Why Jim Brady's Endorsement of Pat Quinn Matters

It’s no surprise that Gov. Pat Quinn is receiving the endorsement of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the group founded by Illinois native Jim Brady, who was crippled in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

Quinn just signed a law requiring a one- to three-year prison sentence for aggravated unlawful use of a firearm for individuals without a FOID card.

His opponent, Bill Brady, is opposed to additional gun laws in Illinois, and believes in issuing permits for concealed weapons. It’s safe to say that despite their similar names, Bill Brady would not have supported the Brady Bill, which imposed federal restrictions on handguns.

Quinn will officially receive the endorsement from the Brady Campaign’s president, Paul Helmke, in a ceremony on the South Side today. Even though it’s a gimme -- people who care about gun control were already going to vote for Quinn -- it’s still an important endorsement, because it focuses the campaign on social issues, which is what Quinn wants.

The more the candidates talk about guns, abortion, gay rights, and women’s rights, the better for Gov. Quinn in socially liberal Illinois. The more they talk about the $13 billion budget gap, and the proposed state income tax hike, the worse for Gov. Quinn in a state whose finances are among the worst in the nation.

Brady’s endorsement also carries weight because, before the assassination attempt, he was exactly the sort of conservative Illinoisan who would have supported Bill Brady. Born and raised in Centralia, he got his first job in politics as an aide to Sen. Everett Dirksen. In 1970 he managed Phyllis Schlafly’s unsuccessful campaign for Congress. And, for two-and-a-half months, he defended the policies of a White House that was hostile to gun control.

In 1996, Brady’s endorsement helped Dick Durbin win a U.S. Senate seat. Brady and his wife filmed an ad calling Durbin’s opponent, Al Salvi, an “extremist” on gun issues. With a week to go, Salvi responded by claiming that Brady had once been a machine-gun dealer. By spreading lies about a gunshot victim, Salvi ensured his defeat, and ruined his political future. The gaffe was so bad it was immortalized in the book Slip of the Tongue: Offhand Remarks That Ended High-Flying Careers. Salvi hosted a radio show on a 1,000-watt AM station in Waukegan, but now seems to be concentrating on his career as a personal injury attorney. Durbin is the second most powerful man in the Senate.

The lesson for Bill Brady: don’t insult Jim Brady in Illinois.

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