Forget about gun control, energy, abortion, public safety and all the other issues that are cluttering up the Illinois gubernatorial race.
The only things that matter in the race between Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Sen. Bill Brady are how to dig the state out of the biggest financial hole it has ever been in and how to shed corruption as the preferred model for governing this state.
Everything else -- health care, the environment, transportation, school class size, agriculture, housing -- counts for nothing. Because if Illinois doesn't solve the twin, and related, problems of financial insolvency and corruption, none of those other things will matter. There won't be enough money for all of it. Just paying the interest on the billions that Illinois has borrowed to pay its obligations will squeeze so much out of those programs that they will be only shadows of their former selves.
A $13 billion budget deficit. An $80 billion (or maybe $200 billion, what difference does it make?) unfunded public employee pension liability. Health care providers, public schools, social service agencies and a legion of other state suppliers and contractors waiting for many months to be paid. And, therefore, sweating out their own survival.
We've been tossing around numbers in billions so much that people are numb to the size of Illinois' deficits and debts. They're boring, complex and confusing. The only thing that will convince residents of the historic catastrophe that looms ahead is for it to happen.
So, what have we been hearing during the campaign? Garbage talk from Quinn, Democrats and their special interests. "Who is this guy?" Quinn's advertising asks and answers of Brady: a scary extremist. A misogynist who will trample women's rights. A goofball whose voting record is so far to the right that he'd terrify anyone who has a dime's worth of intelligence.
There's no denying Brady's voting record: something that his downstate constituency finds agreeable, and of course we know that anyone from there is loopy. Add to that Democratic exaggerations: For example, a CBS Channel 2 "Truth test" segment noted that Brady has voted against bans on assault rifles, as a Quinn ad trumpets, but not like the one pictured in the campaign ad. It's a machine pistol "specifically outlawed in Illinois and in most states. It's used by the Secret Service, U.S. Navy Seals and SWAT teams."
But it doesn't matter. Whatever Brady's position is on abortion, for example, if he becomes governor, no bill ever will get to his desk that would eliminate a woman's "right to choose." Even if it did, unless the Illinois governor suddenly is endowed with the power to appoint justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, Brady's position on abortion is mostly immaterial.
What is material is how the governor, whoever he is, will stop the fiscal insanity and corruption that have become the state's hallmark. Here, I'm not pitching one solution over another. Quinn, for his part, wants to raise income taxes, a courageous, if politically foolhardy, position. Brady promises he'd veto any tax increase, not politically foolhardy but a straitjacket as far as governance goes. Quinn, as the sitting governor, is required to propose a budget, which he has, and it's a lousy one. Meanwhile, he has criticized Brady for not coming up with his own budget, although as a senator, Brady doesn't have to, but as a gubernatorial candidate, it wouldn't be a bad idea, although it could lose him some votes because it would include a lot of necessary spending cuts.
Unfortunately, Web sites for both candidates (bradyforillinois.com and quinnforillinois.com) are somewhat spare on details. Fortunately, there's no shortage of sites that more fully analyze the fiscal irresponsibility and corruption that afflict Illinois. Among them is reformillinoisnow.org.
Well-funded interests from the political right and left will try to say that their issues -- schools, Medicaid, Second Amendment rights, choice, whatever -- are the most important issues. But voter blindness to what is most important is how we got ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.
Let it not happen again. Every time Quinn and Brady open their mouths, something should come out about fiscal responsibility and honest government. Anyone who ducks or minimizes the issue does not deserve to be governor.
This op-ed column also appeared in the Chicago Tribune.