Gov. Quinn missed the boat
State of the State speech barely mentioned Illinois' dire financial problems and failed to demand action from legislators.
It's not easy being the governor of Illinois during a period of financial crisis. Perhaps that's why Gov. Pat Quinn appeared to be going through the motions Wednesday when he delivered a lackluster State of the State speech.
He paid lip service to Illinois' state of effective bankruptcy, urging legislators to take action on the state's underfunded public pension systems. Mostly, however, he touted past accomplishments, spoke naively about the state's shared values, urged passage of a same-sex marriage law and called for an increase in the state's minimum wage to $10 an hour.
But what he should have done was use the bully pulpit of the State of the State address to hammer home the dangers of not taking steps to put the state's financial house in order.
His campaign-style speech was a poor substitute for educating the public about the state's fiscal woes and challenging reluctant legislators to take action.
Instead of being asked afterward for their solutions to the state's financial problems, legislators gave Quinn dismissive reviews.
Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan declined to speak with reporters about his fellow Democrat's speech, while Madigan lieutenants characterized it as nothing to write home about.
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie lamely called Quinn's speech "pretty good" while another Madigan minion, state Rep. Lou Lang, characterized it as having "no meat on the bone."
Republican gubernatorial wannabes state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady said the speech exemplified Quinn's weak leadership, while Republican Senate Leader Christine Radogno said Quinn delivered a poorly disguised campaign speech as he prepares to run for re-election in 2014.
There is no doubt Quinn is in a tough spot.
On policy issues, he faces House and Senate members who prefer to stick their heads in the sand.
As for politics, Quinn finds himself surrounded by Democrats who want to defeat him in the March 2014 Democratic primary and Republicans who want to beat him in the November 2014 general election.
What's a governor to do under those circumstances? How about using the power of his office to highlight the problem and demand action.
He needed to put legislators on the spot by dramatically emphasizing Illinois' budget woes, its multibillion-dollar unpaid debts, its flagging bond ratings and its underfunded public pensions.
He needed to point out that state government will remain permanently chaotic and ineffectual until its finances are put on a sound footing.
He needed to remind legislators that they were elected on the pledge that they were the best choice to represent the public's interest in Springfield and that it's time to show they deserve it.
Governing is about establishing priorities and living within financial limits. Because past governors and legislators have refused to do either, the state is in crisis mode.
Quinn could have and should have driven the point home that our legislators can run from problems but they can't hide from them — at least not forever.
But Quinn didn't say that, whether out of fear of angering majority Democrats or mere misjudgment. Whatever the reason, Quinn missed a golden opportunity to show real leadership.