Did Governor Pat Quinn really kill 95 children?
To hear Republican rival Bruce Rauner tell it, Quinn is directly responsible for the deaths of 95 children with past contact with the Department of Children and Family Services.
Rauner’s campaign has released a new radio ad that blames Quinn for problems at DCFS, saying “Quinn isn’t just costing us dollars. He’s costing us lives” and “Abuse, neglect, tragic mismanagement. Ninety-five innocent children who depended on Illinois gone. Forever.”
Asked later by a reporter if he held Quinn personally responsible, Rauner answered “Yes”, before saying the deaths of children in the system from 2011 to 2103 lay directly at the Democratic governor’s feet.
Which is funny, since the bulk of Rauner’s previous ads suggested Quinn was so busy being engaged in cronyism, corruption and governmental mismanagement, it’s difficult to imagine where he thinks Quinn found the time to murder children.
The DCFS ad follows a recent TV spot where Rauner blames Gov. Quinn for secretly putting sex offenders, wife beaters and murderers back in the street as part of a 2009 early prison release program.
All of which points out just how much the race for Illinois governor has changed in the past few weeks.
Almost since the moment he announced for governor back in 2013, Rauner has enjoyed front-runner status, first in the Republican primary and then in the race against Quinn.
Somewhat surprisingly, however, in recent weeks Quinn has battled back, largely on the strength of a campaign strategy that focuses heavily on class warfare themes and highlighting Rauner’s past troubles as a businessman and venture capitalist.
A recent poll by Reboot Illinois/We Ask America shows Quinn leading Rauner 44-40.
And that’s where the rubber meets the road for Rauner. Long portraying himself as a humble guy who just happened to have made himself a millionaire, Rauner’s sole pitch to voters was that he was nothing like the career politicians that have occupied Springfield for decades. As an outsider beholden to no one, Rauner was going “shake up Springfield” by bringing a new brand of politics to the state capitol.
Which was all well and good as long as Rauner was in the lead. Reports from the field suggest Illinois Republicans were more enthusiastic and optimistic about taking over the governor’s mansion than anytime in years. Rauner responded in kind, pouring millions in his own money into folksy TV ads and spreading the wealth around for his fellow Republicans across the state.
Yet, now that the chips are down, Rauner’s thrown that all away by showing he’s little different than the career politicians he’s been railing against. In fact, his decision to pivot away from a campaign of being an outsider to calling Quinn soft on crime and a child murderer calls into question his sincerity in practicing a new brand of politics in Illinois.
There’s little doubt that a multitude of problems exist in DCFS, or that the deaths of children is its care is anything less than a horror that must be addressed immediately. But the truth is, there have been problems at DCFS for decades.
Any steps Quinn may have or may not have taken to fix these problems and keep Illinois’ promise to some of its most vulnerable citizens is on him.
Nevertheless, Rauner had only one chance in convincing voters he was something different in Illinois politics, and that move required truly acting like someone different in Illinois politics.
But nothing in politics is more tried and true—and downright dishonorable—than trying to paint your opponent as someone willing to let criminals go free. Or blaming him or her personally for the deaths of children under the care of a state agency.
“This is a false and malicious attempt to smear the Governor," Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said in response to Rauner’s attacks.
The problem for Rauner is now that he’s taken these first few steps down this path, there’s little chance of going back. It’s not like he can wake up tomorrow and say he doesn't really think Quinn’s a child killer. Or that it was all a misunderstanding.
Instead, Rauner—and his supporters—are just going to have to face the fact that far from being a new day in Illinois politics, the race for Illinois governor has found it’s way into the gutter.
Just like so many others.