I have never been a fan of Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn, the man whose debut in politics was leading a movement which scrapped a system of selecting state representatives which handicapped machines and other elites and empowered reformers and insurgent groups.
Under the system which existed prior to Quinn’s regrettable initiative, each House district had three representatives. Each party, however, only ran two candidates, with the result that every voter in Illinois always had at least one representative of his own party.
But more significantly, these representatives were elected under a system known as “cumulative voting.” Voters could give all three of their votes to one candidate, one-and-a-half to each of two, or one vote to each of three. The result was that party organizations and other power elites had to ask their supporters to split their votes between two incumbents, while reformers and other challengers could encourage their supporters to “bullet,” or cast all three votes, for one. This built-in advantage for primary challengers meant that the hold of the Chicago machine over the Cook County delegation to the General Assembly was severely shaken. The machine h had to come up with two voters to a reformist challengers’ one simply to break even.
As a result, the state House of Representatives was an island of reform-minded politics in a state with a record of corruption second only to Louisiana’s. That was especially true because, in addition to the advantage the system gave challengers in primary races, the minority third representatives from districts dominated by the other party were generally public service-minded citzen legislators rather than career politicians- and usually the hardest-working and most effective legislators in Springfield.
But Quinn- ignoring the experience of Massachusetts, whose abandonment of a similar system in the name of economy saw the cost of operating the lower house of its legislature actually skyrocket- led a movement to scrap multi-member districts in Illionis, deprive reformers and insurgents of their advantage, and guarantee that the state House of Representatives would become just another machne-dominated cesspool of cronyism and partisanship. Despite the opposition of virtually every movement for poltical reform in the state and nearly all of the state’s most independent political leaders, when the state constitution of 1970 was adopted, the electorate fell for Quinn’s ill-conceived plan and voted to switch to single-member districts. A bright era in the often murkey history of Illinois politics came to a sad and needless close.
Quinn happened to be the lieutenant governor when Rod Blagojevich was impeached. Lucky Illinois. He was narrowly elected to a term of his own two years ago.
Now, the loose-cannon governor (who doubtless sees himself as a maverick) has incurred the ire of AFSCME and the state AFL-CIO for trying to reform the pension system for state workers, who are comparing him to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who recently survived a recall election sponsored by the same groups for trying to roll back state pensions.
This is not a good thing for a Democratic politician in Illinois. And he’s rattled. He showed it by telling a gathering at the Illinois State Fair yesterday that “Obama is dead.”
He meant Osama bin Laden. Oops. By Democratic standards, the slip of the tongue seems to eminently qualify Quinn to be either president or vice-president, but regrettably the nominations for those offices seem already to be decided, at least for this year.
It seems that Patrick Quinn’s political career may be coming to an end- forty-one years too late for the cause of clean, accountable government in the state of Illinois.