Say what you will about Gov. Pat Quinn's detached leadership style, but you have to admire his persistence on the matter of the state's public-pension crisis.
Even as his party prepares to anoint President Barack Obama for a second term at the nation's political and economic helm, Illinois' governor used his moment at the pulpit before a party breakfast in Charlotte to needle fellow Democrats about the need back home in Illinois to settle an economic crisis nearly as cumbersome and intractable as the malaise on the national scene.
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To be sure, the central focus of national political debate over the next two months will be on the country's broad economic woes. But Democrats in Illinois confront, in addition to broad issues related to the state's fiscal vitality, a very specific economic challenge -- that is, to address an $83 billion shortfall in the Illinois' public pension obligations and billions more in delayed and unpaid bills.
Illinois Democrats energetically nodding and applauding this week as speakers praise the government's handling of the economy and assail Republicans as the "Party of No" whose refusal to compromise on any point has, in their view, slowed the recovery should keep a mirror handy. The roles are somewhat reversed, with Democrats in power in all three top positions in Illinois government, but a certain self-righteous obstinance is evident in both jurisdictions.
For their part, Illinois Democrats need to return to the state committed to scaling back the income tax as they promised when a 67 percent increase took effect last year. They also need to make a big adjustment in how they will attack the pensions question.
For example, a late-summer compromise proposal from within their own party -- Northbrook Rep. Elaine Nekritz to be specific -- would have significantly scaled back the time in which pension costs would be shifted to local school districts to 12 years. Gov. Quinn seemed to like that compromise, but almost no one else expressed any willingness to discuss it. We are not ready to sign onto the notion of shifting the pension burden to schools without also giving schools more control over pension rules, but the fact that Nekritz' ideas attracted so little public debate was not encouraging.
Gov. Quinn says he has plans to return to his populist origins and fire up the grass roots where others in his party have been slow to lead, or, perhaps more accurately, have led by inaction. One has to wish him some success at that and hope that a sense of urgency in Charlotte will beget a more cooperative mood in Springfield.
Illinois was well represented on the DNC speaker's platform Tuesday -- Quinn, Sen. Dick Durbin, 8th District congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel all spoke, not to mention Chicagoan Michelle Obama herself. But it may be that the most important message Illinois delegates can bring home is a commitment to listen to what they themselves and their colleagues have to say about Republicans.