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Thursday, July 9, 2009 12:21 pm

Quinn learns to play the blame game

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Gov. Pat Quinn

As with any state legislative overtime session and possible government shutdown, “Job One” right now is making sure somebody else gets the blame.

Last week, Gov. Pat Quinn dramatically vetoed an appropriations bill and then held a press conference to lay full blame for the overtime deadlock at the General Assembly’s feet. The bill, he said, would create too many hardships for social service agencies, spark never-ending lawsuits, prevent his administration from hiring much-needed contractors, etc.

Quinn also blamed House Speaker Michael Madigan for the impasse over extending the budget by a month or so to help buy more time to cut a deal.

Unbeknownst to many, Madigan was still in Springfield during Quinn’s press conference, so it was quite a surprise when he announced his own presser shortly after Quinn finished talking to reporters.

Speaker Madigan’s goal was simple: Paint the governor as a flip-flopper, and blame those flip-flops on the inability to come to a satisfactory conclusion of the spring session. Clean and concise.

Madigan listed four significant Quinn flip-flops which, Madigan said, were making it difficult to do business.

Quinn’s broken pledge not to tie the fate of the desperately needed public works projects legislation to the state’s budget, was one flip-flop, Madigan rightly pointed out. The governor’s support of the state Senate’s tax hike and then his opposition the very next day was another. And then there was Quinn’s early demand that the “shovel ready” capital projects bill be passed immediately, even though he is currently refusing to implement the program. Last week, Quinn heaped praise on legislators for moving forward on a pension borrowing plan to free up $2 billion for the state’s budget and then lobbied Senators to kill the bill a few hours later.

“So, these are all flip-flops,” Madigan said. “They are not helpful to his credibility.”

Quinn has his reasons for flip-flopping, and most of them aren’t very good. But the governor is not totally to blame here.

Who is to blame? As always, it’s really everybody.

Quinn said last week he opposed the pension borrowing plan in the Senate to send a “message” that an adequate budget resolution must be found right away. But that pension proposal would’ve pumped over $2 billion into private social service agencies that Quinn said he’s so concerned about. The veto means that many agencies are now staring at bankruptcy.

Quinn is right that Madigan’s complete opposition to any temporary budget extension killed the idea. Madigan said that budget extensions tended to delay decisions which needed to be made — the very same reason Quinn gave for his flip-flop on the pension borrowing proposal. Basically, they’re talking past each other with the same talking points. Not helpful.

Quinn’s flip-flops came from locking himself into positions that he eventually realized had damaged his end-game of passing a tax increase. He also mistakenly believed that the legislative leaders would play nice. They don’t. So, he radically changed course and infuriated the leaders, who say they operate on “Your word is your bond” — especially when it suits their purposes. There can be no doubt that Speaker Madigan and other legislative leaders repeatedly attempted to maneuver Quinn into a corner for their own advantage.
You can trust the leaders most of the time when they give you their word on where they are on a certain bill or idea — but you can never trust them before they reach that point. They’ll always be looking out for their own interests, or the interests of their respective caucuses. Quinn was just too green and naive and made the fatal mistake of failing to include in his inner circle enough people who understood the ways of the Statehouse world — and refused to heed the warnings of the few people who do.

This blame game stuff may all seem pretty petty while the world appears to be collapsing around Springfield — and it is. But it’s all they know. And in a world where political positioning means everything, being successfully blamed can blow even a reasonable position out of the water.

Quinn’s press conference shows he is now savvy enough to understand that. He said he’s planning to use the next two weeks to build public support for his positions. One of those appearances, he said, would be at a soldier’s funeral. He may be learning this game too well.

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