An old outsider returns

An old outsider returns

Former Gov. Pat Quinn wants back in the action.

The former Democratic governor has been down many times in his long political career. But he's never been out because he's always refused to count himself out.

So it's not a great surprise that Quinn announced last week that he's once again a candidate for public office.

Some may be surprised that he's become the eighth candidate for the Democratic Party's nomination for attorney general. But no one familiar with Quinn's background can be surprised that he, once again, has decided to jump back into the political fray in Illinois.

There's were some groans from Republicans distressed that Quinn's is on the verge of his latest comeback. But most of the gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands is coming privately from establishment, insider Democrats who've never had any use for the populist, rabble-rouser who's thrown almost as many bricks at Democrats over the years as he has at Republicans.

But what some Democrats really are worried about is that Quinn is, by far, the highest profile Democrat in the race for the attorney general's nomination as well as the candidate with the most impressive political background.

Quinn has been governor, lieutenant governor and treasurer. He's run unsucessfully for other high-profile offices, including secretary of state and the U.S. Senate.

Given his vast name recognition, Quinn almost certainly will be a strong candidate running amid a group of no-names in the primary. He might even be the odds-on favorite.

One Democrat who chose not to keep his critical thoughts to himself is state Rep. Scott Drury, the Chicago-area Democrat who's running an anti-corruption, anti-Mike Madigan campaign for attorney general.

"The last thing Illinois needs is a member of the old boys' club as attorney general. If we are to end our state's culture of corruption, we must break with the past. I believe voters are looking for an attorney general with the proven courage to take on the entrenched politicians (who) created this broken system," Drury said.

Drury is half right. Illinois is relentlessly corrupt, and an attorney general looking to smash the rotten status quo would be welcome. But, despite his longevity, Quinn never has been, is not now and never will be a member of the establishment's old boys' club.

He's an outsider who's always made war on the fat-cat insiders, starting with his successful campaign nearly 40 years ago to reduce by constitutional amendment the size of the Illinois House of Representatives by one-third. That forever earned him the contempt of the political loafers and payroll-padders who served — or wanted to — in the state House.

Over the years, Quinn has railed against powerful corporations, most particularly the utilities, challenged both Democratic and Republican party leaders and pretty much indicated that he's "agin" whatever the insiders and their lobbyists are "fer."

That has translated into interesting campaigns but marginal governance. Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton tolerated Quinn when he was governor but didn't go much beyond that.

The only significant Quinn positions they embraced involved ones Madigan and Cullerton shared with him, like increasing the state's income tax. At the same time, Quinn went out of his way to anger Madigan and Cullerton, among others, when he vetoed appropriations for legislators' salaries as punishment for their refusal to take actions he proposed. That action was later overturned in the courts after Madigan and Cullerton sued Quinn.

Quinn is, to be sure, not nearly as ethically pure as he would have voters believe. He was willing to play illegal patronage politics with the Illinois Department of Transportation and promise legislators jobs in return for their "yes" votes on the state income tax increase. Both instances are well documented.

But he's a hard-charger who never quits. So if Quinn gets elected, he'll revel in his duty, to borrow his words, as "the lawyer for the people." Of that, both Democrats and Republicans can be sure.

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