Friday, January 30, 2009

Quinn's first days in office

In his first full day as Illinois’ top executive, Gov. Pat Quinn addressed ethics and political campaigns, two topics fresh in the minds of voters after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s legal and political problems.

Holding a bow tie of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, Quinn signed his first executive order on the speaker’s podium outside of his new Statehouse office. The order officially charters an Ethics Reform Commission that he started a few weeks ago. By mid-March, the commission is expected to recommend major policy changes for everything from the way the state hires contractors to the way candidates fund political campaigns. Other topics of interest include improving transparency of state government, allowing voters to recall elected officials, revamping the way legislative districts are redrawn and strengthening protections for whistleblowers, according to Duane Noland of Blue Mound, former state lawmaker who was appointed to the commission. He said the ultimate goal is to change the attitude that Illinois has a culture of corruption and to start attracting better candidates.

The governor’s order establishes the commission as a public body, subject to public access and open meetings laws.

While that reform panel, led by former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins, could propose reforms that would be drastic for Illinois — including limiting the amount voters could donate to political campaigns — Quinn made a second statement this morning that could make waves with statewide political party leaders.

Quinn said he supports moving the primary election from February to September to shorten the campaign season. Illinois Democrats moved the date from March to February last year in an effort to boost the state’s significance in selecting now President Barack Obama as the Democratic candidate. Illinois became one of 22 states on the so-called Super-Duper Tuesday primary of 2008. The school of thought was that states that held later election dates would be less likely to matter because a majority of states already selected their candidates and doled out their electoral votes.

The ironic part is that because so many states had a February 5 primary, none mattered as much as the states that held primary elections later in the summer.

Quinn said the state’s February 2, 2010, primary would be the earliest in the country. “I don’t think it behooves Illinois or helps Illinois to have a huge, long, nine-month period of a general election. A lot of people think we are in perpetual campaign mode, perpetual fundraising mode. We need to identify the problems — that’s one of them, a big one — and I think solutions include having a shorter general election campaign, where the voters can evaluate the candidates. Six, seven, eight weeks is sufficient. It is for the presidency. I think it is for the governor.”

Moving a primary election, however, never has gained a consensus, said Steve Brown, spokesman for the Illinois Democratic Party, and may not actually shorten the campaign season. “We just saw where people were campaigning more than a year ahead of the balloting, so I don’t know that the date of the elections has that much to do with it anymore.”

He said while Illinois was in the mix of 22 Super-Duper Tuesday primaries, Illinois at least gave Obama a “good, solid big-state victory to offset Hillary Clinton’s” wins.

Quinn’s first few days in office starkly differ from Blagojevich’s tenure. Quinn ate dinner and slept in the governor’s mansion after taking his oath of office. He started his morning news conference less than 10 minutes late. He answered questions for about 30 minutes, and after he ended the news conference at the podium, he continued to talk to reporters who huddled around him.

His schedule today included meeting with all constitutional officers in Chicago and meeting with the Illinois Association of Park Districts. Tomorrow, he’s scheduled to speak at a conference of the pubic employees union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, in Springfield, before heading to Peoria to thank volunteers who help people file their income tax returns and apply for low-income assistance. He said he wants to get to every part of the state quickly.

He also established his favorite phrase to describe his work ethic: Early to bed, early to rise. Work like hell and organize.

He said his hope is to have the most productive and reform-minded legislative session in recent memory. “That is what the public wants, and I think if we do what the public wants, we’ll do pretty well.”

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