Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Pat Quinn's Second Chance

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Now that Pat Quinn is finally getting a real inauguration, with dancing and refreshments, it’s worth taking a look back at his first swearing in, two years ago, in the state capitol.

    Back then, no one had voted for Quinn, but a lot of us were excited about having him as governor. This time, a lot of us voted for Quinn, but none of us is excited about having him as governor.

    Quinn came into office as the Gerald Ford of Illinois. He was a colorless lifetime politician replacing a larger-than-life, corrupt predecessor.

    “Our ordeal is over,” Quinn promised, referring to the arrest and impeachment of Rod Blagojevich. “What we’ve seen in the last 50 days is something that’s in the rearview mirror.”

    Quinn, the good-government activist who founded the Citizens Utility Board and sponsored a constitutional amendment that got rid of 59 legislators, had a reputation as a plodding but honest man. He promised to be another John Peter Altgeld. It wasn’t his fault he was administered the oath of office by an alderman’s wife. We figured he wasn’t clever or crooked enough to repeat the crimes of his two predecessors, who both attempted to use the governor’s office for political or pecuniary gain.

    The worst year of the Great Recession was just beginning, so we paid more attention to what we’d just been through than what we were about to suffer.

    “We don’t really know the real size of the deficit,” Quinn said. “I think the governor has to level with the people of Illinois. That’s what they want.”

    Asked whether the state could avoid an income tax increase, Quinn said, “we’re going to have to take a look at what the damage is.”

    Now we know what the damage is -- $13 billion. And, according to Quinn, we can’t avoid a tax increase. To be fair, he told us that during the campaign. But now that he’s set to begin what will surely be his only full term as governor -- thanks more to the incompetence of his Republican opponent than his own competence as governor -- Quinn is trying to pass a much larger tax increase than he promised. When he was running for governor, he vowed to veto anything more than a 1-point tax hike. Now, he and House Speaker Michael Madigan are conspiring to raise income taxes 2¼ points.

    Does that mean Quinn is as dishonest as George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich? Well, he’s not as corrupt. But he knew the real size of the deficit, and what it would take the solve the problem, and he didn’t level with the people of Illinois.

    It usually takes presidents a couple years to get the hang of the job. Barack Obama’s approval ratings are finally going up again, after his strong performance during Congress’s lame duck session. Let’s hope Quinn has the same learning curve, and the next four years are better than the first two.

    Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!