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Proviso Probe

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

my doubts about Quinn's reform agenda

Since I just gigged a Republican candidate for governor for peddling feel-good BS, I am going to be bi-partisan and gig Governor Pat Quinn (Democrat).

Last night I attended the Northside DFA meeting because I was interested in the endorsement decision for President of the Cook County Board. The group overcame a couple suggestions to delay the decision process for longer. It then rejected endorsing Danny K. Davis and endorsed and "adopted" Toni Preckwinkle. "Adoption" means Northside DFA will encourage its member to work for the Preckwinkle campaign. To adopt a candidate s/he must have the support of at least 90% of the members.

Disclosure: I spoke in favor of Preckwinkle and against Davis.

The first speaker was Quinn's chief of staff, Jerome Stermer.

Stermer explained that Quinn identified three priority areas when he assumed the governorship.

1. Ethics reform
2. Economic recovery
3. Providing state services while dealing with the budget crisis

I doubt there would be much disagreement with those priorities. They make sense to me.

But then Stermer spoke about how to implement these priorities.

The first thing he addressed was recall.

Recall does nothing to address systemic corruption. In hindsight it seems like maybe Rod Blagojevich could have been recalled. However, recall takes time. The Illinois Constitution already has a tool for dealing with someone like Blagojevich, impeachment. It's just that Illinois legislators chose not to use it until the feds arrest Blagojevich.

But recall has a populist feel to it and it makes the little guy feel like he's got a tool for holding corrupt officials accountable.

And Quinn is all about tapping that populist emotion with policies that sound good, but have significant drawbacks in practice. Quinn championed the Cutback Amendment which reduced the number of members of the Illinois General Assembly, but also decreased the political and ideological diversity and consolidated power in the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate (aka "The Four Tops").

Ironically, Quinn is now advocating reforms to cut the power of the Four Tops. He wants to impose term limits on the leaders as part of his reform agenda.

1. This seems unlikely to pass, for obvious reasons.

2. If it did pass, it's not clear how it would work. What keeps a boss from relinquishing the title (say "Speaker of the House") and appointing some flunky?

Stermer did talk up the Accountability Portal, which is supposed to be one place to get information to monitor state government.

While I like the idea of reform, I'm disappointed by Quinn's agenda. Recall seems like political grandstanding. Term limits on legislative leaders seems impractical and a waste of energy.

And the real problems I see at the local level, conflict-of-interest problems, legal bills and excessive litigation aren't addressed at all.

There was one bright spot to the evening. Daniel Biss spoke to Northside DFA about running for state representative in Evanston, Glenview, that area.

Biss kept his initial pitch short but did particularly well in the Q&A. He told the story of a grandmother who invited him inside and served him root beer from a mug she kept in the freezer for her grandson, "in case he stopped by". He said that he did a poor job at differentiating himself from his Republican opponent in his campaign message.

And Biss said that he focused excessively on his campaign plan without allowing for flexibility. He quoted Stephen Colbert speaking about George W. Bush, "You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday, that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday." Biss said that he implemented the plan in August and then October without taking into account what happened in September.

I've known Biss as a fellow activist for a few years. This was the first time I saw him speak to a group. I was impressed how well he connected. I think he's got a bunch of promise because he's good at campaigning, smart on policy and ambitious. (He raised $430,000 for a state rep race to challenge an incumbent without help from the Illinois Democratic Party.)

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