Quinn's Bill: True Reform? Campaign Stunt? Both?

Plays politics with reform

Way back on the 30th of October, Illinois legislators sent a campaign finance reform bill to Gov. Pat Quinn. The bill sat on Quinn's desk without his signature for 39 days. On the 40th day he signed it. Why the delay?

Because signing the bill on the anniversary of predecessor Rod Blagojevich's arrest allowed Quinn to bend governing to the will of his re-election campaign. That's the power of incumbency. It's routine political fare.

But it's also not a great way to run the kind of democracy Quinn professes to love so much in the companion campaign video his team made about the bill-signing, "One Year of Reform."

When governing and campaigning are not separated by a bright line, it's hard to take anything an incumbent says or does seriously; instead, all actions must be viewed through a cynical prism wary of motives. Does Quinn really believe seniors should ride free - a policy led by Blagojevich - when the CTA is out of money? Did Quinn really believe the two African-American trustees for the University of Illinois should be allowed to stay on the board amidst scandal when the rest agreed to resign?

And most importantly, does Quinn really believe in the campaign finance bill, or did he just need something reformy to sign on the anniversary of Blago's arrest? 

For all the talk about changing a diseased political culture, there is precious little recognition that changing the culture requires those in it to change their behavior - including the way they run their campaigns.

No sign of that from Quinn. Quinn ballyhooes the campaign finance bill - which many campaign finance reform advocates find dreadful - as an example of a new day in Illinois. But when true reformers mutter under their breath about Quinn while the Machine flocks to support his bid for a full term in office, something is wrong.

"The people of Illinois are good and true," Quinn says in his video. "They're faithful, they're patriotic, they're hard-working, and they believe in doing the right thing all the time."

Obviously that's not true. The state's pols are "the people of Illinois" too, and so is the web of folks who support and enable them. Not every Illinoisan is faithful, and not every Illinoisan is good and true.

The question for voters now is whether Quinn is.

Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.

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