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Pat Quinn. Now and always a political snake oil salesman.

August 23, 2012

Jim Broadway publishes the valuable Illinois School Policy Updates. You might want to subscribe.

In his most recent edition, Broadway addresses Constitutional Amendment 49. It will be on the ballot in November.

He also reminds his readers of the political history of Pat Quinn.

Broadway also gets into some stuff about FDR’s views on public worker unions. But that’s mostly crap. After all, FDR also supported the internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II. Let’s not use him as if his words were final on all things right and wrong.

Being reminded of Quinn’s political history is interesting in light of conversations I’ve had with some progressives who still buy into his grass-roots image: The regular guy.

Quinn hitched his wagon to Dan Walker’s star in 1972. When Walker (now an ex-con) won, Quinn reportedly became a “ghost payroller” – got paid, didn’t work, studied tax law – for the maverick Democrat. He thus got access to a statewide political network.

He gained prominence in 1980 by fomenting public anger toward the state legislature, which had two years before voted itself a 40% pay raise. Legislators were pitifully paid back then. Lawyers and grifters served comfortably; others had to take a vow of poverty.

Quinn whipped voters into a frenzy of animosity against the legislature with his “Cutback Amendment,” a ballot proposal to whittle the number of state representatives from 177 down to 118. Quinn claimed hero status for a referendum that could hardly have failed.

Quinn was lucky. The pay raise was unpopular. The media gobbled up his press releases and largely ignored warnings of unintended consequences – such as the resulting concentration of power into the hands of one person, the House Speaker. (How’s that working?)

For those who don’t remember, Quinn’s successful reform campaign to cut minority representation in the state legislature ensured the power of the Democratic Machine  for the past 30 years.

Boss Madigan should be thanking him.

As for Constitutional Amendment 49, I’m not as pessimistic about its success as Broadway.

Here is how the governor’s next drama will unfold.

Obscured in the flurry of activity that commonly occasions the end of a legislative session, the Senate voted 51-2 on May 3 to approve HJRCA 49, allowing Illinois voters to erect barriers against approval of future public employee pension benefit increases.

The Senate’s action, following House approval by a vote of 113-0, puts the resolution on the November 6 ballot. If at least 60% of the voters vote “yes” on the question, the resolution will become a part of the Illinois Constitution, driving all future pension legislation.

It would be amazing if fewer than 80% of the voters vote “yes.”

Constitutional Amendment 49 is a scam of the first order.

First of all, it does what all the recent pension reform proposals do: It pretends that the pension issue is a benefit problem and not a funding and debt problem that can be solved.

Secondly, as Broadway points out, it is a prop for both Madigan and Quinn to use in the November election to make it seems as if they are doing something about the pension crisis.

Third, it is very unclear what the meaning of the amendment is and what it will impact. For example, are cost of living adjustments a public employee benefit increase?

Fourth, it is a lawyer windfall. One more pension non-solution that will end up in the courts.

Can it be defeated? So far the state’s public employee union leadership have been way too quiet. Perhaps, like Broadway, they think it is inevitable  and unwinnable and that there are easier fish to fry.

But with roughly 800,000 public employees in Illinois, a massive mobilization could deny Quinn of his phony victory.

I’ve heard of a snake oil salesman that got  bit by the snake.

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