Six Months Later, Pat Quinn's Got Scars | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Six Months Later, Pat Quinn's Got Scars

Next week marks six months since Pat Quinn took over as Illinois' governor. Quinn was welcomed into the job by longtime friends - and even some longtime critics - as a "breath of fresh air." The honeymoon ended quickly, though. And the recent budget battle has left scars heading into a potentially tough election season.

Pat Quinn's resume of populist activism in and out of elected office spans four decades. But his legacy will no doubt be marked by this moment, on January 29.

JUSTICE THOMAS FITZGERALD: I now pronounce the judgment of conviction against Rod R. Blagojevich, thereby removing him from the office of governor, effective immediately.

Minutes later, Quinn was sworn in before the legislature as Illinois' 41st governor.

QUINN: Now it's our job to call upon the people of Illinois to make the sacrifices necessary to address the serious challenges that we have before us: the integrity challenge, the challenge of our economy, the challenge of making sure we pay our bills.

By all accounts, those goals have not been met. And the budget debate that began then, and to some extent still continues, quickly strained the new governor's relationship with the legislature.

CULLERTON: Well, you know what, we appreciate the fact that he was brought in by our votes kind of halfway through the budget process. He's an honest guy. He's working hard. You know, he's better than that last guy.

That's Senate President John Cullerton earlier this month after Quinn vetoed an early version of the budget. The governor's efforts to convince lawmakers to raise the income tax had come up short - a failure Cullerton explains, in part, by Quinn's past as an activist and an outsider.

CULLERTON: He's never really worked with the legislature. He's worked against the legislature, historically. So, he's got to understand what it takes for people to come around and vote.

Cullerton and others have also complained that Quinn kept changing his mind during the budget debate. Quinn dismisses that charge, saying those so-called "flip flops" are actually compromises to achieve "the common good" - compromises that some Quinn supporters are now having a hard time stomaching.

LINDALL: Well, everyone knows the context under which Pat Quinn took office.

Anders Lindall is spokesman for AFSCME Council 31, a union representing about 40,000 state workers. Lindall says Quinn was right for pushing for a tax increase. But he says Quinn was wrong for eventually signing a budget that doesn't provide that revenue.

LINDALL: Pat Quinn's threat to lay off thousands of state employees who provide essential human services and public safety functions is profoundly disappointing and it is grossly irresponsible.

Quinn also wants state workers to take unpaid days off, forgo a pay increase, and agree to reduced pensions for new employees. Not exactly an agenda designed to keep happy a union that's donated about $80,000 to his campaign in recent years.

It's worth noting here that - in the past six months - AFSCME gave $5,000 bucks to Quinn's campaign, while giving five times as much to his possible primary opponent, Comptroller Dan Hynes. That's according to campaign finance reports filed this week, in the same database where I found other longtime supporters of Pat Quinn.

SMITH: My name is Vic Smith.

Park Ridge resident Vic Smith made about a dozen donations - a few hundred dollars at a time - to Quinn's campaign in the past decade.

SMITH: Primarily because I thought he was dedicated and honest and forthright.

And while he's not too pleased about Quinn's push for a tax hike, Smith believes the governor's doing what he can in a tough situation.

SMITH: We're in uncharted waters, so I think he's not going to be going forward without a misstep here or there. And I think you have to go with the gal you brought to the dance with. Okay. Because who's better out there? Who's more qualified than he is?

As for Governor Quinn himself, he's not interested in self assessment at this point. I asked him a week ago what mistakes he'd made in the past six months, and what he'd learned from them.

QUINN: I'd have to take a little bit of time to come up with a laundry list of mistakes.

Quinn asked for a week to think about it. So, Thursday, I asked him again.
QUINN: That's your favorite question. Well, I thought and thought in the last week. Maybe I need another month or so to come up with that. I'm sure all of us are fallible. Don't get me wrong, I make mistakes. But I don't think I spend a lot of time looking at my navel, saying, 'What mistakes have I made today?'

Quinn says it's his job to be optimistic, and to "carry out the duties of the office the best I can."

Music Button: AJ Kluth Quintet, "Red", from the CD Twice Now, (AO2 records)

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