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If Gov. Pat Quinn’s a leader, it’s from behind

Updated: May 24, 2013 2:23AM

How can you be a leader if nobody is following you?

This week on my blog ( I wrote that Gov. Pat Quinn is honest, but “no leader.” His press secretary fired off an angry retort:

“Give me a break.

“Real leadership requires honesty and making hard but necessary decisions for the common good. Real leadership requires telling the truth, looking at the big picture and doing what’s best for generations to come. Prior governors got things done like approving big early retirement initiatives, pension holidays and unaffordable contracts that helped create the crisis we’re in now. Gov. Quinn has gotten things done like pension reform for new hires, Medicaid restructuring, the first capital bill in a decade, worker’s compensation reform and more.

“That’s leadership.”

For starters, that definition of “real leadership” is incomplete.

As I said, leaders have followers. Quinn has few if any followers, either among the public or in the General Assembly.

His poll numbers are the worst in the country. Only the hardest core of hard-core Democrats really support him, and even they’re not all that enthused.

Every governor in anyone’s memory has had what’s known as “floor leaders” in each legislative chamber. Those floor leaders stick up for the governor when other legislators balk. They fight for his interests and pass his bills. Quinn has never had a floor leader in either chamber. And if he asked around today, I doubt if he could find one.

For crying out loud, the woman he plucked out of semi-obscurity to be his running mate in 2010 unceremoniously dumped him a while back. Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon would still be teaching some boring class at Southern Illinois University if it were not for Pat Quinn, but even she’s running away from him as fast as she can. It’s not that I blame her, but it doesn’t make her behavior any less gauche.

Other governors did indeed ignore the pension problems, and Quinn deserves credit for pointing out those problems and demanding a solution. But he’s been little help in devising a solution or getting a solution enacted into law.

Right now, for instance, the House and the Senate are deadlocked over competing pension reform plans, one backed by the unions, the other by big business. A real leader would find a way to bridge this gap between the House speaker and the Senate president.

And the list of accomplishments isn’t really Quinn’s. Yes, he signed those bills into law, but he didn’t lead the effort to hash out the difficult details or get them passed.

Too often, Quinn’s idea of leading is to threaten to veto bills unless certain conditions are met instead of actively working to do something positive. The gaming expansion bill is a perfect example. There is no doubt the governor wants the revenues from more gaming, but he isn’t willing to do the hard work to resolve the contentious issue and contents himself with throwing bricks from the sidelines at those who are working.

Illinois is adrift. Without a firm hand on the tiller, all heck is breaking loose at the Statehouse. Factions are warring over everything imaginable, and the big issues are still unsettled. Meanwhile, our state’s unemployment rate is about the highest in the country, our population growth rate is infinitesimal, and the government continues to cut sweetheart, taxpayer-financed deals to keep big businesses from relocating elsewhere while ignoring the dire need for healthy, balanced economic growth.

I don’t think Illinois can take six more years of this “real leadership.”

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