Nine hour voting lines in my hometown city of Chicago wasn’t the only unfortunate news coming out of the Land of Lincoln this morning. For the first time since 1998, with 99 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, Illinois has a Republican Governor. Although he has declined to issue a concession, Pat Quinn remains 180,000 votes behind his opponent with early, mail-in and provisional votes left to be counted. I wish I could share Quinn’s desperate optimism.
If there is a bright side to the situation, Quinn is the first Illinois Chief Executive since the late 1990s to anticipate a life in the private sector, rather than prison. He was first sworn into office in 2009 after the humiliating (for the state and its voters) impeachment of Democratic predecessor Rod Blagojevich. Quinn was elected to his own full term in 2010 following a tough battle with Republican State Senator Bill Brady, and despite a low approval rating.
Having survived life in the lowlights as Blagojevich’s Lieutenant Governor and a 2011 “Illinois is Broke” viral and traditional media campaign regarding the poor condition of the state’s finances, social services and pension funding plans, there was good reason to believe that Quinn could tough it out this round. In a report this morning, the Chicago Tribune describes Governor-elect Bruce Rauner as “untested…a wealthy equity investor making his first bid for public office.” His inexperience didn’t stop the conservative-leaning paper from publicly endorsing the candidate on October 10 however.
A late October scandal also seemed to bode well for the incumbent’s chances of holding onto office. Mid last month, Republican News Watch reported that the Tribune’s liberal rival, “the Chicago Sun-Times published a devastating article which includes alarming allegations that Bruce Rauner himself personally threatened a female executive and her family.” Subsequently, writes Doug Ibendahl, “The newspaper has been reminding readers for three years that it’s not in the endorsement business anymore. But they’re making an exception for Rauner this year, and the governor’s race is the only race in which they endorse.”
Things that make Illinois voters go hmmm….compared to the relatively benign Pat Quinn. But perhaps that was Quinn’s ultimate undoing. The experienced, dull bureaucrat failed to offer voters enough striking change. A March 2014 Crain’s Chicago Business article entitled State in deepest financial hole ever put it succinctly: “Illinois is far and away in worse shape than any state in the country, although the red ink is flowing more slowly.”
So instead, Illini voters get the untried one percenter. One of the national electorate’s great failings is an inability to connect that a Chief Executive from any party only has so much power when faced with a majority opposition. In this case, Rauner is going to have to try to work with a Democratic-led State Senate and House, the very same people “he vilified during the campaign as part of a ‘corrupt’ political system controlling Springfield.” The $46.5 million that Rauner is reported to have spent on his victory isn’t going to amount to much after he takes office.
It could have been worse. Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan successfully fended off Republican efforts to infiltrate Democrats’ veto-proof hold on the state legislature, and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin (D) was comfortably re-elected to a record fourth term. But with Rauner set to try to unleash a predictable anti-tax agenda in an already broke state, frustrated voters who decided to send Pat Quinn a message last night are reminded that wishes come true are often less enjoyable in the experience.