Illinois Voters Ready For Choosing A Governor
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
The 2010 primary election season begins tomorrow, that's when voters in Illinois go to the polls to select party nominees for governor, the U.S. Senate and other top jobs. Two giant shadows loom over the election. The first is cast by the former governor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich, who was impeached and ousted from office one year ago on corruption charges.
But as NPR's Cheryl Corley reports, it's the second shadow that has candidates on both sides scrambling for answers.
CHERYL CORLEY: The deficit in Illinois could top $11 billion this year. And with unemployment at nearly 11 percent, what better boost for a campaign for governor than to have a company announce a week before the election that 1,200 new jobs would soon come here?
Mr. MARK FIELDS (Executive Vice President, Ford Motor Company): The all-new Ford Explorer will begin production here in Chicago by the end of this year.
(Soundbite of cheering and applause)
CORLEY: As Ford executive Mark Fields revved up a crowd of assembly line workers, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn cheered too. The new venture had come to Illinois in part because of tax credits the state offered.
Governor PAT QUINN (Democrat, Illinois): I think people know that I'm a governor who believes in jobs. All through my life - state treasurer, lieutenant governor, and now governor - I've been able to put together partnerships that create jobs and maintains jobs.
CORLEY: Quinn says he's been able to restore the state's integrity and he wants to stay in office. He has a challenger though: The state's three-term comptroller Dan Hynes. In their contentious Democratic primary fight, the state's fiscal crisis is the dominant issue.
Governor Quinn has cut costs and borrowed short-term to try to stem the budget hemorrhage. He also wants a 50 percent hike in the Illinois income tax with an increase in personal exemptions. During a debate, Hynes said a graduated income tax on high wage earners would be a better idea.
Mr. DAN HYNES (Comptroller, Illinois; Gubernatorial Candidate): I just don't think we should be raising taxes on the middle class, which is what the governor has proposed over and over.
CORLEY: Hynes calls Quinn a poor budget manager. In one campaign ad, he turns to a voice from the grave, using archival footage of Chicago's late mayor Harold Washington criticizing Pat Quinn who worked as the city's revenue director.
Mayor HAROLD WASHINGTON (Chicago): Pat Quinn is a totally and completely undisciplined individual. He almost created shambles in that department. He was dismissed, should have been dismissed.
CORLEY: Governor Quinn counters that he was an effective revenue director. He punches back at Hynes' competency with an ad of his own, charging the comptroller mismanaged his oversight of cemeteries after a historic black graveyard near Chicago was desecrated.
(Soundbite of political ad)
Unidentified Man #1: Hundreds of bodies dug up, the graves resold, grieving families unsure where their loved ones are buried. It was Dan Hynes' job to regulate our cemeteries, but...
CORLEY: Hynes says Quinn is distorting his record.
Democrats took the governor seat in 2002 after a corruption scandal ended more than a quarter of a century of Republican rule in Illinois.
Unidentified Man #2: Meet the Republicans for governor next on "Chicago Tonight."
CORLEY: There are six Republicans seeking to capitalize on the Blagojevich scandal, though. In a state that's seen as moderate, all are against abortion, gay marriage and civil unions. Most would lift the state's moratorium on the death penalty and four have signed a pledge not to raise taxes.
In most independent polls, the race among Republicans is close. One candidate, the former head of the Illinois GOP, was slammed in an internal Republican Party probe for ethical missteps, but he has dominated the airways with commercials.
It's an old commercial for a Democrat that has come to haunt one of the Republicans. State Senator Kirk Dillard appeared in an ad for his former state Senate colleague, Barack Obama, when he ran for president. Dillard says he did not endorse Obama, but they worked together on ethics reform.
Senator KIRK DILLARD (Republican, Illinois; Gubernatorial Candidate): People are sick and tired of politicized partisan politics. And I disagree with Barack Obama on 95 percent of what he does, but on ethics, I agree with him.
CORLEY: Illinois moved its primary date up to February to help influence the 2008 presidential election. But with no such draw this time, turnout may be an issue. Cold wintry weather may be a big obstacle for candidates hoping to claim victory tomorrow.
Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.