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A political distancing act?

The other day, I called our local lawmakers to get their opinions on Gov. Pat Quinn's State of the State address.

All of them criticized the speech, but the two Democrats, both of whom represent Whiteside County, lashed out with particular intensity against their party's standard bearer.

Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, called the speech "an election kickoff."

"Let's quit the politics," he said.

Freshman Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, took exception to the governor's rosy portrayal of the state.

"I don't know who he is trying to convince that he has done a good job as governor," Smiddy said. "He has talked about a lot of accomplishments that, for the most part, are benefitting Chicago and not downstate."

So what gives in Springfield?

The short answer: Chicago Democratic politics.

On March 18, 2014, Quinn is up for election in the Democratic primary. His most likely opponent is Attorney General Lisa Madigan, daughter of House Speaker Michael Madigan. In one poll, Lisa Madigan is at 64 percent to Quinn's 20 percent.

Her father rules the House with an iron fist. With his daughter riding high, Michael Madigan likely will do nothing that would bring Quinn credit.

Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley is another possible candidate, but he is trailing the other two. All three hail from Chicago.

Nobody wants to get close to an unpopular governor. So it appears as if lawmakers such as Jacobs and Smiddy are trying to put some distance between themselves and Quinn, said Brian Gaines, a political science professor at the University of Illinois.

"It's as good a time as any to say, 'I'm not the governor's man,'" Gaines said.

During his speech, Quinn said little about the state's near bankruptcy and the mounting pension liability. Rather, he took much of his time to speak about his accomplishments and his proposals for gun control and same-sex marriage.

"I don't dismiss guns and same-sex marriage. Those are big issues, but they aren't breaking the state," Gaines said. "What I thought he had to do was prove himself, that he had some new ideas about state finances, but he put finances on the back burner. [The speech] struck me as a lost opportunity."

Lawmakers wanted Quinn to provide some leadership, Gaines said.

"They are stumped, too," Gaines said. "The fact that [Quinn] has taken a pass has frustrated them."

Illinois voters, particularly in Chicago, don't pay attention to state politics, he said.

"That's a blessing for Illinois politicians," Gaines said. "They can mis[manage] the state and not get caught at it."

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

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