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Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009 12:16 am

A better campaigner than he is a governor

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PHOTO BY TERRENCE ANTONIO JAMES/MCT


For the past several weeks, I’ve been confiding to friends that I think Gov. Pat Quinn has turned out to be a much better campaigner than anyone expected, and a much worse governor than everyone had hoped.

The campaign team that Quinn has put together is quite good. He’s raised a ton of cash, which has paid for some well-produced television ads.

“He’s had to unlearn three decades of muscle memory,” cracked someone from inside Quinn’s campaign a couple of months ago.

Indeed.

Quinn has never been an “A-List” campaigner. He has never really understood what it took to win a really big race — and it’s showed whenever he’s tried. He ran for secretary of state and was clobbered by George Ryan. Two years later he ran for U.S. Senate and was creamed in the Democratic primary by Dick Durbin. He still owed thousands of dollars from that 1996 U.S. Senate race until early this year.

From what I gather, the governor’s brother sat him down and told him that if he wanted to continue being governor then he would have to do all those things he detested, like spend a few hours a day raising money. To his credit, Quinn listened. And I, for one, have been pretty impressed with the results.

It’s the “governing” part of the job that’s been the problem for me. From the failure of his budget rollout, to his constant flip-flops on everything from taxes to gambling to ethics reforms to a government shutdown, Quinn has seemed that he’s in over his head. I, like everybody else, wanted him to succeed after the six-year Rod Blagojevich horror show. But he just hasn’t proved to me, at least, that he’s up to the task.

Last week came one of the biggest blows yet to Quinn’s credibility as governor.

Quinn unexpectedly and harshly lashed out at Comptroller Dan Hynes during a press conference for refusing to sign off on a $500 million short-term borrowing plan, which Quinn said was needed to pay outstanding bills before the end of the year. Quinn claimed that Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias had already agreed to the plan, which turned out to be false. Giannoulias had done no such thing. Both Hynes and Giannoulias must both agree before the bonds can be sold. Hynes, of course, is challenging Gov. Quinn in the Democratic primary.

Quinn’s office was needlessly secretive and grossly incompetent during this entire process. The governor switched the type of borrowing that he wanted to do, changed the amount that he wanted to borrow, demanded — out of the blue — an immediate deadline to approve the plan, refused to provide Attorney General Lisa Madigan with crucial information, all without disclosing how he intended to spend the cash.

You’d think this wouldn’t be a very tough sell. Small and large not-for-profit service providers are hurting badly because the state hasn’t been able to reimburse them in weeks or months.

Heck, even Rod Blagojevich was able to get a short-term borrowing plan approved by the comptroller, treasurer and attorney general after he was arrested by the FBI last year — around the same time that the attorney general was attempting to have him removed from office via the courts. If Blagojevich could put it together, why can’t Quinn? After all, the state’s financial crisis is worse now than it was then, with backlogged bills totaling $4.6 billion.

Hynes eventually turned thumbs down on Quinn’s borrowing idea, saying the cash couldn’t really be spent because there was simply no money to ever pay off the loan. He also pointed out that when Pat Quinn was state treasurer, Quinn opposed a very similar borrowing plan attempted by then-Gov. Jim Edgar.

Some might say that Hynes was politically motivated here, but his case is pretty solid. The real political motivation is likely from Gov. Quinn.  The governor tried to humiliate his political rival over unpaid bills, got caught in a lie (saying that Treasurer Giannoulias had signed off on the loan, when he hadn’t) and then couldn’t explain the basic mechanics for how the cash would be used or how the loan would be repaid.

I just wish somebody in that governor’s office would learn how to play this game. It really isn’t that difficult, but you’d never know it from the past 10 years.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.
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