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Updated: July 6, 2013 6:44AM



Gov. Pat Quinn put on his best tough guy act Tuesday to show reporters he is holding Democratic legislative leaders accountable for the latest failure to fix the state’s pension system.

In his first public comments since the General Assembly adjourned its spring session last week without solving the state’s biggest ongoing financial problem, Quinn said it was time for legislators “to get down to brass tacks” and stop the “meandering.”

The governor raised his voice to try to sound more forceful and popped all his “p’s” as he said he was “going to keep PUSHING and PUSHING and PUSHING legislators to do the right thing.”

Nobody was buying it.

Quinn just isn’t a tough guy. He’s a nice guy working in a business that is very tough on nice guys.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is a tough guy.

Quinn tried to call a meeting Tuesday with Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton to discuss how they could move beyond their pension stalemate.

Madigan not only did not attend, he didn’t call. Madigan was out of town and doesn’t have a cellphone, the governor reported.

That’s true power, isn’t it? Who else can afford to be without a cellphone these days except a person who doesn’t answer to anyone else.

Not that it mattered. The problem isn’t that Madigan couldn’t be reached, it’s that he’s not reachable, if you get my drift.

Of course, Quinn did not call out Madigan personally for his absence.

In fact, the governor can’t bring himself to say a negative word about anyone, partly because it’s not in his nature, and partly because he’s afraid that if he does that it will only come back to haunt him later.

That’s not the mark of a tough guy no matter how forcefully he pops his “P’s.”

In part, the governor was just trying to deflect blame by pointing out the obvious: that it’s the job of legislators to legislate.

“It’s time for the Legislature to act,” Quinn said. “I can’t do it myself.”

True. Then again, it’s the governor’s job to lead. We know Quinn is quite willing to lead; he just has difficulty getting anyone to follow.

If you are experiencing an overwhelming sense of deja vu right about now, that’s probably because this is the fourth time we’ve been through the same scenario in the past year: first at the conclusion of the spring 2012 legislative session; then when Quinn called the Legislature back for a special session in August; next in the lame duck legislative session in January; and finally again last week.

I find it all very discouraging. That’s something for which I’ll give Quinn credit. He’s not easily discouraged. He just comes back and puts on his Boy Scout uniform and tries again. Eventually, he may wear them down.

This past week he tried something a little out of character for a Boy Scout by trying to parlay a massive gambling expansion bill into a deal with Mayor Rahm Emanuel that in theory was supposed to dislodge opposition to the pension bill. But Madigan did not bring the gambling bill to a vote in the House, which sent the governor’s office into a tizzy about his true intentions.

Madigan has inoculated himself against blame in the smartest manner possible: He passed a pension reform bill out of the House. And not just any pension reform bill, mind you, but one that has been widely praised as the best that anybody has put forward so far — if it can pass constitutional muster, on which there is disagreement with Cullerton and the public employee unions.

When Madigan passed his bill, I thought we were finally out of the woods. But then his close friend Cullerton decided to play the tough guy and insist on a different formulation that didn’t do nearly as much to solve the problem but won the backing of the unions.

Who could blame the governor’s office for being paranoid after that, as they peer at the world through the prism of the possible gubernatorial ambitions of the Speaker’s daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

At this point, I would be ready to throw up my hands and recommend voting out all the Democrats next year— if the Republicans in this state weren’t such a determinedly backward bunch on social issues.

Unfortunately, that leaves us with trying to wring fiscal responsibility out of Illinois Democrats, and there’s nobody tough enough for that.



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