Gliding down the James R. Thompson Center escalators, former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn arrived for a lunchtime meeting in the food court in every way you would expect Pat Quinn to do so. It was hot, so he lacked a jacket, but wore his shirt unbuttoned two buttons. Carrying a thick accordion folder he says hello mildly but with a firm handshake.
After settling in at a quieter table, Quinn chit chatted a bit, but was excited to talk about his new effort to create an elected Chicago Consumer Advocate and to set a term limit for Chicago’s mayor, beginning in 2019. He brandished a dogeared copy of the Illinois Constitution, wrapped with a rubber band and full of underlined passages. For half an hour, Quinn expounded on his new referenda, his opinion of the performance of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner and what he’s doing to fill his time out of office.
The following is transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Aldertrack: What spurred you to do this referenda now?
Quinn: I’ve always been interested in Article VII, the local government article, because I want to see more initiatives and referendum statewide. You can pass a constitutional amendment for that, and I think we can.
But a city council can enact its own local initiative process, so this is already existing, it only pertains to certain subjects, the manner of selection and creating an office. You can do binding initiatives on this. I’ve been interested in this since I was in law school.
Do you think Rahm Emanuel is doing a good job?
I don’t want to get into too much into the personalities and performance. I believe in the policy, whether Emanuel is mayor or someone else is mayor. I believe that two four year terms, consecutive terms, is sufficient.
But you could have written this so it could take effect in the next one. You very specifically said in 2019.
Because the current office holder is on his second elected term.
You could grandfather him in for one more.
But I think the two term, two consecutive terms is the proper way to go. A number of communities in Illinois, twenty, have used this to have various things in terms of term limits on their mayor. And most of them are consecutive four year terms. And there’s another factor, probably even bigger, the big cities of America, the ten biggest, only Chicago doesn’t have term limits on its mayor. New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Houston, San Diego.
Your spokesman said you’re not ready to roll out supporters just yet. How are you going to put together the organization to put together a 100,000 signatures, let alone the 53,000 good signatures you need.
Keep in mind our goal is to get 100,000 names and take as long as necessary to get it.
So it doesn’t have to be for the November 8th ballot?
Having been around Illinois politics for a while, sometimes there are politicians who keep you off the ballot. You might have heard of that.
This goes on the ballot at least 92 days after the filing of this petition, so when we get the names, then we’ll put it–we’ll file. We’re not going to be in a situation where our adversaries perhaps try to keep this off the ballot by trying to hog the ballot.
Has this sort of thing been done before? The Fair Maps Amendment team, they were really hemmed in by the time period, and the first time around they had a hard time–
That’s a different part of the constitution, which I have used as well. Since 1980. There, there is a specific deadline, you cannot have, you can’t do the 92 days. You must put it on a General Election ballot. That’s Article XIV. That’s different.
I’m curious to know, what do you think of the fight going on between Michael Madigan and Governor Rauner? You had issues with Madigan too.
Obviously I ran against Rauner, and many of the things that I, more than many, of the things that I predicted he would do, he has done and made a mess of things. I am very disappointed in the performance of Rauner as governor. People like Jim Edgar, who is in a different party than mine, and he supported Rauner, have the same disappointment. The first job of the governor is to get a budget, and not to engage in alibis about why not.
Is it possible we could go a whole Rauner term without a budget? Is that conceivable?
I hope not. But our state has the highest unemployment rate in the country now. We’ve had six straight months of higher unemployment. When I left office, we had 25 straight months of unemployment rate that was stable or declining. Never rising. Now it’s up. And I think it’s in due part to poor leadership by the governor.
You’re basically the template for the populist politician in Illinois. I think you’ve done that on purpose.
I believe in it. It’s not hard. This was on the ballot in Chicago in 1982 [pulls out old flyer for Citizens Utility Board initiative]. Chicago had a referendum on CUB, it passed overwhelmingly, within a year it because the law in the state of Illinois. So I was the guy who got it on the ballot, and I believe in it.
Thinking as a populist, is Rahm Emanuel doing the right thing spending so much energy on something like the Lucas Museum, versus school funding and the police force?
Yeah. There are core priorities like safety, education. This thing they’re having at Crain’s? [The Crain’s Future of Chicago Conference] What was missing? Fighting violence, good education, economic development–what’s missing? Democracy. What Chicago is missing, is giving voters more opportunity to call the policies they think are right. To me that’s a big problem. In other words, if you empower and strengthen the voice of voters we’ll have a better city, right now it’s too top down. That’s why term limits are so important. They’re the ultimate of campaign finance reform. You can just incumbency to raise money for their election.
So is the Lucas Museum the kind of thing a mayor should be expending their energy on?
To me, that wouldn’t be my top priority. But that’s his, I guess.
Have you reached out to Rahm Emanuel to talk about [the referendum]?
On this one, I haven’t talked to him directly. But imagine that time will come. I think he would be well advised to support this. Believe it or not, quite a few municipalities who have come together on this, twenty all together, have put it on the ballot by themselves, without a petition. Some had to have a petition. This is a good policy. Two consecutive elected terms, then you step out. Worked for George Washington!
You’ve got an office in River North. So what else are you spending your time on?
I volunteer for everything I can. I was called the Broadband Governor, I do a lot with high speed internet for schools and hospitals. Wrongful conviction. I did quite a few clemencies when I was governor, one of the last ones was a man named Tyrone Hood, who was in Menard 22 years for a murder he didn’t commit, I pardoned him at the end. I got involved with folks who, our criminal justice system, you can’t make mistakes and put innocent people in jail, so I worked on that and I’m going to do the food bank walk this weekend and I do a lot of work for veterans. They’re called Gold Star Veterans who lost a son or daughter in Iraq or Afghanistan. Last year I went to The Cell, for a baseball game, we had a suite, and we did one for the Cardinals, for the fans there. So we had a Gold Star family group at a Cardinals game.
Have you been doing and private legal work?
Have you been taking private clients or advising anyone, that sort of thing?
No. I believe in volunteerism. I do believe in petition passing. I got 150 names yesterday.
What’s the likelihood of the passage of an elected school board by 2019 for Chicago?
In some ways, our petition helps it. If things aren’t moving on stuff like elected school board, which is a perfect example of why we need local initiative. People voted on that in an advisory way. But how did they get it on the ballot? They had to go ward by ward.
Right now the bill passed the House, I asked Madigan to be for that, he looked at me like there was a man from the moon. Now he’s for it, bless his heart. Some people have a change of heart. Now it’s up to [Illinois Senate President] John [Cullerton] to call the bill, and it would pass if he did, but John and the Mayor are pretty tight.
So you think Cullerton will hold on it?
I think the Mayor has got to realize, the longer he blocks the elected school board the bill that passed the house, the more people that are going to sign on the petition.
How many candidates for mayor do you think we’re going to see for 2019?
I hope a good number. I think it’s healthy to have viewpoints.
What do you think of Donald Trump?
He’s a charlatan. In a lot of ways, the guy who ran for governor against me, used some of the Trump techniques in 2014. Insulting, calling people corrupt. He called his three Republican opponents in the primary corrupt. That kind of stuff. When you attack the character of your political adversaries, it doesn’t lend much to civility, which is very important to run a democracy. [Former Republican Governor Jim] Edgar said that last week.
Is the Fair Maps Amendment going to pass?
I’ve been involved in a number of cases in the supreme court level on that part of the constitution and initiatives. I think they have some drafting challenges in their proposal. THey way it is drafted. Two years ago it was not very well done. And I really feel looking at it, they are going to have survive a court case.
So you think it will be knocked off the ballot?
Because of poor drafting. You gotta read the cases.
Are we going to see Pat Quinn running for Governor or Mayor?
You’ll see me passing petitions right now. [Interrupted by two construction workers saying hello. “Good seeing you brother!” one says.]
So, are we going to see you running for Mayor or Governor?
I’m not even thinking about that. If you want to do an initiative and I do on this, you really need to put a lot of heart and soul into that. When it’s time to run for office, I’ll think about that when that time comes. Right now this [taps initiative petition] is the time.
Are you going to be fundraising for that?
I made a contribution, a loan. We have enough money to get started. I believe in this. If you invest in it, your own money, that’s really underlines you believe it.