Thursday, January 29, 2009

Meet Gov. Pat Quinn

By Bethany Jaeger
Pat Quinn was once booed on the House floor in 1976 (see our recent Pat Quinn profile here). Tonight, he received a standing ovation as he took the oath as Illinois’ 41st governor. Before all constitutional officers and legislative leaders, as well as family and friends and some lawmakers, Quinn smiled and raised his right hand.

Turning to the audience, filled with all constitutional officers and legislative leaders, he addressed the serious challenges ahead. He first recited the familiar words of one of his favorite politicians, Abraham Lincoln, by honoring the philosophy of “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

He called upon Illinoisans to prepare to make sacrifices and to work together to solve the state’s economic crisis, fiscal crisis and integrity crisis. Then, fighting tears, he read a letter written by an admiral in the U.S. Navy about his late father, Patrick Quinn. He said the people of Illinois could benefit from the same characteristics possessed by his father. “If all of us, the people of Illinois, are cheerful, earnest, cooperative, frank and honest, we can achieve great things in the Land of Lincoln.”

After receiving congratulations from lawmakers, he conducted his first news conference as governor in the Statehouse Press Room. He often intermixed serious statements with more relaxed and jovial moments. Meanwhile, one flight of stairs below, people stood on watch for the locks to be changed on the executive office.

Quinn will make his first announcement as governor at 10 a.m. Friday outside of that Statehouse office. Joking with reporters, he said it will be a surprise. Otherwise, he said, “you won’t come back. It’s my one-and-only shot.” He said he plans to regularly be available to the media because he enjoys the exchange and because it keeps public officials accountable.

Seriousness culminated with mention of the state budget. He said with no cooperation from Blagojevich’s administration to ease the transition, the governor’s annual budget address has been moved back from February 18 to March 18, giving him time to assess the damage and find out what the true size of the deficit. “I think the governor has to level with the people of Illinois. That’s what they want. And then we’ll have a blueprint for digging out of this morass.”

He said the budget he will propose will be one “that will be a proper one for the times that we are finding ourselves in.” Tax increases could be on the table, but Quinn said: “Nobody likes paying taxes. April 15 is not my favorite day, never will be. So I think it’s important to understand that in our democracy, the price of being in a democracy is that citizens agree that they do have to pay taxes in order for the common good. And so we will find a way to have a fair system, which hopefully keeps taxes as low as possible.”

He repeatedly tried to shift the public’s focus to the future. “There’s a reason God put our eyes in front of our head. If we’re going to always look backwards, we probably won’t go very far in Illinois or anywhere else. I think we need to look forward.”

Priorities will include funding a capital plan, which he said will emphasize sustainable and efficient energy and conservation and infrastructure that will allow for fiber optic lines down the road. Other priorities will include public safety, education and health care.

He addressed various issues before heading to the Executive Mansion a few blocks away for dinner with his family, including his 91-year-old mother. Here’s a brief summary of the topics he addressed and philosophies that could drive his proposals next month:

  • Public employee positions will be “under review.” He said, “If you are doing a good job and being diligent, that’s what we’re looking for.”
  • The recently appointed director of the Department of Natural Resources, former Rep. Kurt Granberg of Carlyle, might not be up to par with Quinn’s desire to have a “natural resources professional” in that position.
  • He plans to open state parks and historic sites that Blagojevich closed after cutting state funding.
  • He will take down the Chicago Tollway signs with Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s name on them and might replace them with signs that say, “The people of Illinois welcome you.”
  • Quote of the night: “I am proud of being frugal. I’m a VIP member of the Super 8, and I moved up from Motel 6.”
  • He followed up with this: “I think being frugal is useful, but I am very generous. I think everyone will tell you that I’m very generous to a fault.”
  • He would not address whether he will run for governor in 2010. “I don’t think the people of Illinois need politics right now. We’ve had our dose of that — a heavy dose — for the last seven weeks. I think this should be a year of governance, where people really work on repairing damage and making things better. And there will be plenty of time for politics in 2010.”
Blagojevich: I will continue to fight for the people
By Jamey Dunn
At the same time Quinn gave his news conference, Blagojevich spoke outside of his home and said he was “saddened” but “not surprised” by the Senate’s decision to remove him from office. He listed what he deems as his accomplishments in health care and education and listed all the public servant jobs he has held from his most recent office back to when he was a prosecutor. He said that although he is no longer governor, he will continue to fight for the people of Illinois and to prove his innocence.

"I love the people of Illinois today now more than I ever did before."

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