Illinois is a better place because of Pat Quinn.
Over four decades in public service, Quinn has helped keep Illinois honest, its governments clean and our collective eye on the right North Star.
Did we always agree with the outgoing governor, whose term endson Monday?
Of course not.
Has he always lived up to his potential? No.
Did we endorse his opponent Bruce Rauner, thinking it is high time somebody else took a shot at running this financial disaster of a state? You bet.
But we’ve never lost faith in a fundamental truth about Pat Quinn.
He is a good man, an ethical man, who has been a force for progress.
As a long-time good government activist, as an elected official and as an all-around gadfly, Pat Quinn has devoted his life to improving government and speaking up for the little guy.
Quinn had defended what he believes is right, consequences be damned. This is the guy, after all, who said he was “put on earth”to solve the state’s public employee pension crisis. That’s a task few others have been willing to embrace, yet, he made it a centerpiece of his governorship.
Quinn can claim many achievements.
In his early days, he successfully led a drive to reduce the size of the Illinois House of Representatives and was the driving force behind the creation of the Citizens Utility Board, which advocates against unfair utility rates.
Elected to several public offices over the years, Quinn racked up a reputation as a reformer, as a genuine good government advocate.
When he landed the biggest job of his career in 2009, as governor, Quinn championed gay marriage and stood up for military veterans in a meaningful way. Environmentalists consider him Illinois’ greenest governor.
And though Quinn gets little credit for it, he started Illinois’ long climb out of the fiscal abyss.
It is time to hand that job to Republican Bruce Rauner. Progress under Quinn was too slow, too fitful and only marginally bipartisan. But give credit where due. Quinn and the General Assembly did finally take essential first steps, such as consistently making pension payments, cutting the state budget, paying down a massive backlog of back bills and budgeting based on how much money the state actually has, not how much it hopes to have.
And Quinn did finally dare to enrage his base — public employee unions — and cut the state’s pension costs.
Pat Quinn has had many misses, too. He’s done more than his fair share of tilting at windmills. And we sure wish he had not made last-minute patronage appointments as he headed out the door.
But taking Quinn’s career as a whole, we’re looking at a stand-up guy who tried to do the right thing.
A public official must “be willing to make tough decisions on fundamental reforms that may not be popular at the time, but stand the test of time,” Quinn said last week in a speech at the City Club. “I’m always looking for causes like that.”
Illinois has been lucky to have Pat Quinn.