Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Democrats say party unified, despite breaks in tradition

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois Democrats stuck to the script of party unity today during annual political events centered on the state fair, even as primary rivals gave dueling speeches and the state party chairman, House Speaker Michael Madigan, was nowhere to be found.

Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton recently sued Gov. Pat Quinn over his veto of the funds for lawmakers’ salaries. “It’s something that will be resolved in court. It’s in litigation right now. It’s a major constitutional issue. And we have a resolution probably in a month, and we’ll now what the court says,” Cullerton said this morning at the party's annual breakfast. Cullerton and Madigan have argued that Quinn’s veto of lawmakers’ pay sets a dangerous precedent that would give the governor too much power over legislators. But in his speech at the breakfast, Cullerton likened the dust-ups among members of his party to the arguments he and his eight siblings had as children. “You’re still in a family. There’s never any doubt that you’re all in it together. That’s true of the Democrats. We share the same goals and the same values.”

Madigan was notably missing from the day’s festivities. When asked about the absence, Cullerton said on his way into the event that he was not aware the speaker was not attending. Quinn brushed aside the idea that the powerful House speaker was snubbing him. “I don’t know why he’s not here. But I talked to him this week, and I think he’s fired up and ready to go for [the] 2014 [election],” Quinn said. A call to Madigan's spokesman for comment was not returned.

Musicians sit behind Quinn on the stage that has held party leaders in past years.
Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat, got a joke in about the pay freeze as he gave his speech this morning. “I saw some of my colleagues here this morning enjoying their breakfast, but I don’t think you got the memo from the governor’s folks that you’re not allowed to eat until there’s pension reform.”

But the digs that Quinn and primary opponent Bill Daley traded in each of their speeches were far from lighthearted. Daley painted Quinn as an ineffective leader and a candidate who can’t win the general election. “We have a pension crisis and a job crisis. Our most serious crisis is the crisis of confidence in Springfield’s ability to get things done.” Daley touted his experience and the connections he made while working with former President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama “We need a leader who can call business people and labor leaders throughout the country and the world to build support for investment and job creation here in Illinois.”

Meanwhile, Quinn pointed the finger at “bankers” and “big shots” for wrecking the country’s economy. Daley has worked in the banking industry — job experience that he mentioned in his own speech.  Quinn closed his remarks with a populist appeal that has become one of his signatures on the stump. “There may be some things you haven’t agreed with me over the last four years on, but I think everybody agrees that I work as hard as I can every single day for the common good and the public interest, and that’s what we need in a governor,” he said. “We need somebody who understands everyday people, who knows how to work together with folks who don’t have lobbyists in Springfield, who don’t have necessarily big-shot friends. But they understand that they’re the heart and soul of America. They volunteer for tour military. They work hard on their job. They’re raising their kids. That’s what Illinois is all about, and that’s how we’re going to make the will of the people the law of the land.”

Quinn was greeted by enthusiastic applause and cheers from the crowd of Democratic county officials and other party members. In contrast, Daley was met with measured applause that came across as more of a courtesy than an endorsement. Daley said the reaction did not worry him. “It’s Springfield. He’s ... got a lot of people that work for the state,” Daley said after the speeches. “I think there may be a lot of people who obviously have known or worked for Pat, or work for Pat now or over the years, and they’re appreciative of those jobs.” He called Quinn unelectable in the general race. “Pat Quinn will not win if he’s the nominee of Democratic Party.”

Quinn said that many did not believe he could win in 2010, and he plans to use a similar strategy to pull off a victory next year. “I won an election in the primary in 2010, and I won again in the general election in 2010. There were a lot of folks who counted me out, but I won the election because I had everyday people on my side. And I’ve been doing that my whole life. That’s the only way you run an election: You organize your supporters and the people of Illinois and I think that we can come through again.”

Both Quinn and Daley could face another primary opponent. Chicago Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul is considering jumping into the race. Raoul had planned to make a bid for Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s job if she ran for governor, but Madigan has decided to stay put. Raoul said people have been reaching out to him about the possibility of challenging Quinn. “There are a lot of people asking me the question, and so I have to consider those questions that are being asked, quite frankly, from all over the state.” He said the idea of running is new. “I didn’t enter this year, I didn’t enter this summer, I didn’t enter this month thinking that I was going to be running for governor or even considering running for governor.” Raoul said he thinks some people want more “options” in the primary.

Raoul and Quinn have publicly disagreed about some of Quinn’s recent headline grabbing moves, such as trying to use his veto pen to rewrite a bill dealing with concealed carrying of firearms. The General Assembly voted to override Quinn’s changes. “I like him as a person. I just wish he would embrace a different leadership style," Raoul said of the governor.

Raoul has been a key player in some of the biggest pieces of legislation to come out of the General Assembly in recent years, including the abolition of the death penalty and concealed carry legislation. He is now the chairman of a special committee working to hammer out an agreement on changes to public employee pension systems that can pass in both legislative chambers. He said that job comes first. “The top priority is pension reform. It’s the most important issue that our state is facing.”

Raoul said he does not want his political considerations to interfere with the committee’s work. “It’s a very delicate balance. You don’t want to do anything to undermine the work that we’ve done in a bipartisan, bicameral basis.” He said that there is a possibility that the committee’s timeline on presenting a recommendation to lawmakers could keep him from running for higher office. “There are time challenges, and certainly I anticipate the conference committee will be coming out with something soon,” he said. “We’ve moved the ball way forward from where we were as a legislature at large in a stalemate in June.”

Cullerton said that he has talked to Raoul about a potential bid for governor but is not encouraging him one way or the other. He said that he expects that neither he nor Madigan will endorse any primary candidate. But he said he does think that Raoul is up to the job. “Kwame’s very capable. He’s qualified to be the governor. There’s no question about it.” Raoul said he will not run unless he thinks he can be a viable candidate. “I wouldn’t put myself out there on a political suicide run.”

So far, Quinn has not received endorsements from any prominent Democrat — not even Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, who will not be Quinn’s running mate for 2014. Simon’s own race for the state comptroller office got a little bit easier today when her primary opponent, Will County Auditor Duffy Blackburn, announced in his speech this morning that he was suspending his campaign and endorsing her for the office. There are no other Democrats running for comptroller, but Simon faces a difficult race against well-liked and well-funded incumbent Judy Baar Topinka.

Instead of giving more stage time to a group of Democrats who have not endorsed him, and potentially even his challengers, Quinn opted to break tradition at the Governor’s Day rally at the Illinois State Fair after the breakfast. The governor made a brief speech, and the rest of the time was filled with musical acts and entertainment. Historically, party leaders have given speeches at the event. However, their addresses were often just shorter versions of the remarks they gave at the morning event.  Quinn said that the political breakfast, which lasted about three hours today, provides plenty of time for public speaking. “I don’t think we need to double up on political speeches at the state fair,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to have fun.”


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