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Is Sheila Simon the Right Choice?

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Blake D. Dvorak

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Sheila Simon

I confess, I'm not up to speed on the career and politics of Sheila Simon, other than being the daughter of the late Sen. Paul Simon. (She doesn't even have a Wiki page!) But there's a lot of grumbling out there amongst Democrats, many of whom are upset at Quinn for overlooking Art Turner, the runner-up in the lt. gov. primary. It's hard to blame them or Turner for feeling cheated. After all, how many votes did Sheila Simon get in the primary?

Not to mention that the quick dismissal of Sen. Susan Garrett (Lake Forest) for apparently opposing Quinn's tax hike was a bit odd. Clearly, Quinn is hoping to fill some gaps on the ticket and picking a woman tops his list. (Recall the governor's courting of Tammy Duckworth earlier this year.) Garrett, however, is from the North Shore and Quinn probably figured that would work against him downstate.

Which brings me to Eric Zorn's post today:

The only reason she became the third woman to jump to the top of Quinn's list of potential running mates -- after U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs official Tammy Duckworth and state Sen. Susan Garrett -- is that she's the daughter of the late  Sen. Paul Simon,  a downstate icon whom even his Republican foes recognized as pillar of integrity.
Of course if this was a presidential race no one would be criticizing Quinn for taking politics into account in his choice of running mates. It wouldn't even be an issue. That's what running mates are for. But Zorn makes a good point here:

The Republican nominee for lieutenant governor is Jason Plummer, an inexperienced downstater who's an ideological clone of their candidate for governor, Bill Brady.  When the candidacy of Democratic nominee Scott Lee Cohen imploded,  Quinn and party leaders had a chance to choose a No. 2 that contrasted with Plummer and with Quinn in ways that would appeal to independent and undecided voters -- someone whose resume actually suggests a readiness to become governor if the necessity arose.

Instead Quinn has chosen an inexperienced downstater who's his ideological clone. She contrasts with him only in her gender and brings little more to the ticket than a famous last name.
Ouch.

The biggest obstacle for Simon in the near future is honing her political skills. She had served in the Carbondale City Council, but that probably isn't the most intense school of hard politics. Plummer might be inexperienced, but he did manage to win a statewide primary.

Stealing Brady's Thunder

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Blake D. Dvorak

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In response to the state Senate's passage of a school choice program championed by Sen. James Meeks, this comment over at CapFax makes a good point:

Looks like Madigan and Cullerton are attempting to clear the field of traditional hot GOP issues to campaign on. It appears they are trying to put up a damn [sic] to slow the pending anti dem flood of discontent.
Add in the pension reform bill that just passed -- a significant step also -- and suddenly the Democrat-controlled General Assembly is stealing all the GOP's best talking points: An unsustainable pension system and a public school system dead-set against reform.

Now, Meeks has been fighting for vouchers for a while now, so we shouldn't sully his victory by implying political opportunism. Similarly, something had to happen with the pension system, because at north of $80 billion, Illinois has the largest unfunded pension system in the country. Any steps toward balancing the budget and restoring the state's fiscal health has to take pensions into account.

But that leaves two fewer issues for Brady and the Republicans to campaign on this year. And they're both big issues that were hurting the Democrats in the public's eye. Brady still has the tax increase issue to attack, and one might argue that the pension reform bill doesn't go far enough, but the Dems have managed to steal a bit of his thunder.

UPDATE: I should also probably include Pat Quinn's choice of Sheila Simon as somewhat directed at Brady. Simon is a "downstater" and the CW out there is that Quinn wanted to minimize Brady's downstate support.

The Dems' Rotten, No Good, Lousy Week...

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Blake D. Dvorak

...at least according to Crain's Greg Hinz:

I'm not big on assuming that the events of just one week can change the core dynamics of a long political season.

   But I'm going to make an exception today, because Illinois Democrats can't stand too many more weeks like this one if they hope to compete in November.
On Hinz' list of bad news are 1.) Quinn's budget; 2.) the Dems' lt gov. fiasco; 3.) Giannoulias' many problems; and 4.) the situation surrounding retiring Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool.

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On problems 2 and 3 I'm with Hinz (we haven't discussed Claypool at all on The Voting Booth, so we'll just set that aside).

The latest wrinkle in the Lt. Gov. mess is that Democrats have set a date, March 27, to vote on a replacement for Scott Lee Cohen -- almost two months after the primary. The 38-member Democratic State Central Committee, headed by Speaker Mike Madigan, will vote on the nominee following four hearings between now and then. It's embarrassing for the party that it's taken this long to get anything done -- after a slew of missteps from both the party and the Quinn people. Democrats have given Republicans a another way to highlight the controlling party's incompetence -- all over the lt. gov. slot! And it looks terrible for Quinn, who's been all but excluded from the process by Madigan.

And of course there's the Giannoulias stuff. Hinz thinks that talks of his departure from the ticket are "premature," and he's probably right. But the very fact that we're talking about it at all is a terrible sign for the candidate. Giannoulias is trying to deflect the heat by attacking Kirk, but the reality is that he's lost control of the debate. The only option left for Giannoulias is to try to ride this out till the summer (or pray for some scandal to ensnare Kirk).

As for Quinn's budget, I'm no so certain it's a loser for him just yet. As he showed last year, Quinn has enough backing from the public-sector unions to stage thousand-strong protests at the Capitol which will generate huge coverage. Teachers and students, social workers, etc,. all crying out for funding is a powerful image, and one Quinn will be able to use effectively.

Moreover, I'm inclined to take Madigan's comments about Quinn's budget ("The people of Illinois don't want a tax increase.") with a grain of salt. No Democrat wants to lose the governor's mansion, least of all Madigan. Some solution is going to be worked out that will save face for Quinn, even if he doesn't get his tax increase.

But I'll add some good news for Democrats:

  1. Despite all his problems, Giannoulias is still edging out Kirk in the polls. Democrats are likely waiting on the next wave of polling to decide whether it's time to ditch Obama's basketball buddy, but until then he's still ahead.
  2. Bill Brady has yet to show that he's ready for this election. Since officially becoming the nominee, Brady has righted himself and is beginning to focus his campaign on jobs and the economy. But it's not like it takes a David Axelrod to understand that's what Brady should have been doing all along. His next step is to start tapping into that Tea Party anger out there on the right, if only to start bringing some enthusiasm to his campaign. Something like an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal or along those lines could bring some much needed national conservative attention.
  3. This is still Blue Illinois, and the big guns haven't been fired yet. I'm talking about the president, whose favorability in his home state is still high enough that an appearance or two down the road could help all Illinois Democrats significantly.

Quinn Calls for 33% Tax Hike

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Blake D. Dvorak

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Addressing the General Assembly today, Gov. Pat Quinn called for a 33% hike in the state income tax to raise $2.8 billion a year and help close the budget deficit. From the Trib:

Quinn wants to increase the personal income tax rate from 3 percent to 4 percent --- a 33 percent increase --- with the corporate tax rate rising from 4.8 percent to 5.8 percent. The tax hike would bring in $2.8 billion a year.

"I believe this 1 percent for education makes sense, and I think the people of Illinois will understand. We must invest in the future, even in these tough economic times," Quinn said. This is urgent. We don't have six months. We don't have six weeks. I challenge the General Assembly to take immediate action to enact the 1 percent for education initiative."

Last year, Quinn unsuccessfully tried to raise the personal income tax rate from 3 percent to 4.5 percent and provide some tax relief.
Bill Brady, talking to reporters after the address, said, "This budget doesn't do anything to bring back the 250,000 jobs we've lost in just this last twelve months." Here's a video, courtesy of Cap Fax:


It's a bold move to call for a tax increase as you're running for reelection. But that's part of Quinn's calculation: He wants to be credited with doing the people's business regardless of political consequences. And many in the media and on the left will say as much.

But it's still a tax increase and voters still generally despise them.

It might seem that Brady's job is easier: Call Quinn a tax-and-spender and promise no new taxes in a Brady Administration. But not so fast. Unless Brady can convince voters that all hell won't break lose without a tax hike, he'll be in danger of appearing unserious -- and, as Jim Edgar said, "naive." That requires a detailed budget blueprint -- not a campaign slogan like "10% cut across the board."

It also requires a bit of economics. Brady need to explain to voters that his opposition to tax increases is about the economy, not the budget. He needs to make the case that his primary concern as governor is to improve the state's economy and put Illinoisans back to work. Which means the budget crisis is almost secondary.

Journalists, politicos, policy wonks, etc. hate hearing that. For many of them, the state's fiscal health is the economy, and for Brady to focus on one at the expense of the other is incomprehensible. And that's why there's going to be a lot more backlash against Brady for opposing tax hikes than Quinn for proposing them: All the schools that will close; all the inmates who will be released; all the social services that won't be delivered -- these stories will dominate coverage of Brady's economic agenda. 

Rasmussen: Brady +10 (wait ... what?)

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Blake D. Dvorak

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Yup, that's what the latest Rasmussen Report poll shows, strangely enough:

Brady: 47
Quinn: 37
Undecided: 9

More from the poll:

The new survey finds Brady leading by 17 points among women but just three points among men. Voters not affiliated with either party favor Brady 59% to 18%.
Brady is viewed very favorably by 17% of Illinois voters, while only 11% view the Republican very unfavorably. Nineteen percent (19%) have no opinion of him.
Just 12% in Illinois view their governor very favorably, while 24% view Quinn very unfavorably. Only five percent (5%) have no opinion of Quinn.
Rasmussen suspects that the surge for Brady is likely the result of his recent victory, officially, over Dillard. Still, a DailyKos/Research2000 poll from late last month showed Quinn ahead 15 points (47-32), and because this is Illinois, no one really questioned its veracity.

Taking both both polls together, I'd say this race is much tighter than the Quinn team would prefer at this point, so Brady and Republicans should be excited.

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