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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pat Quinn compounds our mess

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

In a famous but widely misquoted observation, Lord Acton, the British man of letters, said: "Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Exhibit A is the discredited Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn appears to be trying to make himself Exhibit B.

The populist Quinn looks ridiculous with his wavering on whether he or voters should name who gets to sit in President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat. First, Quinn was for an election. Then he said if he became governor that he would appoint the next senator, no election necessary. Now, he says, he would be amenable to only appointing a temporary replacement until an election can be held.

One wants to shake him by the lapels and demand that he make up his fool mind.

Only political calculations beyond our ken can explain his inexhaustible wishy-washiness, and in this, the self-professed independent has turned himself into just another Illinois politician.

If Illinois voters need anything less now than an appointed senator—even a temporary one—I can't think of it. No appointed senator—even if named by Simon Pure, or if he's Simon Pure himself—will escape the taint attached to Blagojevich's alleged efforts to hawk the seat to the highest bidder. Only a special election will help palliate the stink that now is attached to the seat.

Quinn would have us believe that his motives are untainted, that he would appoint a senator because Illinois "needs two senators" while "important issues" are being debated in Washington.

As if having our own president isn't enough.

Earlier, after he said we should have an election, he said we shouldn't have one because it would cost too much.

Sure. We've heard this from Quinn before, when he successfully pushed a constitutional amendment that reduced the size of the Illinois House and eliminated the "cumulative voting" system of electing its members. That system, which guaranteed a minority party member from each district, produced some of the finest lawmakers in memory.

It created a bloc of honest and able lawmakers willing to blow the whistle on the villains and creeps that populated Springfield, a bloc that wasn't blotted by the campaign cash doled out by the leadership to keep the sheep in line.

Cumulative voting didn't cure all Springfield pestilences, but it was a useful check.

Nonetheless, Quinn seized the issue as an opportunity for his long-simmering political ambitions, camouflaged as championing the rights, wisdom and virtues of the common people.

He successfully sold an electorate, ignorant of the benefits of cumulative voting, on the idea that the system was too expensive, when, in truth, the cost of lacing the capital dung heap with even a small amount of emollient was worth the expense.

Quinn has been a publicity hound from the start. For years, reporters routinely knew that if it was Sunday, Quinn would be holding a news conference on the light news day, about something, anything.

At every turn, the man called for a referendum on something; he wouldn't miss a single issue in which he would take "the people's" side.

On Sunday, I turned on my TV set, and there was Quinn again, on national TV this time, unveiling his latest great thinking.

One can only speculate which of Illinois' political machinations accounts for Quinn's indecisiveness. But the changing political landscape requires reflection on several points: Whoever is appointed Obama's successor, even a temporary one, would enjoy the advantage of incumbency, however brief—in the special election. Democrats, fearing opening the door for a long-shot Republican win in a special election, may prefer that Quinn, a Democrat, do the appointing. Or perhaps not, because Quinn isn't trusted by fellow Democrats, and could fail to appoint the "right" replacement.

Whatever smoke the politicians are blowing for what they are saying or doing right now, one thing is clear: No one should be appointing anyone to the position. Whoever is appointed would be suspect from the get-go, whatever his or her merits. But more important, Illinois voters put us into this mess, and they must now get us out of it. We don't need a benevolent dictator. If anyone doesn't believe that we can do the right thing, you can look at it this way: We couldn't do worse than electing another Blagojevich.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dennis I am more interested in your thoughts on the GOP's response to this mess as the Democrats used national GOP incompetence to propel themselves back to power earlier in this decade.

ckfred said...

I was in college at the University of Michigan, when Pat Quinn got the amendment quetion to reduce the size of the House on the ballot.

An English professor invited all of his pre-law students to his house one evening to meet lawyers and dicuss potential legal careers. He had lawyers ranging from county prosecutors and public defenders to a federal judge.

I was taling to the state representative from Ann Arbor, a very liberal Democrat, and asked him what he thought of the ballot question in Illinos.

I had to explain to him twice how cumulative voting worked. So, he had doubts about a system that easily confused voters.

He thought about it for a minute, then he said that reducing the size of the House and going to single-member districts was the better idea. As laudable as it was to have the minority pary control 1/3 of the seats, he felt that in districts that leaned heavily towards one party, it meant that a candidates were only running to get the votes of party regulars, rather than a majority of the voters. A minority member was likely to vote as his supporters wanted, rather than what may be in the best interest of the entire district.