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Why 'Governor' Quinn Could Upset Chicago's Machine

By David A. Patten   |   Friday, 12 Dec 2008 01:41 PM

Maverick reformer Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn is poised to become the next governor of Illinois - and that’s big trouble for the infamous coalition of backroom dealmakers collectively known as “the Chicago machine.”

If Blagojevich remains in power, it could further expose the state’s corrupt political culture. But ousting Blagojevich means Quinn - whose entire career has been built on political reform - becomes governor.

“Pat’s pretty much an outsider and a thorn in the side of the political establishment,” says Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a non-partisan, good government watchdog group. “Pat is really a populist. Even within government, he works outside of government.”

Quinn, a graduate of Northwestern University law school, began his public life in 1975 as an activist, organizing a series of petitions on behalf of tax reform and citizen empowerment.

In 1982, Democrat Quinn was elected commissioner of the Cook County Board of Tax Appeals. The following year he led a campaign to create the Citizens Utility Board, a nonprofit organization that intervenes on behalf of consumers in rate cases that come before the Illinois Commerce Commission.

From 1991 to 1995, Quinn served as Illinois’ state treasurer, and his Web site claims he cut his department’s budget every year he was in office.

Quinn’s record as a populist reformer is exemplified by his high-profile 2001 trek across Illinois. He walked from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan to raise awareness of the importance of universal healthcare.

In 2002, Blagojevich and Quinn took the statehouse by 52 percent to 45 percent over the Republican ticket. In 2006, they easily won re-election, as Republicans struggled to overcome the legacy of GOP Gov. George Ryan, who was convicted of federal corruption charges that year.

In Illinois the lieutenant governor and the governor run separately in the primaries, and only join together on a single ticket for the general election. Quinn says he hasn’t spoken with the governor since the summer of 2007.

“Pat and Blagojevich are like a strange, arranged marriage,” Canary tells Newsmax. “The two of them are not close and have never been close.”

As a consequence, Quinn was left out of most executive decisions. Instead, he concentrates on his pet issues of protecting the environment, advocating health care for the disadvantaged, and rendering aid to military families and veterans.

“Pat’s personal integrity I have never heard questioned,” Canary tells Newsmax. “Pat has been a very big fan of voter initiatives and referenda, which we don’t really have in this state. It is those sorts of structural changes that he is concerned about that have upset so many apple carts. It shakes up the status quo.”

Shaking up the status quo might be just what federal authorities would like.

Having been stung by a determined adversary in U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, machine dealmakers figure to now lose their influence in the statehouse as well.

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