We may never know the exact reasons Bill Daley unexpectedly dropped out of the governor’s race this week.
Daley, who was challenging Gov. Pat Quinn for the Democratic nomination, said he thought he could win but was apparently worried about the enormity of the job if he was successful.
Daley’s campaign also appeared to be struggling. He reportedly was having trouble finding a running mate and was not receiving the support from rank-and-file Democrats that he felt he deserved. In addition, he was losing some of the early public opinion skirmishes with Quinn.
But campaigns are full of peaks and valleys, and an experienced politician such as Daley — he’s a former White House chief of staff — knows how to recover. So it’s probable that Daley took a look at the governor’s job and decided it wasn’t a headache he wanted to inflict upon himself.
Who can blame him? The job is no prize right now.
The state has the second-highest unemployment rate in the country, the worst state government credit rating, $7.5 billion in unpaid bills and a $100 billion unfunded pension obligation. The state’s political leaders don’t appear inclined to address any of these issues, preferring instead to dither and delay.
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The next governor will not only have to face that mountain of problems, but also establish a working rela-tionship with House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton. In addition, the new governor will have to deal with a General Assembly that is much more comfortable spending money the state doesn’t have on projects it doesn’t need than facing the state’s real issues.
Yeah, who wouldn’t want that job?
The Daley decision practically guarantees the Democratic nomination will go to Quinn. A challenger could still emerge, but it’s doubtful anyone would have the pull or the ability to raise campaign funds to mount a serious challenge. The two biggest threats to Quinn, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Daley, have stepped out of the race.
Quinn can now watch four Republicans, Bill Brady, Kirk Dillard, Bruce Rauner and Dan Rutherford, fight for the Republican nomination and spend precious campaign energy and dollars in the primary.
Quinn has been handed a unique opportunity, and he should push the advantage. He has the chance in the next year to set the state on the path to recovery. Without a primary to dog him, he should make clear to the General Assembly that he wants fiscal discipline, a pension solution that actually solves the crisis and an end to the corruption and ethical lapses that prevail in the state. If the special pension committee’s proposed legislation doesn’t go far enough, Quinn should announce before a vote is taken that he will veto it. He should be ruthless about calling out Republicans and Democrats who refuse to take the necessary votes on pension and other reforms. He should make it clear that all government spending will be carefully scrutinized.
We’ve seem glimpses of such leadership from Quinn. He has stood up to gambling proponents who want to remove many of the safeguards against corruption. His decision to suspend legislative pay until a pension bill is approved lacked finesse, but at least it sent a clear message.
Governor, you’ve been released from campaigning for the next several months. The next governor of Illinois needs to be someone who can lead the state back from the current abyss. Of the remaining candidates, you are best poised to start that process now.