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Quinn’s tough talk pushing lawmakers away

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SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn made it clear today that he will not negotiate with the Legislature over gambling expansion.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn made it clear Tuesday that he will not negotiate with the Legislature over gambling expansion.

"I don't think the word negotiate is appropriate," Quinn said at a Chicago news conference. "I have laid out a framework. They know what it is. It's crystal clear. If the General Assembly wants to take that guideline and use it to guide their work, so be it."

The General Assembly has approved a plan to add five new casinos and slot machines at horse racing tracks statewide.

Quinn says he will accept the five casinos, but not the slot machine expansion.

Quinn's hard line on gambling is the latest example of his take it or leave it style, and legislators say that style soon could make the governor irrelevant.

Even with total Democrats in control of the statehouse, Quinn, a Democrat himself, has had a difficult time working with legislators. State Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, points to the governor's preference for bombastic public statements over one-on-one conversations with lawmakers as an example.

"There was a thought that once (Quinn) became governor … , he would grab on to the job and the gravitas that comes with it," said Lang. "He's tried in his way to do that, but in some issues, it's not working too well."

Lang is the House sponsor of the gambling legislation.

"We need an engaged governor," Lang said. "Not one that says, 'Don't pass that. It's going to get vetoed.'"

Mike Lawrence, a longtime statehouse journalist and press secretary for former Gov. Jim Edgar, said Quinn's inability to work with lawmakers could make him irrelevant.

"There have been times when the governor and the General Assembly have had strained relations, but I don't think we've seen anything like we're seeing now," Lawrence said.

Only during the end of Rod Blagojevich's tenure as governor can Lawrence remember lawmakers and the governor simply ignoring each other, Lawrence said.

"There is a lack of trust of Gov. Quinn for a different reason than there was a lack of trust in Gov. Blagojevich," Lawrence said. "The lack of trust in Quinn stems from the belief from lawmakers that the administration doesn't have its act together."

Blagojevich is awaiting sentencing following his convicting on federal charges.

State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, said Quinn never once called him, as Jacobs was shepherding the Smart Grid legislation through the Senate.

The governor opposed the proposal, allowing the state's two largest utility companies, Commonwealth Edison LLP and Ameren Corp., to raise consumer rates for infrastructure improvements. Lawmakers overrode Quinn's veto during the first week of the veto session.

"You can't just keep calling people names and pointing fingers," Jacobs said. "You get along with people, and you work with people by sitting down and talking with them."

Jacobs said many lawmakers like Quinn, but are growing tired of his behavior.

"Gov. Quinn needs to reach beyond his small base and become governor for the entire state," Jacobs added.

Quinn won the 2010 race by carrying the vote in four of Illinois' 102 counties: Cook County, home to Chicago, and Madison, Jackson, and Union counties in southern Illinois.

A poll conducted by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in early October has the governor's job approval hovering around 35 percent. The telephone poll of 1,000 voters has an error margin of 3 percentage points. It was conducted Oct. 11-16.

Jacobs said Quinn is close to "Blagojevich territory," where he would become ignored and ineffective.

"It's a legitimate conversation in the General Assembly," Jacobs said. "You already see he's having trouble getting legislation passed or support for his ideas."

In Blagojevich's second term, the General Assembly made the former governor a non-factor by passing a number of measures with veto-proof majorities to avoid any interference from Blagojevich. It takes 71 votes in the House and 36 votes in the Senate for lawmakers to ensure legislation is veto proof.

Lawrence said the Legislature has bypassed Quinn, particularly during last year's budget-making process in which the House dictated to the governor how much the state would spend and where the money would be spent.

"Last year's budget was a total dismissal of Gov. Quinn's proposal," Lawrence said. "And the gambling legislation was put together without any input from the governor's office. This is highly unusual when you see major issues being decided without the governor's involvement."

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