CHICAGO – Coming off a spring session in which all of his top legislative priorities failed, Gov. Pat Quinn finds himself politically vulnerable and facing another trial: fending off the string of potential candidates who want to unseat him in 2014.
Quinn needed a win on some of the major issues he told reporters were atop his priority list: fixing Illinois’ $97 billion pension problem, legalizing same-sex marriage and approving a gun control measure restricting high-capacity ammunition magazines. But lawmakers adjourned for the session Friday without sending any of those measures to his desk.
Political analyst Don Rose said it’s hard to say whether the Chicago Democrat’s approval ratings – already some of the lowest of any governor in the country – can sink any further as a result. But even if voters don’t blame Quinn for the Legislature’s failure to act, it was a missed opportunity.
“He needed something to give him a boost,” Rose said. “There are just too many things that didn’t happen. Even though it’s not his fault, he sort of loses all around.”
Quinn’s would-be replacements began lining up Sunday, as Republican state Treasurer Dan Rutherford officially launched his campaign. Republican State Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard and venture capitalist Bruce Rauner also have expressed interest. Former White House chief of staff Bill Daley and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan also have said they are considering challenging Quinn in a Democratic primary.
Several of the potential candidates have indicated they were waiting for the session to end before getting into the race, so they could see what achievements Quinn might have to tout on the campaign trail. But the Democratic-controlled Legislature didn’t give him much to brag about.
The House and Senate couldn’t agree on whether to back a pension fix sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan or one backed by Senate President John Cullerton. Each chamber passed its leader’s bill. The Senate then voted down Madigan’s proposal. The next day, Madigan – father to potential Quinn challenger Lisa Madigan – adjourned the House without calling Cullerton’s plan for a vote.
The measure to place restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines failed in the Senate, and the sponsor of the bill to allow gay marriage announced he wouldn’t call the measure for a vote on the House floor because it didn’t have the votes to pass.
In his campaign announcement Sunday, Rutherford immediately seized on the pension mess.
“The most important thing that needed to get done didn’t get done,” he said.
Rutherford blamed Quinn for not being active enough in negotiations, saying he should have had legislative leaders eating every meal or even spending the night at the governor’s mansion if that was what it took.
“Be in the meetings. Be there,” Rutherford said. “Actually substantively participate in that discussion. I didn’t see that happening.”
On Friday night, Quinn pointed the finger at Madigan and Cullerton, who made a late push to allow Chicago to skip a payment to its teacher pension fund but couldn’t break their stalemate on the state’s much larger crisis. He also criticized the General Assembly.
“There is something wrong in Illinois when the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate could join together to propose a pension holiday for Chicago, yet they could not send a comprehensive pension reform bill to my desk,” Quinn said in a statement.
He also stressed the efforts he has made for more than a year — a pension working group, proposing “solution after solution,” last year’s unsuccessful special legislative session and “countless” meetings with lawmakers. He said he would call the legislative leaders together again this week to try to work out a pension deal.
Rep. Elaine Nekritz, one of the Legislature’s leaders on pension reform, said there was enough blame to go around.
“It’s a black eye for the state of Illinois, not just for the governor,” the Democrat from Northbrook said.
Even the Republican leader in the House, Rep. Tom Cross, defended Quinn.
“I know it’s easy to blame the governor. He’s an easy target,” Cross, of Oswego, told the chamber Friday night. “And I may seem a little out of line as a Republican leader, but I’ve got to tell you, I don’t want to look to the governor to fix this. I look to the members of the Illinois General Assembly to fix pensions.”
Asked about the impact of the session on Quinn’s re-election, spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Sunday that the governor is focused on his job, not the campaign trail.
“At the end of the day, Gov. Quinn is a fighter. He’s going to keep fighting for these big issues, and he’s not going to stop fighting until he gets them done,” Anderson said. “That’s the kind of leader the people of Illinois want.”