It's fair to wonder why anyone would want to be the next governor of Illinois. Unemployment is soaring and tax receipts are tanking. The state's budget deficit is hovering in the $11 billion to $13 billion range and nearly every day brings new stories of public institutions, social service providers and businesses stretched to the limit because the state is not paying its bills. Despite the daunting challenges, the race for Illinois governor has drawn the largest field of candidates the state has seen in decades.
It's fair to wonder why anyone would want to be the next governor of Illinois.
Unemployment is soaring and tax receipts are tanking. The state's budget deficit is hovering in the $11 billion to $13 billion range and nearly every day brings new stories of public institutions, social service providers and businesses stretched to the limit because the state is not paying its bills.
To fix the problem, the governor who takes office in January 2011 will have to oversee what will surely be unpopular actions, either stiff spending cuts, tax and fee increases, or a combination of both.
Despite the daunting challenges, the race for Illinois governor has drawn the largest field of candidates the state has seen in decades. Two statewide officials, two state lawmakers, a former attorney general, a former state party chairman and two men who have not held public office are all vying to win the February 2 primary.
The crowded field may be one reason for the campaign season's first casualty. DuPage County Board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom, one of the Republicans in the race, dropped out last week after his campaign failed to catch fire. He is throwing his support to former Attorney General Jim Ryan.
Six Republicans and two Democrats remain in the primary. Here's a rundown.
Gov. Pat Quinn
At one time, Pat Quinn's name was seldom seen in print without "political gadfly" attached to it. That hasn't been the case for some time and even former critics made positive comments a year ago when Quinn was elevated to governor after Rod Blagojevich was impeached.
At one time Quinn's ties to Blagojevich were expected to be a major theme in the campaign, even though Quinn opposed Blagojevich's gross receipts tax and pushed a recall amendment for governors while Blagojevich was still in office.
Now, though, the focus is on Quinn's competence as governor, which has come under fire from Comptroller Dan Hynes and others. Quinn shifted his position last summer on ethics reforms and details of an income tax hike he believes is necessary for the fiscal health of the state. Recently, Quinn's been the target of campaign ads blasting an early release program for state prison inmates.
Quinn emphasizes two points when he talks about the shape of state government: He didn't create the financial mess facing the state and he alone is talking turkey with voters.
"The difference between me and everyone else running for governor is that I'm telling people the truth now," Quinn said. "We need revenue to pay our bills."
Quinn wants to raise income taxes, but portrays it as tax reform because he also wants to raise exemptions, sparing incomes of less than about $61,000.
Quinn still strikes a populist tone in his public comments, peppering them with phrases like "people of good faith" and "people do what's right, not political."
He said he would "fumigate" state government of Blagojevich appointees. Now, though, he says wholesale fumigation is neither justified nor fair.
"I don't go around character assassinating people," Quinn said. "That (fumigation) is a kind of McCarthyism."
Comptroller Dan Hynes
Now finishing his third term as comptroller, Hynes has long been the scold of Illinois government.
Hynes long ago began calling for the state to set aside money as a hedge against an economic downturn. He also warned of deteriorating state finances. Few listened.
Trained as a lawyer, Hynes often comes off more as a policy wonk than someone elected to statewide office in a state like Illinois. During the campaign for governor, though, Hynes has been willing to mix it up with Quinn.
"His two answers to the budget problems are to raise taxes on the middle class and to release violent prisoners into our streets," Hynes said.
Hynes said Quinn has a "very small list of accomplishments" and said the Quinn governorship is an example of "bad leadership, bad judgment, bad management and bad policy." Quinn has said Hynes is trying to demonize him and hasn't been successful.
Like Quinn, Hynes is calling for an income tax increase, but his plan would only apply to incomes above $200,000. It also requires a change in the state Constitution.
Hynes said more money can be saved by eliminating professional services contracts for things like the Lottery and tourism as well as firing so-called political hires made by Blagojevich.
There is a certain similarity to the platforms of the candidates. All said they will put state government on a spending diet, focusing on changes to the state's burgeoning Medicaid system that they say will save billions of dollars.
All of them oppose tax increases to balance the budget and want changes to the state-funded pensions that will lower costs to the state in the future.
"These three reforms that we are all talking about, we are pretty much in agreement," Ryan said.
State Sen. Kirk Dillard
Dillard, of Hinsdale, says his extensive experience in Illinois government makes him the best choice for governor. He worked in former Gov. Jim Thompson's administration and was the first chief of staff for former Gov. Jim Edgar. The Edgar connection, and Edgar's endorsement of his candidacy, is something relentlessly hammered home by Dillard.
Dillard's other endorsements are an eclectic mix, including anti-tax conservative Jack Roeser and the pro-tax hike Illinois Education Association. Dillard said he thinks a tax hike can be avoided, but has not signed a no-tax-hike pledge like some other Republicans.
"I'm not going to give up flexibility by signing some gimmicky pledge," Dillard said.
A state senator since 1993, Dillard, 54, twice ran to be leader of the Senate Republicans, but lost.
Some of his actions have drawn fire from his fellow Republicans, including his decision to appear in an early campaign ad for President Barack Obama and his vote for a pension bond issue pushed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in Blagojevich's first year in office.
Dillard has since described Obama's policies as "socialistic." He defended the pension vote as a "one-time rare vote" on a plan supported by business groups that helped stave off further cuts.
State Sen. Bill Brady
Brady, of Bloomington, is the only Republican candidate who lives outside of the Chicago metropolitan area.
"I think the Democrats know they need some Republican leadership," Brady said. "I've had Democrats tell me I have to win this race. I think it helps to come from downstate Illinois, to work across party lines, but to draw that line in the sand."
He is making his second run for governor. He finished third when he ran in 2004 primary. He has been a senator since 2002.
Brady, 48, owns a real estate development and construction company. His business background is reflected in his platform where he wants to turn Medicaid over to a private administrator, eliminate the state sales tax on gasoline, eliminate the estate tax and roll back any tax or fee increases imposed while Blagojevich was governor. That, he said, will improve the state's business climate, encouraging new investment and job creation.
Brady said he would cut 10 percent of the state budget across the board, a move Dillard criticized as a "sophomoric" approach to balancing the budget. Brady's cuts would include elimination of the state Board of Education and replacing it with a downsized education department.
He holds conservative beliefs, both fiscally and socially. He opposes abortion except to save the life of the mother, is against same sex marriages, believes schools should be allowed to teach creationism and supports concealed carry of firearms.
Former Illinois GOP chairman Andy McKenna
McKenna, of Chicago, is a contradiction. He campaigns as an outsider not beholden to any of the traditional power brokers who operate in and around Illinois government.
At the same time, McKenna served four years as chairman of the Illinois Republican, regularly dealing with people who are part of the state's political power structure. His opponents chide him for that and his endorsements by mainstream Republicans like House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego.
"The reason Tom Cross endorsed my campaign is because he believes in our ideas and my experience is both right to win the general election, but also our message will help him win more legislative seats," McKenna said. "We can substantially change the mix of power."
A successful businessman, McKenna said he will not support any fee or tax increases to balance the budget. He also said he will tie increases in state spending to population growth and the rate of inflation. Increases beyond that will not be tolerated.
McKenna is not a stranger to campaigns. He ran in the 2004 primary for U.S. Senate and finished fourth out of eight candidates. It was after that election that he won the post of GOP party chairman.
His campaign is the best funded of the Republican field and he produced a memorable series of campaign ads featuring Blagojevich's hairdo on the Capitol and various Illinois governors. The hair is supposed to symbolize Illinois' long history of political corruption. McKenna uses it to drive home his message that he is an outsider who can reverse that history.
Businessman Adam Andrzejewski
Hinsdale businessman Adam Andrzejewski has no experience as an elected official. In fact, he has no experience in government, leaving him open to criticism from other Republicans that now is not the time for a governor who needs on the job training.
Andrzejewski says that very lack of experience is a plus.
"I'm running against six insiders," Andrzejewski said. "They have too many friends, they're too connected, they're too beholden. They're not making decisions on behalf of the taxpayers and the people of Illinois."
Andrzejewski believes major changes are needed to change in order to promote business and job creation. To do that, he would start by eliminating the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the state agency charged with economic development.
"The mission of DCEO is to create jobs. We rank 48th in that," he said. "Spending cuts equal jobs."
Andrzejewski said he would subject all state spending to a forensic audit that would root out waste and identify programs that are not producing results.
"Government and bureaucrats and politicians have had their chance," he said. "If an agency isn't performing its mission, I'm going to zero it out."
Everything is on the table, he said, including state revenue sharing in which billions of state income tax dollars are sent to local governments.
Commentator Dan Proft
Political consultant and commentator Dan Proft of Chicago likened the current situation in Springfield to a "street fight" and said what is needed is someone to "take a bicycle chain to the playground with Mike Madigan and John Cullerton," the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate.
It is typical Proft, who has shown a proclivity for sharp-tongued one-liners in the campaign.
"Raising taxes is signing the economic death warrant for the state" and "Medicaid was not set up to buy off the middle class" are some of his ways Proft uses to explain his platform.
Proft, 37, said he will turn Springfield upside down if he is elected, promising to completely rethink how government services are delivered. He wants to cut the state income tax in half and slash state spending. The result, he said, will be more investment in jobs in the state.
Proft embraces several conservative positions, including opposition to abortion and gay marriage. He is, however, opposed to the death penalty. Proft said he would lift the moratorium on executions because he believes it was an illegal act. But he said he would then work to ban executions.
"You can correct a mistake when you wrongly imprison someone. You can't correct a mistake when you execute someone," Proft said.
Former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan
Ryan is making his second run for governor. He ran in 2002, facing an electorate tired of 26 years of Republican rule and another Ryan (George) ending a term under a cloud of corruption. He lost to Blagojevich.
Ryan, the last Republican to get into this year's race, said he will impose an hiring freeze and place a moratorium on all new state spending and programs as a first step toward reining in the state's financial problems. That would be followed by appointment of an "efficiency panel" of business leaders and academics to review all aspects of state spending, despite criticism from Brady that the state doesn't need another committee reviewing government operations.
"Some programs have never been evaluated," Ryan said. "There's no question there would be deep cuts. Everything tells me it is realistic to close the budget gaps, make these deep cuts and take the heat."
Ryan has already taken heat for events in his past. The two-term attorney general was previously a prosecutor in DuPage County. In that role, two innocent men were sentenced to death for a child murder. Late last year another man that Ryan previously refused to prosecute was convicted of the murder. Only then did he issue an apology.
Ryan was also friends with Stuart Levine, a friendship that dated to their law school days. Levine has pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges connected to his service on the state Teachers Retirement System. Ryan has said he didn't know about Levine's criminal activities.
"The reason so many people are turned off to politics is that it's turned into a blood sport," Ryan said. "All of the offices I have run are clean."
Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or email@example.com.
A look at the eight candidates for governor in the upcoming primary.
Pat Quinn, Age 61, Chicago. Governor. Experience: State treasurer 1991-1995, lieutenant governor 2003-2009. Issues: Balanced budget, income tax reform, ethics.
Dan Hynes, Age 41, Chicago. Comptroller. Experience: Comptroller since 1999. Issues: Fiscal responsibility, graduated income tax, job creation.
Bill Brady, Age 48, Bloomington. Business owner, state senator. Experience: State representative 1993-2001, state senator 2002-present. Issues: Business tax cuts, job growth, ethics.
Adam Andrzejewski, Age 40, Hinsdale. Businessman. Experience: No prior political office. Issues: Job growth, balanced budget, ethics.
Kirk Dillard, Age 54, Hinsdale. Lawyer, state legislator. Experience: State senator 1993-present. Issues: Job growth, education reform, spending control, ethics.
Dan Proft, Age 37, Chicago. Political commentator and consultant. Experience: No prior political office. Issues: Income tax cut, restructuring government.
Jim Ryan, Age 63, Elmhurst. Instructor at Benedictine University. Experience: DuPage County state's attorney 1984-1995, Illinois attorney general, 1995-2002. Issues: Balanced budget, Medicaid reform, pension reform.
Andy McKenna, Age 53, Chicago. Businessman. Experience: Former Republican state party chairman. Issues: Cut spending, education, ethics, job growth.