By Bethany Jaeger
Democrats got a preview Wednesday of what to expect leading up to the February 2 primary election: a partial-term governor who says an income tax increase is necessary to maintain essential state services versus a state comptroller who says citizens shouldn’t have a governor by default. They should have a choice.
Comptroller Dan Hynes stood a few feet away from Gov. Pat Quinn this morning when he said Illinois needs a governor who leads with “no sugarcoating, no short-cuts, no excuses.”
“We need a governor who can provide strong and steady leadership for smart budget policies that will put us on solid financial ground, and we will need a leader who will offer a clear, consistent and compelling vision for our future,” Hynes said. “That’s what this election is about.”
He spoke to a packed banquet hall during an annual breakfast of the Illinois Democratic County Chairmen’s Association in Springfield. Many Illinois elected officials typically attend the event before the annual State Fair rally day for Democrats.
Hynes continued to say that the Democratic Party has been through too much to take the path of least resistance. “The people of Illinois have been through too much to avoid asking tough questions and facing a public debate about which vision our party will embrace. I respect Pat Quinn. I find him to be a decent man, but this nomination must be earned, not bequeathed or signed or transferred. It must be earned.”
A few moments later, Quinn in his speech countered that on March 18, he proposed a budget that would raise the state income tax as a way to balance a severely out-of-whack budget and help recover from the aftermath of a nationwide recession. “Talk about courage. Talk about not sugarcoating our budget deficit. We have to tell the truth to the people of Illinois.”
Throughout his speech, Quinn thanked all statewide officers except Hynes. He even thanked local politicians, including Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. The governor later said he would defend his record against Hynes’ statements, particularly since the comptroller has not endorsed the idea of an income tax increase. “He can stand on the sidelines and throw bricks at the guy in the middle of the arena, but I think part of the job of governor is not to be a shrinking violet, to take positions and to defend those positions and tell the people what they need to know,” Quinn said.
Hynes chose not to attend a Democratic rally at the State Fairgrounds later in the day because, he said, Quinn deserved to host of the annual Governor’s Day, a State Fair tradition. I ran into Hynes after the rally, when he said his budget plan would start with spending cuts, then find new revenues. "We have to eliminate wasteful spending and show the people that we’re doing everything we can to sacrifice and streamline before we ask them to pay more. And that hasn’t yet happened. Gov. Quinn has really been unwilling to do those tough things.”
As part of the budget agreement with the state legislature, Quinn already has cut $1 billion in spending and is charged with reducing another $1 billion before the end of the fiscal year. Among many other spending decreases, Quinn seeks furlough days and layoffs for state employees. But some of those plans require negotiations with public employee unions, who strongly oppose both ideas and instead say an income tax increase is necessary.
Governor’s Day at the State Fair
The Democratic rally completely differed from the past six years. The absence of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, as well as busloads of union supporters that Blagojevich’s campaign brought in, made a difference. For the first time, the House speaker, the Senate president and the governor sat next to each other. Even Attorney General Lisa Madigan joined the rally, which she has not attended in a few years.
There was little drama, other than jokes made about six of at least eight candidates for lieutenant governor sitting on the stage together and addressing the crowd one by one.
Democratic leaders acknowledged that their political party faces many challenges, particularly the ethical lapses and fiscal woes exposed within the last year, but they tried to frame Blagojevich’s impeachment as a result of their proactive steps.
“As we face a challenge of ethics and integrity, it was the Democrats in the Illinois House of Representatives that initiated the impeachment proceeding against their own Democratic governor,” said House Speaker Michael Madigan. “We’re not happy with what happened, but when the time came, we were more than capable to make a decision that one of our own had done wrong and must be removed from office.”
Republicans will try not to let them get away with that, however. Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, whom I stood next to in the Statehouse basement during a tornado warning, countered the Democratic message. “They can try as hard as they want, but the people of this state are smarter than that. And the fact of the matter is, people need to remember, the Democrat legislature enabled Blagojevich from Day 1. So it’s difficult for them just to walk away now.” Madigan also co-chaired Blagojevich’s reelection campaign, she added.
Republicans will have their rally day at the State Fair on Thursday.