With Illinois in desperate shape, it's no secret the Feb. 2 primary election for governor will have tremendous consequences.
Just eight years ago, Rod Blagojevich narrowly won a contested Democratic primary, defeating the superbly qualified Paul Vallas. Blagojevich also won in fall 2002, beginning a six-year nightmare of corruption and incompetence that ended in early 2007 with Blagojevich's removal from office.
The state will be trying to put itself back together for some time. So it's important that Democrats and Republicans put their best candidates forward for the November election.
In our view, the best choice for the Democrats is veteran Comptroller Dan Hynes, who is challenging Gov. Pat Quinn, Blagojevich's former lieutenant governor.
The best candidate among the seven Republicans is state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington.
After he took office following Blagojevich's impeachment, no one was the beneficiary of more good wishes than Pat Quinn.
Initially, it was enough that Quinn was not Blagojevich. He was a breath of fresh air.
But that alone is insufficient grounds to retain Quinn in office.
Unfortunately, he is not up to the job. Quinn is a weak leader who has little credibility with legislative leaders.
Any new governor needs time to get up to speed. But after devoting a lifetime to state issues, including four years as treasurer and six years as lieutenant governor, Quinn has not adjusted to the demands of the office.
His dealings with the Legislature have been erratic. House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both Democratic Party powerhouses, essentially ignored Quinn's proposed 50 percent increase in the state income tax. Further, they have shown no urgency in dealing with the state's dire financial problems, and Quinn shows no sense of urgency in pressing them to do so.
Another disappointment has been Quinn's transition from a straight talker to self-interested politician. His handling of the prison early release scandal is Exhibit A in his efforts at damage control at the expense of candor.
But it is not just because of Quinn's failings that Hynes is the preferred candidate.
Hynes, a Chicagoan and three-term comptroller, has shown himself to be a serious-minded politician. He warned for years that reckless spending by Blagojovich and the Legislature was unsustainable. Now he says a problem years in the making will be years in the solving.
Hynes proposes a combination of budget cuts and tax increases to restore the state's financial health. He's pledged to rebuild Illinois' reputation as a place to do business and said education at all levels will be a high priority.
A liberal Democrat, Hynes embraces the same prominent role for government programs in civic life that has marked his party's policy preferences for decades. It's impossible to say if his prescriptions will be successful, but he's the best Democrat to carry his party's banner.
The News-Gazette endorsed state Sen. Bill Brady four years ago when he unsuccessfully sought the GOP gubernatorial nomination, and we do so again today.
A veteran legislator, Brady is a common-sense politician who represents his party's ideals of lower taxes and spending, less government and laissez-faire economics. He is not a George Ryan-style deal-maker.
Brady is competing in a crowded field. But among all the candidates in either party. Brady is the only downstater.
That is not the only reason to support Brady, but it is one of many good ones.
Illinois is dominated by Chicago Democrats. All six statewide offices and both top legislative leadership positions are held by Chicagoans. To them, downstate Illinois is more of a theory than a reality. It's a non-factor – except as a place to collect votes occasionally – when it comes to policy issues.
Voters need to restore a balance to the state's political calculus if any area other than Cook County is to have a seat at the table. Brady's opponents are from the Chicago and suburban areas and are, therefore, less inclined to understand geographical issues as clearly as Brady.
Brady also shines in the policy area, noting that Illinois' sick economic status will never be cured until the state is a good place for new businesses. creating jobs that offer people a good living and producing the increased tax revenue that government needs to operate.
Brady rejects higher taxes as key to Illinois' economic recovery. Indeed, he says tax increases threaten recovery and insists that across-the-board spending cuts are the best way to balance the budget.
A traditional conservative, Brady wants to clear the road of impediments to economic development. In that sense, Brady is not alone among his competitors in the race. But in our view, he is the best candidate to represent the Republicans in the fall.