September 25, 2013



More than 40 years ago, David Halberstam wrote a book titled "The Best and the Brightest" about how the Kennedy Administration got involved in the Vietnam War. Nobody would ever utilize that phrase to describe Illinois' government, governor or state legislature. "Dumb and Dumbest" would be more apropos.

In fact, the "Land of Lincoln" is more aptly characterized as the "Land of Least Worst," which describes the array of abysmal choices Illinoisans confront when choosing a governor. Five of the state's past 10 governors were indicted, one was impeached, and four went to prison.

Governor Pat Quinn is deemed by various national think tanks to be America's worst governor, and polls indicate an approval rating of 22 percent. Other Midwest industrial states, such as Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin, all with Republican governors and legislatures, have addressed and conquered their spending and pension crises. Not Illinois.

The state's unfunded pension liability is $100 billion, and 22 percent of the state's $55 billion budget is allocated to pension costs and debt. More than $5 billion in Medicaid obligations are unpaid. Huge borrowing, especially during Democrat Rod Blagojevich's tenure from 2002 to 2009, boosted the state's non-pension debt to $192.1 billion. The state's income tax was raised, generating $5 billion, to no avail.

By every governmental yardstick, Quinn can be judged wholly incompetent, irrelevant and inadequate. Yet, by every political yardstick, Quinn is the odds-on favorite to win another term. Illinois' government -- both the governorship and General Assembly -- has been controlled by the Democrats since 2002.

The Democrats have had the power to solve the state's fiscal problems, and they failed to do so. They should bear the blame. Voters' wrath should be swift, sure and specific. Throw the bums out and elect the Republicans. Yet, as 2014 approaches, it is more than likely that Quinn and the Democrats -- meaning House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton -- will remain in power.

Standing between Quinn and 4 more disastrous years are four Republicans, one of whom will be nominated next March and be the patsy vilified, excoriated and demonized by Quinn in the 2014 election. They are:

Dan Rutherford, the state treasurer. Hailing from Pontiac, Rutherford served 10 years in the Illinois House and 8 years in the Illinois Senate before winning the treasurer's post in 2010 by a 161,049-vote margin over Democrat Robin Kelly, who won the House seat of Jesse Jackson Jr. in 2013. Rutherford won 96 of Illinois' 102 counties, losing Cook County by 387,353 votes, while state Attorney General Lisa Madigan won it by 833,444 votes, Secretary of State Jesse White won it by 915,807 votes, and Quinn won it by 500,533 votes.

That performance should have cleared the field for 2014, making him the certain governor's nominee, but, said one detractor, "he's said little and done little," he is "still obscure," and he has failed to emulate the record of Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo. "He should have been the Republicans' point man in criticizing Quinn," the source said. "He's MIA."

Raimondo, a Democrat, has been a vociferous proponent of pension reform, spending cuts and charter schools, infuriating liberals and unions. She's also well positioned to be the state's next governor, now that incumbent Lincoln Chafee is retiring.

Kirk Dillard, a 22-year state senator from Hinsdale in DuPage County. Dillard hails from the Republicans' faded Thompson-Edgar wing, which emphasizes fiscal restraint and minimizes the focus on such social issues as abortion, gay rights and gun control. Dillard was an aide to Governor Jim Edgar, and he can expect endorsements from Edgar and former governor Jim Thompson.

Dillard's high-water mark may not necessarily have been 2010, when he lost the seven-candidate Republican gubernatorial primary to Bill Brady by 193 votes, getting 20.2 percent of the vote. DuPage County cast 94,780 votes in the primary, which was 12 percent of the total of 783,060. Jim Ryan, the former county state's attorney, former Illinois attorney general, and losing 2002 candidate for governor, won a 2010 plurality in DuPage County, getting 27,408 votes to 21,566 for Dillard, with conservatives Brady, Andy McKenna, Adam Andrezejewski, Dan Proft and Bob Schillerstrom amassing a combined 44,797 votes. Dillard got an anemic 22.7 percent of the vote in his geographic base. He can blame his loss on Jim Ryan.

To win the nomination in 2014, Dillard needs at least half of the DuPage County vote, a cohesive message and $1 million. Unfortunately, both he and Rutherford appeal to the same base: suburban and Collar County moderate Republicans. The combined Dillard-Ryan vote in 2010 was 37.3 percent; in 2014 the combined vote will be close to 40 percent, meaning that both will lose.

Bill Brady of Bloomington was elected to the General Assembly in 1992, serving 8 years in the House and 12 in the Senate. In a lark, Brady ran for governor in 2010, and employing a "South-of-Interstate-80" strategy, hyping himself as the only Downstater and stressing his opposition to gun control, abortion and gay rights, Brady limped to a 20.3 percent victory in a major upset. Of his 155,527 votes, 8,253 (5.7 percent) came from Chicago and Cook County, where he finished sixth, 16,759 came from the Collar Counties, where he finished sixth, and 130,515 came from Downstate, where he finished first.

In the 2010 election, Brady was defeated more by Jerry Clarke and Terry Cosgrove than he was by Quinn, who won the 2010 Democratic primary by 8,372 votes, with 50.5 percent of the vote. Clarke was Brady's campaign manager. Normally, when a "fringe" candidate wins a primary, he moves like lightning to the center. Geographically, 2,371,681 of the 3,792,770 ballots cast in the November 2010 election -- or 62.5 percent -- came from Cook County and the Collar Counties. Brady should have spent almost all his time from the Feb. 2 primary until the Nov. 2 election in an around Cook County. Instead he hibernated Downstate. Brady also should have defined the contest as being about Quinn and the state's fiscal straits. Instead he let Quinn define him as an "extremist."

The clincher was a 100,000-household mailing by Cosgrove's pro-choice Personal PAC, ripping Brady's anti-abortion stance. Brady won 98 of Illinois' 102 counties but lost Cook County by 500,553 votes while winning the Collar Counties by 114,583 votes and Downstate by 417,804 votes.

Going into 2014, Brady is perceived as damaged goods. He is scorned by insiders for bungling his 2010 opportunity, and he has been virtually invisible since, but he can count on 25 to 30 percent of the vote in the primary.

*Bruce Rauner: "He's running a true statewide campaign," said Mike Schrimpf, Rauner's press spokesman. What he means is that Rauner, a wealthy venture capitalist, has "resources" -- as in lots of personal money. Rauner can easily raise and self-fund $25 million.

Of course, Rauner is a blank slate, but his theme is emerging: I'm a fresh face; my opponents have been in Springfield for 20 years. I can beat Quinn; my opponents don't have the "resources." He's also behind a petition drive to place a term-limits referendum on the 2014 ballot, which requires 300,000 signatures. If passed, it would amend the state Constitution and bar legislators from serving more than 8 years.

According to various summer surveys, Rauner, Rutherford and Brady are all polling in the 15 percent range, and Dillard is at 5 percent, with 50 percent undecided.

"He is a crusher," longtime Republican activist John Powers said of Quinn. "He is a demagogue, and will say and do whatever it takes to win." The question is, can any Republican gubernatorial candidate expose, withstand or counteract Quinn's tactics? Without question, Quinn will embrace negativity. As the governor since 2009, succeeding the impeached Blagojevich, Quinn's modus operandi has been superficiality: utter a sound bite, get some television face time, generate a newspaper headline, and forget it.

Trained by Dan Walker, for whom he was an organizer in 1972, Quinn understands both the necessity of persistence and the stupidity of voters. Like Blagojevich, he knows that there is no need for follow-through. Just pander. Make a memorable gesture. Endorse gay marriage and forget about it. Proclaim the need for driver's licenses for illegal aliens and forget about it. Propose a hike in the minimum wage and forget about it. Decry gun violence, demand more gun control, and forget about it. Demand pension reform, veto legislators' $67,000-plus salaries, and cut no state spending.

Bill Daley's decision to bail out of the race gives Quinn a pass in the primary, which may or may not be helpful. Had Daley run, Quinn would have had to raise $2 million, run as the "outsider," tailor his appeal to blacks and liberals, and demonize Mike Madigan. Now he has more time in which to posture and perform. He will need solutions, not just sound bites.

My prediction: Quinn will make Madigan the issue, blaming the speaker for all ills and claiming that only he can thwart Madigan's insidious power. All the Republicans will try to make the election a referendum on Quinn's ineptitude, with Rauner best positioned to play the "outsider."

The Republicans have a phenomenal opportunity to win the governorship in 2014, but the odds are 50/50 that they'll blow it.

Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www.