Illinois Governor Pat Quinn Is In Trouble

While I’ve made note of the several Republican Governors with tough re-election fights this year, one of the toughest re-election campaigns this year will be the one of Pat Quinn, the Democratic Governor of a state that has become very Democratic in recent years:

The road to reelection for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) was always going to be difficult. But it looks even harder at the end of a troubling week for the Democrat when a federal probe of an anti-violence initiative he started has received widespread attention in the state.

At minimum, the episode is an unwelcome distraction; at most, it could become a big blow to the good-government image Quinn has carefully crafted, close watchers say.from

“It’s obviously very early in terms of the details, but one of the things that Pat Quinn has been able to hang his hat on for about three decades is his positioning himself as a reformer, an outsider and a champion of good government,” said Republican strategist Doug O’Brien, a former aide to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). “This really has the potential to undermine what was really one of the few positives he had going in terms of his public image.”

David Ormsby, a former aide to state House Speaker Michael Madigan (D), took a similar view. ”The pillar of his political strength throughout his decades in Illinois politics has been an ingrained reputation for honesty and frugality,” said Ormsby, who later added, “If Quinn loses in the fall, insiders will point to this week when the governor essentially lost the race.”

Dubbed the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, Quinn launched the anti-violence program in the fall of 2010, the year he ran for a full term as governor. It has come under scrutiny from federal and state prosecutors. The Department of Justice has sought documents related to the program, the Chicago Tribune reported Thursday. Earlier in the week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was looking into the program.

Quinn stopped funding the effort in 2012. Critics have cast the initiative as a “political slush fund.” Quinn’s office said it supports any investigation into the matter.

“If there is an inquiry, we fully support it. We have zero tolerance for any mismanagement at any state agency. That’s why the governor abolished this agency nearly two years ago,” said Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson.

In some ways, Quinn entered 2014 in seemingly better shape than he was in last year. He managed to avoid a primary challenge from Lisa Madigan, the state’s Attorney General and the daughter of the powerful Speaker of the state’s House of Representatives Michael Madigan. Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley also decided to end a bid to challenge Quinn for the Democratic nomination. Since then, though, a series of stories have mounted that seem to pose serious challenges for Quinn, although he so far seems to be avoiding the habit of recent Governor’s of Illinois of ending up the subject of a Federal corruption probe.. I haven’t paid much attention to what’s up with the Republican side of this race, but it’s worth noting that Rod Blagojevich was the first Democrat to hold the Governor’s office in the Land of Lincoln since 1977. The possibility of a GOP comeback there should not be discounted.

FILED UNDER: 2014 Election, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Dave D says:

    But SD kept telling me on the other story about the marginalization of the GOP in Illinois. I mean one party state and all, it doesn’t track that a republican can win an election in that one party state. Now I’m just confused.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I’ve met Pat Quinn and I think he’s a decent bloke. I also think he’s out of his depth as governor, particularly in the face of Illinois’s manifest problems which have been building for decades.

    I have no idea who will be elected governor in November. It’s a midterm so turnout will be low and if it’s low enough anything can happen. In the primaries Chicago’s citywide turnout was an historic low—about 10% citywide. I have no idea whether that’s an indication of turnout in November or not.

    Additionally, Gov. Quinn made few friends in the recent “pension reform” package enacted into law. A few powerful constituencies deciding to sit this one out could make the difference between victory and defeat.

  3. @Dave Schuler:

    Your thoughts on the role that Speaker Madigan might play in all this? From what I’ve gathered, he and Quinn don’t exactly seem to get along

  4. michael reynolds says:

    The man’s gone four years without being arrested, which I think may be unprecedented among Illinois governors.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Part of the “sitting it out” scenario I mentioned. As I understand things he wants his daughter to be governor but she won’t run as long as he’s House Speaker and he’s not ready to retire yet.

    @michael reynolds:

    Well,not exactly unprecedented but he will be the first in this century.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    Quinn just got sued for violating the patronage rules, to which his response is that the hires were needed to spend the federal stimulus money quickly.

    Also, as someone who has tried to stake out his credentials as a populist reformer, he now has to respond to two public initiatives to amend the state constitution (independent redistricting and term limits).

  7. grumpy realist says:

    Quinn has managed to piss off a lot of people on all sides.

    A lot of it will depend on who his opponent is. A typical RINO Republican? Would have a chance. Someone like Cruz? Fuggehtabahtit.

    There’s a still a lot of The Machine here in Illinois. And Madigan is still pulling a lot of the strings. Republicans have a chance to get in–but only if they’re as obsequious as the Democrats are to the Big M.

  8. PD Shaw says:

    @Doug Mataconis: The House Speaker generally polls as the least popular politician in Illinois. So that quote from his former employee should be taken with a grain of salt. People are not happy with Madigan or Quinn, but Quinn’s will be the only name on most people’s ballots.

    One theory about the Speaker is that he works better with Republican governors, from which there is a conspiracy theory that he seeks to undermine Democratic ones.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    @grumpy realist: Quinn only got 46.79% of the vote in 2010 (to the Republican’s 45.94%); he’s done nothing to improve his situation, which is actually probably gotten worse. He cannot win this election; his Republican opponent can only lose it. And as a first time millionaire politician, the Republican is at high risk of gaffes, but he is not socially conservative like his predecessor.

  10. ernieyeball says:

    @michael reynolds:..Now , now Mr. Reynolds. Let’s not get too high-minded.
    Per wikipedia one has to look all the way back to Jan 2014 to find a California politician on his way to the Crossbar Hotel.
    A quick scroll down the linked page all the way back to 1910 shows that NY, PA, and KY have more than their fair share of reprobates.
    Maybe people like to pick on the Prairie State because of this guy.

    Paul Taylor Powell (January 21, 1902 – October 10, 1970) served as Illinois Secretary of State from 1965 until his death in 1970.
    Although he never made more than $30,000 a year, upon his death, shoeboxes, briefcases and strongboxes with more than $800,000 in cash were found in his hotel suite residence at the St. Nicholas Hotel in Springfield, Illinois.[2] In his hotel room he also had 49 cases of whiskey, 14 transistor radios, and two cases of creamed corn. When settled in 1978 his estate was worth $4.6 million, of which $1 million was racetrack stock.[3] A federal investigation determined that Powell had acquired much of his wealth through illegal cash bribes, which he received for giving noncompetitive state contracts to political associates. The State of Illinois received a $222,999 settlement from his estate; in addition, several state contractors were imprisoned for their roles in the affair.

  11. PD Shaw says:

    @ernieyeball: My wife and I had our wedding reception in the St. Nicholas Hotel. Great place once; lots of stories.

  12. Dave Schuler says:

    @PD Shaw:

    I think the initiatives are a sorry waste of effort. My preferred amendment to the Illinois constitution would be to amend Article XIV, Section 3 to strike the sentence “Amendments shall be limited to structural and procedural subjects contained in Article IV.”

  13. PD Shaw says:

    I think the initiatives have a political purpose.

  14. Dave Schuler says:

    I know that one of them (term limits?) is Rauner’s baby and he’ll probably run on it when it fails.

  15. superdestroyer says:

    @Dave D:

    Given that the polling shows it a even at five months before voting does not look good for the Republicans. Republicans always poll better than they actually perform and given that Republicans never come from behind, the chance of the Republican winning is small.

    Waiting until the media in Chicago (who are very friendly to Democrats) combs through the life of whoever the Republicans nominate and the Democrats should easily win.