5-3-10 SCOTT LEE COHEN, officially announce his candidacy to run for Governor of the State of Illinois as an Independent, during press conference in the plaza of Thompson Center, Randolph and Clark. (photo by john h white/chicago sun-times)
Updated: December 11, 2013 6:41AM
Except for his own distinguished six years of service in the job, Gov. Pat Quinn hasn’t had much luck with the lieutenant governor’s office.
Back in 2010, Democratic primary voters nominated wealthy pawnshop owner Scott Lee Cohen to the second banana slot on the gubernatorial ticket.
Cohen, however, was an unmitigated disaster. His unsavory past, including an arrest for allegedly holding a knife to his girlfriend’s throat, was ignored by everyone in the media except the Sun-Times’ Mark Brown. After he won the primary and became Quinn’s running mate, his history was all of a sudden on full display, and he had to go.
Cohen finally dropped out of the race after a gigantic media uproar, making his tearful announcement at a sports bar during the Super Bowl.
After that, dozens of hopefuls applied online to replace Cohen. The process was a joke, but Quinn eventually chose Sheila Simon.
Simon wasn’t picked for her political abilities. She’d lost a mayor’s race in her hometown of Carbondale that was hers for the taking. She was chosen mainly because of her late father, U.S. Sen. Paul Simon. Quinn’s choice was more about a name from the past than the future, and his new running mate did little to help him win the fall election — although the Quinn-Simon team did carry Simon’s home county of Jackson by 166 votes.
Simon stayed mostly in the background during the campaign. She’s been little different since her election.
Simon gave Quinn the brush-off last winter, when it looked like Quinn surely would face Lisa Madigan and/or Bill Daley in next spring’s Democratic primary. Simon originally pined for Attorney General Madigan’s job, but when Madigan decided not to run for governor, she switched to the comptroller’s race.
In many ways, Quinn’s latest choice is completely outside the box. Most figured he’d pick an African-American or a Latino running mate, or maybe a woman. Several names of black politicos were floated over the past weeks and months, and their friends and allies expressed outrage when Quinn instead chose Paul Vallas on Friday.
Unlike the former Carbondale alderman Simon, Vallas has loads of executive experience, running the Chicago Public Schools and school districts around the country.
And while the four Republican candidates for governor mostly settled on unknowns with little political experience but plenty of “diversity” (an Asian-American man and three women, one of whom is a Latina and one with a Hispanic surname), Quinn set aside demographic and immediate political considerations and chose someone who clearly is up to the task of taking the reins of government if something should happen to him. And shouldn’t that be a governor’s first consideration?
But Vallas’ stature and experience come with a very steep price. Vallas is a forceful, polarizing public figure. He’s supremely charming but temperamental to the point of being obnoxious and always confident he’s the smartest guy in the room.
Simon sat quietly in the back seat while Quinn drove the car, jumping out the door when it suited her purposes but silently and politely. If the past is any guide, Vallas constantly will be leaning over the front seat trying to yank the steering wheel out of Quinn’s hands.
Vallas could wind up hurting Quinn, both in the campaign and after the governing resumes. I don’t see how Quinn is going to keep Vallas on a short leash when nobody has ever managed to do such a thing before in his life.
But, hey, that’s Quinn’s problem now. The rest of us get to sit back and watch this play out. And whenever Paul Vallas is involved, there’s never a dull moment.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.