Quinn, New Ill. Governor, Says 'Ordeal Is Over'

Illinois has a new governor. Democratic Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn replaces Rod Blagojevich, who was removed from office by the state Senate Thursday. "The ordeal is over," Quinn says.

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CHERYL CORLEY, host:

I'm Cheryl Corley. The mood in the state house shifted from somber to joyous when Illinois Democratic Lieutenant Governor Patrick Quinn was sworn in as the state's top executive.

Unidentified Woman: Congratulations, governor.

Governor PATRICK QUINN (Democrat, Illinois): Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

CORLEY: Quinn's family - his 91-year-old mother, his two adult sons and two brothers - had come to celebrate the occasion with the new governor and the cheering lawmakers in the Senate chambers.

Gov. QUINN: It's a very great honor to be here in the people's house in our State Capitol, and I thank everyone for being here. And I want to say to the people of Illinois, the ordeal is over.

CORLEY: It was a moment of political relief for a state left reeling from a Blagojevich maelstrom, and even President Barack Obama issued a statement saying Illinois had been crippled by lack of leadership for months and now, that cloud had been lifted. This new status for Patrick Quinn is not entirely unexpected. He's been around government for many years as a city revenue director, a county tax appeals board member and a state treasurer. He was elected lieutenant governor in 2002 and again in 2006, and devoted much of his time as an advocate for members of the military. Even so, Quinn has never been considered a political insider. Early on in his career, he was more likely to take on the political establishment as a consumer rights advocate than be a part of it. He continued to embrace that role. In 2006, for example, he criticized the use of taxpayer-funded bodyguards for elected officials.

(Soundbite of speech)

Gov. QUINN: Well, it's ridiculous for four bodyguards for the city clerk. About the only threat that a city clerk or a city treasurer or state treasurer might encounter would be a threat from a paper cut, and it's really a waste of money.

CORLEY: Yesterday, at his press conference as governor, Quinn cracked a smile and quipped that the room filled with reporters reminded him of his days as the leader for the Coalition for Political Honesty, a group he organized more than 30 years ago with a goal of slashing the size of the Illinois House of Representatives. He was successful, though the effort did not endear him to state lawmakers.

Gov. QUINN: But I'm an organizer. I believe in organizing: early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and organize. So, that's what we've got to do in Illinois for everyday people. I know that my mission here in the next 700 days is to work as hard as I can for those people who don't have lobbyists in Springfield, who don't have friends in high places.

CORLEY: One of his top priorities, says Quinn, will be to restore confidence in Illinois government. Illinois Republican Senator Dale Righter says it may be difficult at first for the governor to convince scandal-weary constituents that state government will be honest and transparent, but...

State Senator DALE A. RIGHTER (Republican, Mattoon, Illinois): You know what? In some areas, the new administration has to achieve very little to be much better than his predecessor.

CORLEY: Governor Quinn says the state's massive budget deficit is also a primary concern. He said the Blagojevich administration didn't provide any details. So, he'll be working to get a handle on the true shape of the state's finances before presenting a budget in March. And recently, Quinn announced the creation of a reform commission charged with finding ways to clean up state government.

Gov. QUINN: I think it'll really be the - what the doctor ordered to deal with the culture of corruption that has afflicted our state for far too long.

CORLEY: Patrick Quinn will be moving into the governor's mansion soon, something his predecessor did not do. When asked if he'll run for election in 2010, the governor said there'll be plenty of time for politics later on. Quinn wants this year to be all about governing, and repairing damage in Illinois. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Springfield.

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