SPRINGFIELD – Some politicians make better pot-stirrers than problem solvers.
For most of Pat Quinn’s political career, he has played the role of rabble-rouser. He was the consummate outsider taking on the political establishment.
In the 1980s, he successfully led the charge to reduce the size of the Illinois General Assembly.
In protest of a 1978 legislative pay raise, Quinn, whose birthday shares a date with the Boston Tea Party, inspired 40,000 Illinoisans to mail tea bags to then-Gov. James R. Thompson.
Now, Quinn, who decades ago founded the Citizen’s Utility Board in response to a perceived coziness between corporate public utilities and government, has become a champion of corporate welfare himself.
Sears, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and many other politically connected corporations have been the beneficiaries of the governor’s largess with our tax dollars.
For most of his career the governor has burnished the image of himself as a populist jousting with the political establishment.
Today, Quinn is the political establishment. Rather than railing against the powers that be, Quinn is defending the status quo. The flip-flopping examples are numerous.
In the 1990s, Quinn pushed for a constitutional amendment to create term limits for legislators. But the Illinois Supreme Court threw out the proposal before it could go to the voters. Just this past week, however, he came out against a new plan to create term limits for state lawmakers. This time the plan is being pushed by GOP gubernatorial hopeful Bruce Rauner.
His handling of the question shows how the role of political insider fits Quinn about as well as a cheap suit. Look no further than his utter impotence in pushing for pension reform. The best we have gotten from the Quinn administration are plans to kick the state’s $100 billion pension crisis further down the road.
And even those lackluster proposals have gone nowhere. That’s hardly a record to build a re-election campaign on.
To be fair, Quinn’s case is hardly unique.
I’ve seen it countless times in my 25 years covering politics – where outsiders become insiders and would-be reformers become defenders of the status quo.
That said, Rauner’s push comes at an awkward time for Quinn.
By the time Quinn finishes this term, he’ll have served six years as governor – and he is running for another four-year term.
That makes it difficult for him to support a constitutional amendment that would limit lawmakers to serving fewer years than he is seeking as governor.
Rauner’s full proposal also would make it harder to override a governor’s veto by changing the majority of votes needed from three-fifths to two-thirds. And he wants to limit legislators to eight years in office, cut the size of the Senate from 59 members to 41 and expand the House from 118 to 123.
Quinn spokesman Dave Blanchette said the governor opposes the measure because he doesn’t believe the House should be expanded by five seats.
It would seem a small point to oppose term limits on, especially since Quinn was once the cause’s most vocal supporter.
But then again, he’s an insider now.
And that says it all.
• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at email@example.com.