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Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010 02:28 pm

Quinn’s State of the State lacks the “real meat”

Governor offers no plans for economic turn-around

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“The Governor, at the beginning of each annual session of the General Assembly and at the close of his term of office, shall report to the General Assembly on the condition of the State and recommend such measures as he deems desirable.” — Illinois Constitution.

I don’t know if Gov. Pat Quinn glanced at the state constitution before he jotted down his notes, but his rambled, jumbled, disjointed mess he delivered off the cuff last week was not a State of the State address. Quinn did, I suppose, “recommend” a couple of “measures,” including income tax reform, but he barely touched on that issue. “Our mission this year,” the governor told assembled legislators, “is to revive our economy and put people back to work.” Yet, he presented no new ideas for accomplishing that mission. The economy is in horrible shape, and the governor could’ve used his address to show he was on top of things, knew what he was doing and knew where he was going. So, we can probably safely infer that he hasn’t a clue what to do.

Instead, we were subjected to a speech that was almost Fidel Castro-like in its length, full of rambling displays of sentiment and accidentally repeated thoughts.  

One reason the speech was such a technical disaster was that Quinn spoke from hand-written notes rather than from a prepared text. But a bigger reason it was a mess was that Quinn didn’t seem to put much thought into it. There was no structure, no real sense of what he was trying to say. Instead, he just stringed together his press conference talking points and regurgitated them for more than an hour.

From an audience’s perspective, there seemed to be no good reason why we were being subjected to the speech. “What is the point?” I kept asking myself. “When will we hear about some real meat?”

Even House Speaker Michael Madigan wasn’t happy with Quinn. Madigan apparently didn’t know his microphone was on when he turned to his chief of staff and cracked about the speech, which had started almost an hour and a half earlier: “His people said it would be 40 minutes,” adding that it was now 1:21 in the afternoon.

Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Republican candidate for governor, said the speech was a lot like Quinn’s governing. “It is basically wing it as you go.” Dan Hynes, Quinn’s Democratic opponent, said the speech was more of a “Pat Quinn state of mind speech” than a State of the State address. Both men hit it on the head.

But, wait, it gets worse.

Gov. Quinn thanked the General Assembly during his State of the State address for approving a bill that would allow the state to borrow $250 million and use it to help social service agencies. Quinn announced that he would definitely sign the legislation, and couldn’t help but get in a zinger at Hynes for blocking a similar Quinn proposal last month.

Trouble is, the bill had merely passed the House by the time Quinn spoke last week — another strong indication that little to no preparation went into that speech. Later that day, the Senate adjourned for the month without taking up the measure. Unlike their House counterparts, the Senate Republicans refused to support the new borrowing, and the Democrats didn’t have enough members in town to pass the bill on their own.

You can’t sign a bill that isn’t on your desk, so Quinn’s preemptive praise for the General Assembly was a major embarrassment for the governor.

The governor teared up near the end of his speech when he talked about his late father, which touched many people in the room. Quinn is, in many respects, not your usual politician. He is far more genuine than any governor we’ve had in a very long time. He didn’t fill the address with slick lines and focus group-approved ideas. He spoke from the heart. He even brought up the uncomfortable facts surrounding the botched early prisoner release program and shouldered the ultimate blame.

For all that, I give the governor much credit. But a State of the State address is a constitutional mandate of historical significance, which should be taken far more seriously than Quinn did last week.

You’re the governor now, Pat. Start acting like it.

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

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