about Illinois' new governor: Quinn would have the most unusual political pedigree of any ...
by | January 29, 2009

Who is Pat Quinn? CBS in Chicago has this to say about Illinois' new governor:

Quinn would have the most unusual political pedigree of any Illinois governor in modern times. In a state where politicians routinely become millionaires, he has a small home and smaller bank account. 

Quinn has had astounding political transformation. Illinois's presumed next governor was once thoroughly despised at the state Capitol.

(Hat tip: Rich Miller)

How unusual? Look how Quinn was described in the November 13, 1992, issue of the Chicago Tribune (no link available):

On the walls of Patrick Quinn's 15th-floor office at the State of Illinois Building are two bold posters from the massive anti-government protests of May 1968 in Paris. One, with rows of identical stylized, blank faces, proclaims, "No to Bureaucracy." The other, with fists thrust in the air, promises, "We Will Fight to the End."

This is pretty heady stuff for any state official, let alone the treasurer, whose main task is managing about $3.1 billion held by 500 different public funds, plus $2 billion entrusted to him by other government units. Yet in his own way, ever ebullient Quinn lives up to those slogans, waving the true blue banner of reform - if not quite the red flag of revolution - while still wearing green eyeshades.

A persistent populist gadfly of private corporate bureaucracies as well as unresponsive government for the last 15 years, often making enemies of even those who would otherwise be his friends, Quinn has kept on fighting in his two years as the state's chief financial officer.

What, exactly, did Quinn do to make everyone so angry? The Associated Press on March 23, 2003, presented some of the details:

Quinn, 54, first made a name for himself in 1976 when he and the Coalition for Political Honesty managed to end the practice of lawmakers collecting their entire annual salary on their first day in office.

"A couple weeks after it passed in the Legislature, I was sitting in the gallery of the House minding my own business and some guy spotted me," Quinn said. "The whole Legislature stood up and booed me. A standing boo-vation. But a nod from them is a plug for our efforts."

Four years later, Quinn made lawmakers angry again. He led a successful effort to pass the "cutback amendment" - a change in the Illinois Constitution that cut the size of the House from 177 members to 118.

In some ways, Pat Quinn has a very easy job to do. Anyone would look good in comparison to Rod Blagojevich. Governors who have replaced someone who left in disgrace have a pretty good record of success (think Mike Huckabee and Jodi Rell).

Quinn, though, faces a couple of fundamental questions. One is whether an activist can transition to an effective leader and manager. Can a gadlfy run the government?

But, the other question, in a sense, conflicts with the first one. Quinn served as Blagojevich's lieutenant governor. He eventually became a fierce critic of the governor, but not before supporting him for years. Quinn and Blagojevich ran for reelection as a team, after the governor was already under federal investigation. So, folks in Illinois are wondering: Is Pat Quinn still the good government activist he was one decade or two decades or three decades ago?

That's relevant, of course, because Illinois probably doesn't need someone right now who will get along with the political establishment. The old Pat Quinn -- the one who demands ethical conduct to the point that he sounds sanctimonious and makes everyone angry -- may be just what the state needs.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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