Vallas pick is first rate
The good government crowd — a tiny minority in Illinois — has reason to cheer Gov. Pat Quinn's choice for a running mate.
It's not clear what former Chicago schools superintendent Paul Vallas gets out of running for lieutenant governor on the Democratic Party ticket with Gov. Pat Quinn, but Quinn gets a great partner in overseeing state government if he's re-elected.
Quinn has been shopping for weeks now for a lieutenant governor candidate to replace current Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, who is running for comptroller against Republican incumbent Judy Baar Topinka. Many names were floated, but Quinn stunned everyone Friday with a choice that seemed to come out of left field.
As far as policy goes, Quinn couldn't have made a better choice. Vallas, one of the serious, responsible and capable people in government, is a terrific choice.
He's such a good choice that it's too bad Democrats can't flip the ticket and run Vallas for governor and Quinn for lieutenant governor.
One of the great tragedies of government in Illinois is that Democratic voters — foolishly and unforgivably — did not nominate Vallas when he ran for governor in 2002. Instead, they chose the now-imprisoned Rod Blagojevich by a narrow margin. Blago went on to win election and then re-election, helping to wreck the state over six awful years through horrific tax-and-spending policies and corruption on such a broad scale that it was stunning even by Illinois standards.
What a better state Illinois would be had the 2002 primary results been different. But that was then, and this is now.
The reality is that Vallas is running for an essentially meaningless office. Quinn probably will be willing to assign extra duties to Vallas, but the lieutenant governor has no power independent of the governor. Why Vallas wants the job is a mystery. Perhaps he foresees an opportunity to make a difference in policy or a chance to use the post as a launching pad for higher office.
Since his unsuccessful race for governor, Vallas has hop-scotched across the country, filling various school superintendent posts. He made healthy changes and lots of enemies in Philadelphia, New Orleans and, most recently, Bridgeport, Conn.
Teachers unions, to say the least, do not like the reform-minded Vallas, and it's a sure bet that leaders of the state's teachers unions were gnashing their teeth Friday after Quinn's announcement.
Despite his policy chops, it's hard to determine what Vallas brings to the ticket. People vote for governor, not lieutenant governor. Vallas has no independent political base, although he was very popular with the black community in Chicago when he was school superintendent there.
The irony about that is that black elected officials in Chicago expressed anger about Quinn choosing Vallas, who is white, rather than a black person as his running mate.
So it's likely that Quinn will win or lose the gubernatorial race on his own. Four Republicans — businessman Bruce Rauner, state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady and state treasurer Dan Rutherford — are seeking the GOP nomination.
Quinn is perceived to be in trouble because Illinois is in such pathetic shape. But the same thing was said four years ago when Quinn narrowly won a gubernatorial race he was expected to lose. If Quinn emerges triumphant again, he will have an able partner and knowledgeable advisor in the lieutenant governor's office.