Lt. Governor Pat Quinn was threatened with political "divorce" not long ago by Governor Rod Blagojevichs office.
Quinn has been a critic of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority for years, but he was completely cut out of the governors massive restructuring and reform plan. This did not please the formerly outspoken lieutenant governor, and when he made plans to attend a tollway board hearing to present an alternate reform plan, he was told in no uncertain terms that "divorce proceedings would begin" if he went ahead.
The governor himself did not deliver the threat, assigning the bad cop task to his deputy governor. But the message was still crystal clear: cross us and youre through.
Faced with the very real possibility of being dumped from the 06 ticket, Quinn decided to back down, worked out a few compromises and issued a relatively mild press release instead. Some of those close to Quinn tried to put the best face on the threats, explaining there was a "transitory mood" and "awkward times" at the office and that all talk of the "D-word" was behind them now. Others were a little freaked out by the whole thing, and were considering whether their futures were at all secure.
Most of us figured when Quinn was elected lieutenant governor that this particular story would have been written months ago.
Almost nobody thought Quinn could keep his famously verbose self quiet as long as he has.
In defiance of all expectations, hes been "Silent Pat" for two years.
Quinn the consumer advocate didnt utter a peep when the governor packed the Illinois Commerce Commission with pro-utility hacks and cut deals with major utility companies to pass controversial legislation.
The longtime campaign ethics reformer has remained completely mum while some of the governors closest advisers have raised millions of dollars from people and companies that do business with the state or want something from the guvs office.
And the environmental advocate kept his trap shut when the governor worked to site a high-sulfur coal-fired power plant in the already heavily polluted Chicago metropolitan area.
The governors tollway plan was apparently just too much cognitive dissonance for Pat Quinn to handle.
Quinn has tried to be a team player since Day One, even though the Blagojevich crowd didnt support him in the 02 primary and still doesnt trust him. He was primarily responsible for wooing budget director John Filan an old and dear friend out of the private sector, and he has placed his stamp on more Blagojevich proposals than most people realize.
Quinn has also worked hard to strengthen his public image, pushing voter-friendly ideas like helping veterans and protecting endangered wildlife. The governor would never have the guts to actually try to dump Quinn now, after Quinn has held his tongue for so long and built his credibility to the point where he could fight back with devastating results. The media and a large segment of the public seem to be looking for a reason to go after the governor, and Quinn could more than provide enough ammunition.
So whats he afraid of?
Theres the sense of duty imposed on all second bananas, of course. But I think a big problem is that his 1994 loss to George Ryan hangs over Quinns head like the Sword of Damocles a continuous reminder of his eight-year exile from statewide office.
Quinn tried to move up the ladder too quickly after just one term as state treasurer, losing the secretary of state race to Ryan. He worked hard to get back in the game, and now he wants to stick around for a while. The governor and his tops are a vindictive bunch with loads of campaign cash at their disposal, so Quinn apparently figures he needs to keep swallowing hard until hes safely elected to another four-year term.
This cant be easy for the guy. Unlike Governor Blagojevich, who talks a good game about reform and renewal, Quinn really believes this stuff.
For instance, the governor is so desperate to placate a clearly fed up downstate electorate and please his utility masters that late last week he indefinitely postponed a serious regulatory review of Illinois coal-fired power plants. Just hours after his tollway smackdown, Quinn was forced for the umpteenth time to suck it up like a good soldier. Can this really continue for two more years?
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at www.capitolfax.com.