William Daley’s abrupt withdrawal from the race for Illinois governor looks like a loss for voters.
For one, voters always benefit from a choice, and competition generally helps candidates sharpen their views and take positions that help define them to the electorate.
For another, Daley’s dropping out means that incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn will not really have to defend his record in the primary, and that loyal Democratic voters will have no serious option other than him should they choose to vote in the March primary. Quinn’s lone remaining opponent for the Democratic nomination is Tio Hardiman, the former director of a Chicago anti-violence advocacy group, CeaseFire.
That’s a shame. Quinn deserves a serious primary challenge. His record of leadership on the state’s most important issues has been lacking.
The state’s unfunded pension obligations have increased to about $100 billion, and the state has a backlog of unpaid bills that totaled more than $6 billion in July and was expected to grow. That is despite the roughly $7 billion more a year the state collected in 2012 as a result of an income-tax increase that Quinn championed.
Meanwhile, the state is funding education at a level that is only 89 percent of what it sets as a baseline, and it was considered a victory this year that it wasn’t cut further. Many local school districts have seen deficits in their budgets as a result of the state’s inability to help.
The state of Illinois’ unemployment rate was 9.2 percent in July, second-worst in the U.S., behind only Nevada’s 9.5 percent, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said.
At the root of many of these problems is the pension problem, an area where Quinn has been ineffective as a leader. Legislators have ignored Quinn’s imposed deadlines for addressing the issue, but at least some legislative leaders have produced a plan. Quinn’s administration has offered none, content to throw his support behind the agenda of House Speaker Michael Madigan, who many say is really the state’s most powerful politician, despite the fact that only a fraction of the state’s people can vote for or against him.
We would have liked to see Quinn seriously challenged by someone within his party, as his record has left him with no shortage of critics. But Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan declined to run because her father refuses to step down as Speaker of the House. Now Daley has decided that the state really is a mess, and running a campaign possibly followed by a term in office or two trying to fix it is more work that he was interested in at age 65.
Democrats control both the state House and Senate by super-majority, and under their watch, the problems have worsened. Ironically, it is those same problems that have helped clear the way for Quinn to run unopposed in the Democrat primary.
If Quinn is the only option the Democrats will present to voters this spring, then we look forward to the general election in a little more than a year.