SPRINGFIELD — It was Governor's Day on Wednesday at the Illinois State Fair, but no one could argue it was the governor's day.
Gov. Pat Quinn was booed and jeered at nearly every stop throughout the fairgrounds by hostile union members and retirees who are upset with the governor for a number of reasons: his support for an effort to remake public employee retirement programs, his state budget cuts that would close state facilities, and delays in employee wage increases.
The streets outside the fairgrounds were lined with union members and supporters. One held a sign that read, "Bring back Ryan and Blagojevich." Demonstrators howled at the governor as he and aides tried to munch on fair food at the Pork Patio.
As the governor prepared to speak at the annual Democrat Day festivities, thousands of protesters booed him and shouted, "Liar," "Hey Governor, keep your word," "Quinn is a sin" and "You take the pay cut," among other things.
An airplane flew over the fairgrounds, pulling a banner that read, "Gov. Quinn unfair to workers."
Quinn spoke for about 2 1/2 minutes but few could hear him as the boos and catcalls drowned out his speech. During the talk, aides to the governor were overheard saying, "We've got to get him out of here." But Quinn carried on and shook the hands of the unusually small number of Democrats on the stage.
Among them were House Speaker Michael Madigan, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, Secretary of State Jesse White, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Chicago, and 13th Congressional District candidate David Gill of Bloomington. Earlier in the week organizers said that many of the state's targeted Democratic congressional candidates would be at the rally.
Minutes after the abbreviated speech Quinn joked that "if you're the governor of Illinois, you've got to have a tough hide."
He said he wasn't surprised by the angry reception.
"Folks want to keep the current pension system and they don't want to change it. I want to change it," he said. "I think it's best for our students in Illinois in particular. We released two studies in the last two weeks that showed we're putting more money in pensions than we are in education. What kind of a state is that? We've got to make sure that students and children come first. That's what it's all about."
He made no predictions about whether he'd be successful with a legislative special session called for Friday to deal with public pensions.
"I think people saw what AFSCME (the chief state employee union) is all about. They don't want reform, and if they want change, they're going to have to go with what I outlined," Quinn said.
Gill, who is running against Republican Rodney Davis and independent John Hartman in the 13th District, said he had expected protesters but was surprised by the ferocity. Even during his 1 1/2-minute speech, there was jeering and booing.
"People need help. People need help," Gill said as waves of boos and catcalls reached the stage. "I'm running against a man who thinks the millionaires and billionaires ought to keep their tax rates. That's not right. We need to have the millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share."
And most of the crowd missed Gill's references to the Medicare program, which Democratic strategists say is political red meat now that Rep. Paul Ryan is Mitt Romney's running mate.
"I'm running against a man who supports a budget that slashes away our Medicare program. I want to go to Washington and protect Medicare," Gill said, although few could hear him over the boos and shouts of "Fair contract" and "We want a fair contract."
"I told them what I believe," Gill said later. "I'm running for a federal position and their fight is with the state budget. It's not entirely relevant to what I'm trying to achieve."