WE ARE ILLINOIS
Chicago Tribune endorses Mark Kirk & Bill Brady
From the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board
Alexi Giannoulias is an engaging man — good humored, unfailingly considerate, and by every account a loyal friend. The essence of his campaign is that he's a buddy of the president and will vote with Democratic leaders nearly 100 percent of the time.
Giannoulias doesn't put it that bluntly. But neither does he pretend to be independent of party orthodoxy, from health care regulation to tax hikes to Big Labor's beloved "card check." Ask Giannoulias what federal spending bill of the last two years he would have opposed and, after some painful-to-watch evasion, he cannot name one. Ask him where he most strenuously disagrees with his party's policies and watch his intellectual gears grind as he grasps for anything controversial on which he disagrees at all.
So if you're looking to elect a party-line Illinoisan to the Senate, you have your man. On the climactic Senate votes that define this nation's very future for better or worse — be they on spending obligations or defense policy or industry bailouts — Alexi will be on the bus.
The trouble is that this election, more than many, can't be only an exercise in Which Party Prevails. The American people face one economic and national security challenge after another. This as official Washington further devolves into the addictive partisanship that sabotages the quest for solutions.
In 2010, the citizens of Illinois should send to the Capitol a senator who will bring expertise and independence. The candidate who fits that bill is Mark Kirk.
Today the Tribune endorses Kirk, a Republican, for the U.S. Senate seat that Roland Burris soon vacates. To understand our verdict, watch Giannoulias and Kirk's appearance before us this week. You'll find the video at chicagotribune.com/senate. Judge each man's depth and preparedness for the job. Judge knowledge and scope. Judge accomplishment. Judge which candidate has a proven record of thoughtful independence — of bucking his party when the good of this nation is at stake. You won't have difficulty making these judgments.
What complicates this decision is that simmering issue of trust. Kirk inexplicably embellished his distinguished military career. Giannoulias has had a disturbing approach-avoidance conflict with his family's Broadway Bank: The candidate for state treasurer who needed credibility as a financial expert boasted of his role as an in-charge loan exec. The candidate for senator says he wasn't in the room when bank officers made controversial loans to criminal figures. Our own dive into the details, and our repeated inquisitions of these men, lead us to conclude that, at times, each let his ambition run amok. You can argue that either man's difficulty with candor is more troubling than the other's. We've heard both cases, compellingly made.
All of us do, though, know that Kirk has a record of service, military and congressional, that is 100 percent verifiable. As a naval intelligence officer, he has put his life on the line for this nation. And for 10 years in the U.S. House he has voted as what he says he is: a social moderate, fiscal conservative and national security hawk. Watch on the video as Kirk rips through the long list of issues on which he's voted against the conservative line — health insurance for kids, stem cell research, predatory lending, campaign finance reform and so on. You're struck less by where you agree or disagree than by the totality of what you know about his temperament. Kirk has been his own counsel, not his party's robot.
Giannoulias criticizes Kirk for going where the wind blows. Given Kirk's record of casting votes on their merits, there's not much else Giannoulias can say. He's politically incapacitated from admitting three points we made in endorsing Kirk before the Feb. 2 primary election: Kirk has been an extraordinarily effective representative of the independent-minded 10th Congressional District. He has the instincts to succeed in Washington, no matter which party is in control. And North Shore voters who have elected a slew of Democrats to public offices repeatedly have re-elected Kirk.
Giannoulias is smart, shrewd. We suspect he senses what many voters are asking — not him personally, but themselves — about his professional maturity:
• Which of these two candidates will weigh, and decide, questions on national security and other crucial issues more on the merits than on the politics?
• Which would we want as the senator who could eventually make the extraordinarily sensitive selection of U.S. attorneys — the top federal prosecutors, such as Patrick Fitzgerald — for Illinois?
• And on the issue that most roils American politics this autumn, out-of-control federal spending, would Giannoulias or Kirk make unpopular, potentially career-ending votes for restraint?
That last question will dominate much of the next few years. On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Congressional Budget Office now projects spending on the big three entitlement programs alone — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — to rise by 70 percent, 79 percent and 99 percent respectively …over just the next 10 years.
We want the most capable senator protecting the U.S. from its enemies abroad and its unsustainable finances at home. Mark Kirk will be that senator.
What a spectacular opportunity! With the inept Rod Blagojevich defrocked and awaiting a felony trial, Pat Quinn had two years to reverse the Illinois death spiral: Two years to defang corruption and clout, to reform wild spending and borrowing, to make Illinois tax policy a magnet for jobs. Two years to rescue his beloved state — and to humble the critics who for decades had dismissed him as a gadfly.
Now, nearly two squandered years later, what a disappointment. With history lying in his hands and a populace yearning for him to succeed, Gov. Quinn has proved to the 12.9 million citizens of Illinois that … he is a nice man who cannot do this job. Strength, constancy, innovation, iconoclasm, the courage to speak truth to power — by each of these leadership metrics, Quinn stands bent and pale.
Quinn's bungled tryout — he continues to rule by appeasement even as Illinois and its bright promise unravel — has become the key issue in this race. Democrat Quinn does not grow in office, nor does he compel his party and labor allies to accept solutions that crimp their own influence. For those reasons and others we'll explore, the Tribune today endorses state Sen. Bill Brady for governor.
We know that reviving this moribund state is a challenge greater than any Brady, a Bloomington homebuilder and Republican, has surmounted. By the most important measure of the next few years, though, Brady is the candidate for the job: We believe he will say No to the power-clutching elites — House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, that means you and your cronies — whose insider politics doomed this state to its own private tailspin.
Pat Quinn, by contrast, cannot say No to anyone, let alone the power brokers who bully him. He cannot enforce consequences. He can't even deliver bad news.
Unfortunately, the next governor of Illinois must do plenty of all three.
What's his problem? Quinn's friends say he sees himself as the smartest person in the room, and the most righteous. That's a dangerous combo: It's plain to him, if only to him, that every public need he perceives is properly addressed by spending other people's money. Listen to Quinn. He is so consumed with his priorities that, to him, borrowing still more billions to fund state spending — the equivalent of taking out a second mortgage to buy your gasoline and groceries — seems justifiable. He lets one generation — his — take money, and freedom to make other spending choices, from the next.
Consider: Quinn's government is insolvent, unable to pay for the already-provided care of our most helpless citizens. Yet he commits Illinoisans to spend $75 million — money that essentially doesn't exist — to continue a jobs program he likes until after the election. Meanwhile, he assures state government's biggest union of job protection until the middle of 2012.
The net effect of these selfish choices: Pat Quinn is relentlessly starving clout-poor social services so he can protect the jobs and benefits of his union supporters. Shame on Quinn, and on all of us in whose name he perpetrates this raw injustice.
Illinois in free fall
On Sept. 12 we presented "The state of this state," an examination of where Illinois ranks among its peers:
• 46th-best climate for business,
• 48th in job creation,
• 18th in education spending,
• 38th in education performance,
•9th in unemployment,
• 38th in total economic performance,
• 5th highest workers' compensation costs,
• 1st in number of local governments,
• 50th in funding public pensions …
… and a lousy 29th in voter turnout.
Under current management, legislators included, Illinois is tumbling from leader to bottom-feeder. Quinn, with his adrenalized patter about the greatness of Illinois, wants us all to believe he's looking ahead, not back. If only.
For two decades, politicians of both parties have bulwarked their incumbency, their power, by living a simple coda of "Spend. Borrow. Repeat." They have obligated future spending, and sweetened pensions, as if to say, "Hey, we'll be dead when the worst of this comes due."
During those two decades, state spending grew at more than double the rate of inflation — and job growth trailed the U.S. University of Illinois research says this state needs 600,000 new jobs to return the employment level to where it was a decade ago.
Yet potential employers know that, if they move here, they become stakeholders in failure: Quinn and his fellow Democrats itch to raise taxation so they can support spending past and present. Given the lower-cost options nationwide, what company wants to invest in a place that needs suckers to pay off its debts?
Madigan and Cullerton
To grow jobs, Illinois must grow employers. That means re-engineering tax policy and reducing government costs — by privatizing services, lowering employees' benefits, returning state government to its core missions, and so on. House Speaker Madigan and Senate President Cullerton have shown that they, with their combined 72 years in Springfield, are leaders for the good times. They will not affront state workers and beneficiaries of state largesse. They blame the Great Recession for an Illinois fiscal implosion that began many years earlier, on their watch and largely because of their influence.
We can't get past a verdict rendered in June by Josh Barro, public finance expert at the Manhattan Institute: "Unlike California, Illinois cannot blame its budget woes on a particularly volatile revenue system or on outsize exposure to the housing bubble. Illinois's crisis is unique in that it is purely a creature of mismanagement by elected officials."
Amen to that. If voters fail to bust Madigan's and Cullerton's legislative majorities Nov. 2, a new governor needs to confront them. For two years, these leaders bullied Quinn, forcing him to make budget choices that they, for fear of antagonizing allies, will not. They intimidated him into abandoning recommendations of his Illinois Reform Commission. Ethics measures they passed served to insulate, even expand, their power.
We think a Gov. Brady would make the leaders do their jobs, not cave to them.
We think he would tell them that Illinois needs to take a different path.
The next governor
We have knocked Brady for offering no detailed plan to fix Illinois' finances. Quinn keeps offering plans, many of them reliant on still higher taxation. Last week he told the Associated Press that he would solve the budget crisis by … spending more on education. The AP said Quinn "hopes 'investing in people' will help the Illinois economy grow and fill the budget hole when coupled with unspecified spending cuts and the possibility of more federal aid." This is the governor who told our editorial board, "You can't have a fairy-tale world."
Enough. Quinn awaits miracles, fantasies-come-true, as this dead-broke and jobs-starved state spirals down.
We guarantee that if Brady is elected, we will demand from him a reinvented Illinois — streamlined and with lower overhead — before anyone in power whispers "tax increase." We think he'll be a receptive audience. As he told us eye-to-eye, we cannot continue to have public sector unions bankrupting Illinois. We like his ideas for more competition in public education — something that Quinn, who enjoyed an excellent private education, abhors.
Brady's success or failure depends on the team he assembles and, most of all, on whether he has the spine for this job. As Quinn has taught us, that one criterion means more than all the plans and promises combined.
Does Brady have what it takes? We don't know, but we think he does. Remember: In the early 1980s, a young Jim Edgar endured criticisms Brady encounters today: downstater, largely unknown, not much of a record.
Edgar inherited, and with management skill strengthened, a near-destitute Illinois. Last week, as we mulled this endorsement, the ex-governor spoke our thoughts: "We've had …18 months of Gov. Quinn, and I just don't think managing is necessarily his suit. I think he means well, but I just don't think that's what he's cut out to do. Whereas Bill Brady we don't know for sure, he hasn't been governor. He has some business experience. I'm willing to take a chance there, too."
So are we. Illinois needs to stop the spiral. We trust that Gov. Brady will buck our ossified state government. We know that Gov. Quinn cannot.
Tribune Endorsement of Kirk
Tribune Endorsement of Brady
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