A do-over on Quinn appointments

A do-over on Quinn appointments

Gov. Pat Quinn's political sleight of hand makes the state Senate look silly and weak.

Using the vast powers of his office, Gov. Pat Quinn last week pulled a fast one on overmatched members of the Illinois Senate.

Facing an April 4 deadline for a Senate vote on two controversial nominees — Julie Hamos, director of Healthcare and Family Services, and Manuel Flores, director of Financial and Professional Regulations — Quinn withdrew their nominations and then promptly reappointed them.

The effect of his machinations was to restart the Senate confirmation process, wiping out the April 4 deadline and starting a new clock in which the Senate has 60 session days to take actions.

The bottom line is that Quinn's move will allow his two acting department heads to remain in their jobs without Senate confirmation until next year.

Given all the sleazy stunts that occur with disturbing regularity in Illinois politics, this one doesn't score high on the outrage meter.

However, it does raise the question about the governor's power to make appointments and the Senate's power to confirm appointees if the process is so easily turned upside down.

Ironically, Quinn's move was prompted by an intra-party feud among Senate Democrats and his two appointees.

Chicago Democrats are angry with Hamos over budget cuts the Legislature approved and she has implemented in the state's Medicaid program. Flores and state Sen. Willie Delgado, the vice chairman of the appointments committee, apparently are members of rival political factions in Chicago.

But it was Senate Republicans who objected most vehemently to Quinn's action.

Republican state Sen. Darrin LaHood of Dunlap called Quinn's action a "sneaky abuse of power" and asked, "Why do we have rules in place when they're blatantly violated?"

GOP senators vowed to challenge Quinn's actions by seeking a modification in the appointments rule and asking for a legal opinion on Quinn's action from Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Given their minority status, however, no one will pay much attention to anything Republicans say or try to do.

Nonetheless, LaHood posed a reasonable question.

Unfortunately, the Senate's power to confirm appears to be more perception than reality. Hamos has been her department's acting director since 2010. Somehow the Democratic-controlled Senate has never gotten around to holding a confirmation vote on the Democratic governor's nominee.

This is not the kind of serious oversight the Illinois Constitution intended. But it's not Quinn's fault.

He's apparently acting as the rules permits. It's the Senate as an institution that's not doing its job and, as a consequence, conceding important institutional power to the executive.

It's certainly no great outrage that Hamos and Flores are continuing in office as acting department heads. But at the same time, the kind of inaction does nothing to enhance public confidence in how the Senate does its job.

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