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Quinn: 'Stability' Was Greatest Achievement As Governor

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jan 6, 2015 10:00PM

Photo credit: Brian Kersey/Getty Images

This time next week, Pat Quinn will no longer be governor of Illinois and, indeed, his ascent as the state’s chief executive seemed unlikely and a combination of luck and grit. As Quinn counts down his final days in office before handing the keys to the governor’s mansion to Bruce Rauner and returning to his home in Galewood on the city’s West Side, he took the time to reflect on his nearly six years in office with the Tribune. What does he consider his greatest achievement?

Quinn said his biggest accomplishment as governor was guiding Illinois through the "dire straits" he inherited when he moved up from lieutenant governor six years ago. He took over after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached and removed, with Illinois a late-night TV punch line. The state's economy reeled from the Great Recession.

"I think we navigated through those hard economic times, hard fiscal times and definitely the need for ethics reform and a model of doing things right. That's been a job well done," said Quinn, who added that when measuring his time as governor, one must consider "now versus then."

Quinn was a stabilizing presence as governor and, given his history, it was a near-certainty he would not follow his predecessors, Blagojevich and George Ryan, behind bars. But as I wrote in November 2010, he was far from “Governor Milquetoast:” Pat Quinn is a scrapper, as evidenced by his late rally to beat Bill Brady in 2010 and making the race against Bruce Rauner closer than it should have been.

As governor, Quinn wasn’t afraid to make unpopular decisions. Exhibit A: signing into law the temporary state income tax hikes Rauner already said would be rolled back once he is inaugurated. Quinn also fought with labor unions over benefits, threatened to withhold income tax payments to Illinois cities (including Chicago) if he couldn’t borrow billions to pay the state’s backlog of unpaid bills. He opposed expanding gambling in Illinois because of the lack of regulation in the legislation approved by the state Legislature. He signed laws abolishing the death penalty and legalizing same-sex marriages. And he tried (and mostly failed) to get Illinoisans to understand the gravity of the state’s underfunded pension mess.

If some want to read “stability” to mean “Pat Quinn isn’t going to prison,” that’s perfectly acceptable with me; Blagojevich and Ryan set the bar pretty damn low.

It’s possible to conceive Quinn could have achieved more had state Democratic leaders (coughMike Madigancough) been more willing to work with him instead of marking their territory and acting like kingmakers. And Quinn, in his later years in office, showed an alarming tendency to go with the flow instead of fight Madigan.

Pat Quinn was the governor we needed at the time. He wound up being the governor we had and that proved to be his undoing. But he seems to be looking forward to the future.

"The progressive approach means you've got to tell people the unvarnished truth, even if it's hard," said Quinn, barely masking his criticism of Rauner, whose plans for state government so far have been short on specifics. "It's better to tell people what they need to know, not what politicians want them to hear.

"I think, over six years, I did exactly that. I know there are political risks to doing that, and especially doing bold things, especially about revenue, you know, there are risks. That doesn't mean they aren't the right things to do, but you tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may. Call them as you see them."