Pat Quinn


One of the blogs I keep tabs on is Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn’s “Change of Subject.” Sometimes I agree with Zorn’s opinions and sometimes I don’t, but I always respect them, and that’s really all any decent columnist asks of his or her readers.

Anyway, “Change of Subject” is a Web-first column of opinions, observations and news bits, with its weekly contents distilled into a print column published in the Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune. This past week, Zorn briefly touched on the topic of capital punishment in Illinois, noting that Attorney General Lisa Madigan recently wrote a letter to Gov. Pat Quinn urging him not to sign a bill that would abolish the death penalty here.

While Zorn and I basically are on the same side of the subject — he believes the death penalty should be abolished and I agree because there have been so many wrongful convictions resulting in death penalties being doled out in Illinois — I disagree with Zorn’s comment that many of Madigan’s Democratic and liberal supporters were surprised by the attorney general’s letter. After all, anyone who has a basic understanding of the cogs of our court system should not be surprised that an attorney general would be in favor of keeping in place something that is intended to be a deterrent to crime.

Careen Gordon is no longer a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, but she still managed to become embroiled in a political controversy.

The Democrat, who recently moved from Morris to Chicago, was appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn to serve on the Illinois Prisoner Review Board — a job that pays $86,000 a year. Her hiring comes on the heels of her vote in favor of a major income tax hike championed by Quinn.

I’m not sure if this controversy has teeth — after all, Gordon may have supported the income tax hike simply because it was politically safe for the then-lame-duck legislator to do so, and as a former prosecutor, she certainly seems qualified for the job. But this comment she made about it to a Chicago Sun-Times reporter annoys me:

“There was no deal. That’s untrue,” she said. “My background is a perfect match for someone on the Prisoner Review Board. I’m done talking about it. I’m done being called a liar.”

She’s “done talking about it”? She’s “done being called a liar”? She seems awfully touchy — but that doesn’t surprise me. (Gordon was one of the politicians I had to keep tabs on during my year-and-a-half covering politics for Ottawa Delivered.)

I suspect Gordon is still smarting from her Election Day loss to Sue Rezin, who was backed by the local tea party movement.

My last Ottawa Delivered column of 2010:

It’s been a great year to be a political reporter. Whether it was the Capitol Hill wars, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s corruption trial or any of many interesting election battles, 2010 was notable in the political realm.

By contrast, it was a relatively quiet year on the La Salle County Board front, though the county certainly had its share of notability in 2010. For example, there was the swift rise and fall of the forest preserve; more administrative changes at the nursing home; controversial pay raises; and the dispute centering on the county’s now-former software vendor, Sikich.

Illinois politics created quite a range of news, from our state’s Blagojevich baggage to the close, contentious race between his successor, Gov. Pat Quinn and state Sen. Bill Brady, to the free-for-all to replace Richard M. Daley as Chicago mayor. State politics provided a couple memorable moments locally, namely Sue Rezin’s victory over state Rep. Careen Gordon and the surprise resignation of state Sen. Gary Dahl, which resulted in Rezin being named to Dahl’s seat.

The political story of 2010 that is most memorable to me is the 11th Congressional District race that saw challenger Adam Kinzinger defeat incumbent U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson by a runaway margin. Covering the race extensively made it memorable, to be sure, but so did the ramifications of the race. The GOP is clearly grooming Kinzinger for bigger things, giving him some plum assignments for a freshman legislator. It will be interesting to watch what happens to his political career.

Kinzinger will be only one of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, but he’ll be weighing in on matters of national importance – and when it comes to national politics, these are interesting times. The year began with President Obama riding high and pushing his agenda forward, only to be slapped back at the polls in November, and ending with Obama’s apparent comeback via compromise with Republican leaders.

Still, it’s too early to tell if Obama’s supposed comeback is indeed that. I suspect it’s more complicated than it seems, but if the president continues his path down the political middle, then he likely is doing himself a favor looking ahead to 2012. Either way, you can safely bet that 2011 will be another year when it’s worth paying attention to politics.

The long version of my column from this week’s Ottawa Delivered:

In what probably was the most surprising result from last week’s general election, Gov. Pat Quinn (D-Chicago) narrowly defeated state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) for a full four-year gubernatorial term.

If you weren’t surprised by Quinn’s win, consider that he is a governor with a low approval rating, a Democrat who swam against a Republican wave of victories, and, most importantly, he was upfront with voters about his intention to raise the state income tax to help pay for education funding – in an election cycle dominated by tea party talk of less spending and lower taxes.

But is Quinn’s surprise victory a mandate for a tax increase, as he claimed after Brady conceded the race?

I say it doesn’t because Quinn barely won the most votes – only about 20,000 more than Brady – and didn’t get a majority of them. But I also think – hold the stones, please – we shouldn’t expect him not to try passing the 1-percent state income tax hike. After all, Quinn won the election, so we should expect him to at least attempt enacting the proposals he made before Election Day.

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, master of the Springfield political arena and essential controller of state spending, suggested Tuesday he is in favor of Quinn’s proposed tax increase. Contrary to Quinn, though, Madigan refused to say anything about the issue until after he was safely re-elected.

Again, kudos to Quinn for being honest about his intention to raise taxes and still being able to pull off the gubernatorial victory. I wonder, however, whether Quinn would be feeling so mighty right now had state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) defeated Brady in the Republican primary. I suspect Dillard, who served as former Gov. Jim Edgar’s chief of staff, would’ve defeated Quinn because he probably would’ve come up with a proposed solution for the state’s budgetary mess. I don’t know whether Dillard’s solution would’ve been a good one, but any solution beats no solution, which basically is what Brady gave voters. And that probably would’ve been enough to nudge Dillard past Quinn.

This is all speculation, of course, and the bottom line is Quinn is our governor for four more years, and whether or not you voted for him personally, we all should hope he moves Illinois in the right direction. Otherwise, by the time he is up for re-election again, our state will be really screwed.

There are seven Republicans vying for the chance to knock Pat Quinn out of the governor’s mansion.

Democrat Dan Hynes wants to beat them to it, hoping to defeat the incumbent during the Feb. 2 primary election. I try to keep an open mind about all political candidates, but I must admit to being disappointed in Hynes when he made a campaign stop in Ottawa on Monday.

It didn’t bother me too much that Hynes was about 45 minutes late to the event – many politicians are habitually tardy, especially when campaigning. What bugged me was his inability to go “off message” – or even off script when talking to the media.

Sure, that’s a dream come true for a politician’s handler. But Illinois voters deserve someone who thinks on his feet, especially with all the problems our state faces.

When Hynes entered JJ’s Pub to a round of applause, his handler gathered the media for a quick group interview opportunity. The topic of most questions was the usual fare: taxes, the state’s budget deficit, health care, Thomson Correctional Center, Quinn’s early-release program for prisoners. If you’ve been following the governor’s race, you already know how Hynes answered those questions, because those questions have been asked of him so many times he has the answers memorized.

I give WCMY’s Rick Koshko credit for asking about stem-cell research. Hynes apparently has answered that one before, because he had an answer ready. So I decided to throw him a curveball and ask him a question he may not have gotten previously.

I asked him about the Asian carp problem.

Hynes said he knows the carp are causing trouble in our waterways, but he hasn’t come out with a position on the issue, so he wasn’t going to say anything more about it.

While it may be understandable that the issue isn’t one of Hynes’ top priorities, we should expect a candidate for governor to have a widespread awareness of the issues facing the state. Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case against Illinois over the spread of Asian carp. It’s not exactly an under-the-radar issue. Shouldn’t a candidate for leader of Illinois have an opinion about something our state is being sued over?

As soon as he “answered” my question, Hynes abruptly ended the presser by turning away and quickly walking over to greet some supporters. He never thanked us for our time, which isn’t that important, except most candidates are nice enough to do so.

Let’s just hope that if Hynes becomes governor, he doesn’t turn his back on us the same way.

This column appears in this week’s print edition of Ottawa Delivered. Incidentally, I recently was promoted to managing editor of the print edition.

Breaking news this afternoon from the Chicago Tribune‘s Web site:

Gov. Pat Quinn today signed into law a measure that will ban Illinois motorists from sending text messages while driving in an effort to cut down on distracted driving.

“It’s really bad that we have to legislate logic,” said Secretary of State Jesse White, who pushed the measure. “Common sense would tell you that when your eyes are off the road, who’s driving?”

Of course, White is right. But, as the saying goes, common sense no longer seems to be common.

Case in point: Last month I was driving north on Route 23 (a one-way, three-lane roadway) when a teenage girl slowly crept past me in her clunker — while using both hands to send a text message! I rolled down my window and yelled at her to keep her eyes on the road, though she didn’t appear to hear me. I drove away from her as fast as I legally could.

Imagine my surprise when, about a week later, I saw the same girl in the same car along the same stretch of Route 23 using both hands to put her hair in a ponytail while driving. At least this time she appeared to have her eyes on the road.

It amazes me that there are people like that, who don’t use basic common sense while performing a potentially dangerous task such as driving in multi-lane traffic. But that’s exactly why lawmakers sometimes have to legislate common sense.

For more details about the cans and can’ts of the texting-while-driving ban, click here.

The new law doesn’t go into effect until Jan. 1, but there is no good reason for drivers not to start obeying it now.

I’m officially sick and tired of Rod Blagojevich.

Like a good, dedicated blogger, I’ll continue to write about the former Illinois governor because that’s my job. (It’s an unpaid job, but I consider keeping my readers up-to-date about Blagojevich’s latest shenanigans an implicit agreement I promised you.) But let’s be clear: Rod Blagojevich is a corrupt, hypocritical, lying, narcissistic, self-important, self-serving, state-screwing, failed politician who doesn’t know when to shut up.

Blagojevich was back on WLS 890 AM for two hours Sunday afternoon (and will be again next Sunday from noon to 2 p.m.) as a fill-in host, and this time I think he went too far in criticizing his former political colleagues. It’s not that Illinois politicians don’t deserve criticism — plenty of them do. But Blagojevich calling them out on the carpet is like the pot calling the kettle black — especially when he is criticizing them about how they’re handling the financial mess he helped make as bad as it is.

Here is the gist of Sunday’s Blago show, as reported by ABC7 News (WLS-TV):

Blagojevich spent a couple of hours moderating a call-in show on WLS Radio. He said self-righteous and hypocritical politicians unlawfully removed him from office. He also called the governor and the leaders of the House and the Senate an “unholy Trinity,” and he was especially critical of Governor Quinn.

“I was hijacked from office. My successor, who broke his promise to the people and proposed a 50 percent income tax increase, just brought us 45,000 video poker machines,” said Blagojevich. “In less than six months, Pat Quinn has really stuck it to the average working person.”

“I watch what some of these phony politicians are doing to you, politicians who never were elected by you,” Blagojevich also said. “Our governor Pat Quinn never got a single vote to be governor. Mike Madigan, the speaker of the House, never got a single vote statewide from the people to make the decisions he’s making, and our new Senate President, John Cullerton, never received the votes of the people across Illinois.”

Blagojevich challenged Quinn to a debate and he said a change in his defense team would be announced in the coming week.

Here’s how Blagojevich threw down the debate gauntlet: “C’mon, Pat Quinn, you’re now the governor of Illinois, come on over here and spend at least an hour with me and you and I can discuss what you just did to the people of Illinois.”

After all that he did to this state’s reputation and financial standing, how dare Blagojevich take shots at Quinn?

As for the state’s budget woes, Blagojevich said if he was still in charge, he would reduce administrative costs, privatize the Illinois Lottery and close corporate tax loopholes, but not raise taxes. Of course, he made it sound like those things are easy to do. If that was the case, why didn’t he ever fix the state’s finances? Again, Blagojevich is a hypocrite.

Sadly, there are more than a few people who think the hypocrite is now an empowered voice of the people. Unfortunately, WLS Radio management appears to be among them.

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