Democrats deny Gov. Quinn on key priorities
BY DAVE MCKINNEY, ZACH BUCHHEIT AND NATASHA KORECKI Staff Reporters June 1, 2013 1:18AM
Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, listens to the debate on the House floor before the spring session was adjourned at the Illinois State Capitol Friday, May 31, 2013 in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/The State Journal-Register, Ted Schurter)
Updated: July 3, 2013 6:57AM
SPRINGFIELD — From pension reform to gay marriage, Gov. Pat Quinn wound up deprived of the signature legislative achievements he was seeking this spring despite Democrats holding historic supermajorities in the state Legislature.
State lawmakers wrapped up their spring legislative session early Friday evening, barely breaking a sweat on a night that usually goes to the stroke of midnight as pet initiatives get jammed before the Statehouse shuts down for the summer.
House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), separately or in tandem, failed to deliver on pension reform, gay marriage, a prohibition on high-capacity ammunition magazines and a Chicago casino — all things Quinn sought.
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) summed it up after the House and Senate adjourned when she was asked by a reporter, simply, what happened?
“It’s more like ‘what didn’t happen,’” she answered.
There were a handful of spring bright spots for Quinn and fellow Democrats: legislation authorizing medical marijuana, a deal on concealed carry that preserved local guns laws, a McPier makeover that will lead to a new arena at McCormick Place that will showcase DePaul University basketball games and jump start a plan for a south-suburban airport at Peotone.
But mainly it was goose eggs for Springfield’s most powerful Democrats, and the theories why abounded.
One held that Madigan could have been intent on not sending Quinn his top priorities to undercut the governor heading into the 2014 campaign cycle when he may be taking on the speaker’s daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, in a gubernatorial primary.
She hasn’t declared her intent to run against Quinn. But likewise, she has done nothing to shoot down the rampant discussion about a possible candidacy.
Multiple sources confirmed the speaker did not actively secure votes to help pass same-sex marriage. A casino package died meekly in Madigan’s chamber Friday. And two Senate Democrats aligned with Madigan were key no votes in legislation banning high-capacity ammunition magazines, for which three parents whose children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School came to Springfield at Quinn’s request to lobby.
“I think it’s reasonable to question the extent to which the family ambitions play a role in this,” said state Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine), referring to the speaker and his daughter. “They’re a very close-to-the-vest family obviously. So you have to read tea leaves to assess that.
“But if you look at some of the major issues, from gay marriage to pension reform, it is fair to say the House was the stopper of things that might’ve made Pat Quinn look good to important aspects of the Democratic primary base,” Murphy said.
During a floor speech, Madigan acknowledged the legislature’s lack of productively but steered clear of any reasons for inaction on the big issues. Madigan’s spokesman could not be reached for comment late Friday.
In a meeting with reporters, Cullerton dismissed that possibility of Lisa Madigan factoring into any tactical decisions by the speaker about which bills moved and which ones didn’t.
“I couldn’t figure out how any of that speculation played any role at all in any of these decisions down here,” he said. “People could use that argument for everybody’s actions. It never came up.”
Another narrative that could have factored into the inaction was the rivalry that seemed to develop between two longtime political allies, Madigan and Cullerton, as they couldn’t reconcile their differences on how to solve the state’s nearly $100 billion pension crisis.
On Wednesday, Madigan told the Sun-Times that the Senate’s failure to advance the pension bill he supported amounted to a “lack of leadership.”
“The Speaker was focused on pension reform,” state Rep. Jack Franks said. “The guilt lies with the Senate Democrats along with Gov. Quinn’s ineptness.”
That leads to Quinn himself, who hasn’t emerged as a forceful presence in the Legislature.
Still, one lawmaker said Quinn has been laser-focused all along.
“There was never any mixed message coming from Pat Quinn on what bill he would sign and how important pension reform was to the state. But the legislature has to send him a bill!” said state Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Westchester) “I think it’s unfair to place any blame on the governor to fix the pension system this session.”
Correction: A quote in the initial online version of this story was incorrectly attributed to state Rep. Jack Franks. Franks did not make those remarks initially quoted in the story.