Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Opinion: Why Won't Quinn Debate?

Refusal to debate seems part of a pattern of how Quinn operates as a politician

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Governor Pat Quinn says the state is making a comeback. That was the theme of his state of the state speech, but his four Republican challengers disagree with him. Political reporter Mary Ann Ahern has the story from the state Capitol.

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What’s Pat Quinn afraid of?

News broke on Friday that the lone primary challenger to Democratic Governor Pat Quinn, anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman, won't get a chance to debate his opponent anytime before the March 18 primary.

Hardiman wrote a letter to Quinn asking for debates, but Quinn spokesperson Leslie Wertheimer effectively slammed the door shut, saying no debates were to "take place."

Which is a shame and a disappointment, quite frankly. While much has been written about whether Hardiman represents a serious challenge to Quinn, he has met the fundamental criteria for being a candidate for governor in the Democratic Party of Illinois: he’s on the ballot. He’s running a campaign. Voters can actually vote for him.

The reality is, as an incumbent governor, Quinn has no real reason why he should avoid a debate or three. Voters deserve the right to see how he would do against a critic who wants to take his job away, instead of only being allowed to speak at tightly controlled events or simply deliver good news that comes as part of his position as sitting governor. .

Even worse, with $4.5 million in his campaign war chest, Quinn should hardly feel threatened by a challenger who is struggling to raise money, has little name recognition and is partnered with a political unknown as a running mate.

Of course, all the smart political money in Illinois politics would argue that there’s nothing for Quinn to gain politically from giving media space and airtime to a challenger, especially one that has as much of an uphill climb to win the election as Hardiman does.

But there is a bigger question at stake here. Increasingly, the decision to avoid debates seems to be part of a clear pattern of how Quinn operates as a politician.

First, Quinn’s recent State of the State address was notable as much for what he left out as what he kept in. Left out of the address were such key issues as how to deal with the income tax hike sunset, the constitutionality of pension reform how the state would pay it’s overdue bills and a host of other unpleasant fiscal realities.

As well, Quinn’s refusal to address these issues and suffer potential political fall out led him to postpone his yearly budget address until after the primary, leaving voters little to no information on how he will deal with these problems or even what they are.

Chicago Teachers Union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said it was no secret the CTU was planning a "mass rally around pensions" on the day of the budget address, something Quinn undoubtedly wanted to avoid.

And now, no debate. Along with everything else, Quinn’s refusal to debate him shows either a deeply cynical political calculation at best or, at worst, an increasingly disrespectful stance to the voters of Illinois.

Whether Tio Hardiman is a good candidate, likely to win or a complete buffoon shouldn't matter. The reality is that he’s on the ballot, has ideas and, most important, a critique of the governor that deserves to be heard.

Pat Quinn shouldn't have the right to simply pretend he doesn't exist, like everything else he would rather avoid this election season.

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