Public Workforce

Following An Ethically-Challenged Governor

For better and for worse, it is Pat Quinn's fate to be the governor who followed Rod Blagojevich in Illinois. Quinn served as lieutenant governor...
by | December 31, 2009
 

For better and for worse, it is Pat Quinn's fate to be the governor who followed Rod Blagojevich in Illinois.

Quinn served as lieutenant governor throughout Blagojevich's six-year tenure, until state lawmakers removed the ethically-challenged governor from office. The two men were never close, and indeed rarely spoke to each other in recent years. Still, as Quinn faces a hotly contested Democratic primary and general election, the question is whether voters will see him as a breath of fresh air or a reminder of Blagojevich.

In the February 2 primary, the 61-year-old Quinn faces Dan Hynes, the three-term state comptroller. The contest is not without irony: Hynes is a consummate insider, the son of a Cook County political boss, and he's held statewide office since he was 30 years old. Quinn, on the other hand, was a good-government gadfly for more than two decades before he became lieutenant governor. Yet Hynes is trying to play the role of plucky outsider, and to cast Quinn as a status-quo incumbent who has been around the track too many times.

The race has gotten testy, and not just for tactical reasons. Illinois is a fiscal mess. It recently had its debt downgraded by Moody's and S&P, leaving the state with the second-worst general-obligation bond rating in the country, ahead of only California. Hynes is charging Quinn with fiscal mismanagement, and positioning himself to the governor's right on taxes, an unusual approach for a Democratic primary. To help close the state's budget hole, Quinn has proposed a major income tax increase. Hynes has hit at the governor for that, saying the state needs to do more to cut spending and that tax increases are justified only for the very wealthy.

Despite his position in the Blagojevich administration, Quinn retains much of his traditional appeal on issues of ethics. In a sense, the Blagojevich debacle has given him a golden opportunity. The ex-governor's misdeeds created a climate that was ripe for reform, and Quinn had a long history as a reformer. As governor, he has signed legislation imposing campaign contribution limits and establishing new disclosure requirements. He's also moved to overhaul state purchasing rules, in hopes of ending the "pay-to-play" culture that prevailed in the Blagojevich years. While questions remain as to whether these efforts went far enough, they're part of the reason that Quinn remains a favorite against Hynes.

Still, if Quinn makes it into the general election, he'll remain haunted by the ghost of Blagojevich. The Republican nominee -- whether it's former attorney general Jim Ryan, former state GOP Chairman Andy McKenna, or one of several other credible candidates -- will question why Quinn didn't speak up against Blagojevich in public sooner and why many of the ex-governor's appointees remain in office. "If you're a Republican, you're going to run against Blagojevich-Quinn," says Robert Rich, director of the Institute of Government at the University of Illinois. "That's what you're going to do."

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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