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Reeder: No longer an outsider, Quinn defends status quo

Scott Reeder

Scott Reeder

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Updated: October 11, 2013 6:23AM



Some politicians make better pot-stirrers than problem solvers.

For most of Pat Quinn’s political career, he has played the role of rabble rouser. He was the consummate outsider taking on the political establishment.

In 1980, he successfully led the campaign for a constitutional amendment to reduce the size of the Illinois House by a third.

In protest of a 1978 legislative pay raise, Quinn, whose birthday shares a date with the Boston Tea Party, inspired about 40,000 Illinoisans to mail tea bags to then-Gov. James Thompson.

He founded the Citizens Utility Board in 1983 in response to a perceived coziness between public utility companies and government.

Now, Quinn has become a champion of corporate welfare himself.

Sears, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and many other politically connected corporations have been the beneficiaries of the governor’s largesse with our tax dollars.

For most of his career, Quinn has burnished the image of himself as a populist, jousting with the political establishment.

But like the old Glen Campbell song goes, “There has been a load of compromising on the road to (his) horizon.”

Today, Quinn is the political establishment. Rather than railing against the powers that be, Quinn is defending the status quo. The flip-flopping examples are numerous.

In the 1990s, Quinn pushed for a constitutional amendment to create term limits for legislators. But the Illinois Supreme Court threw out the proposal before it could go to the voters.

This past week, however, Quinn came out against a new plan to create term limits for lawmakers, a plan being pushed by Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner.

Quinn’s handling of the issue these days shows how the role of political insider fits him about as well as a cheap suit.

You also can look no further than his impotence in pushing for pension reform. His lackluster proposals have gone nowhere.

The best we have gotten from the Quinn administration are plans to kick the state’s $100 billion pension funding crisis farther down the road. That’s hardly a record to build a re-election campaign on.

To be fair, Quinn’s case is hardly unique.

I’ve seen it countless times in my 25 years covering politics — where outsiders get elected or appointed and suddenly become insiders, where would-be reformers become defenders of the status quo.

That said, Rauner’s push to impose term limits on state representatives and senators comes at an awkward time for Quinn.

By the time Quinn finishes this term, he will have served six years as governor, and he’s running for another four-year term.

That makes it difficult for him to support a constitutional amendment that would limit lawmakers to serving fewer years than he is seeking as governor.

Rauner’s full proposal also would make it harder to override a governor’s veto by changing the majority needed from three-fifths to two-thirds.

And he wants to limit legislators to eight years in office, cut the size of the Senate from 59 members to 41 and expand the House from 118 to 123.

Quinn spokesman Dave Blanchette said the governor opposes the measure because he doesn’t believe the House should be expanded by five people.

It would seem a small point on which to oppose term limits, especially since Quinn was once the cause’s most vocal supporter.

But then again, he’s an insider now.

And that says it all.

Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist-in-residence at the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonprofit research group that supports the free market and limited government.



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