For a state that’s sent a number of sitting governors to prison, running for re-election as a reformer is a smart political strategy.
But it can prove to be a bit of an issue when your name is continually linked in the minds of voters with corruption and patronage scandals.
That’s the problem Democratic Governor Pat Quinn is facing as he runs for another term against Republican Bruce Rauner.
Quinn’s image as a reformer took another hit recently with news of a confidential report by the state’s top ethics watchdog obtained by the Chicago Tribune. The report found hundreds of positions at the Illinois Department of Transportation were filled by political appointees under Quinn and his predecessor, Rod Blagojevich.
Hundreds of people were hired into a special "staff assistant" position without having to go through strict personnel procedures under rules designed to keep politics out of most state hiring, according to a confidential report by Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza obtained by the Tribune.
The rules have been in place since before Blagojevich took office in 2003, but many of those improper hirings at the Illinois Department of Transportation happened under Quinn's Democratic administration, the report said.
The report follows months of headlines suggesting Quinn used the troubled Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, a state program designed to combat gun violence, as little more than a “political slush fund.”
There, the 2010 program was designed to funnel state dollars to social-welfare organizations for anti-crime programs. Later, investigations revealed many of the millions of dollars spent were spent poorly, unaccounted for or were appropriated with patronage in mind.
All of which could be written off as the kinds of collateral damage or nagging scandals any sitting governor could expect to have after years in office if it weren’t for one thing: Quinn’s Republican opponent has built his entire campaign around this very issue.
In fact, the Rauner campaign represents something not seen in statewide politics for quite a long time: a Republican candidate with a focused, coherent and a potentially very effective argument for change.
Rauner’s top-line campaign message—that he’s going to “Shake up Springfield”—isn't just a generic call to put someone else in office. It both implicitly and explicitly suggests that there’s a “culture of corruption” fostered by years of Democratic rule.
That’s a powerful message when you have someone like Mike Madigan calling the shots in this state for decades.
But Rauner’s not running against Madigan. At least not officially. He is running against Quinn,and every time there’s another headline or report released suggesting Quinn is corrupt, the Rauner campaign has to smile.
After all, it’s almost as if Quinn is proving their point with voters for them.