Gov. Pat Quinn is calling in all his favors. With just a month left until Election Day and polls suggesting the governor’s race is tight, Quinn recently called in two Democratic presidents to join him on the campaign trail.
Only one was real, though.
President Barack Obama dropped into town Thursday, headlining a Quinn fundraiser that raised more than $1 million.
On Sunday, Quinn appeared alongside Martin Sheen – the actor who played Josiah Bartlet, the crusading liberal president in the TV show The West Wing.
The two attended Mass together at St. Pius V. Parish in the Pilsen neighborhood. Then they held a news conference, advocating for one of Pat Quinn’s campaign cornerstones: a non-binding referendum asking voters if the minimum wage should be increased to $10 an hour.
Quinn says he has long-supported such an increase. But the referendum is also part of his electoral strategy, highlighting the gulf between him and his wealthy Republican opponent, venture capitalist Bruce Rauner.
Quinn “reminds us that one heart with courage is a majority,” Sheen said, repeating one of his often-evoked speech lines.
Then he launched into a jeremiad reminiscent of a West Wing script.
“We search for something in our lives worth fighting for,” Sheen said, drawing a parallel with Quinn’s advocacy of a minimum wage increase. “Because when we find it, we will have found a way to unite the will-of-the-spirit with the work of the flesh. And the world will discover fire for the second time.”
Sheen later said he and Quinn have been friends for several years. He also called Quinn “one of my heroes,” citing Quinn’s signing of a law that abolished the death penalty in Illinois. That law came after a lengthy moratorium on the practice, put in place by former Republican Gov. George Ryan.
Since Quinn signed the law, the two have bonded over “the fight for social justice,” said Sheen, who added that Quinn is “in a tough fight, but he’s going to win.”
On Sunday, Mike Schrimpf, a spokesman for Rauner, ridiculed Quinn’s minimum wage referendum.
“Here’s the bottom line: Bruce has a plan to raise the minimum wage and Pat Quinn doesn’t,” Schrimpf said, alluding to the fact that the referendum is an advisory measure that is non-binding even if passed.
Schrimpf said Rauner has a plan to raise the minimum wage. But the details are vague, calling for workers’ compensation and tort reforms, without delving into specifics. Rauner’s plan also does not stipulate how high he would raise the minimum wage. Earlier in his campaign, Rauner waffled on the issue, saying he favored lowering the wage.
Quinn – who was unsuccessful in persuading lawmakers to hike the minimum wage last legislative session – conceded the referendum was only advisory.
But, if it passes, he predicted Democratic lawmakers will likely pass an actual statewide increase.
“You got to build majorities in a democracy. … You got to get people in both houses to vote ‘yes’,” Quinn said. “I think the referendum is a good way to have the voice of the people be heard by legislators. And when they return to Springfield, we’ll get the job done. “