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posted: 3/20/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: No denying, Illinois faces real, defining choice

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Now that the voters have spoken and the party slates are set, at least two things are clear about the coming campaign for the governor's mansion in Illinois.

The stakes are about as high as they can get.

And voters will have a real choice.

Anyone paying the least bit of attention to Illinois government knows that we are at the threshold of momentous times. The decisions made and actions taken within the next few years will fundamentally determine the direction of the state for decades to come, its quality of life, its economic vitality, its very politics.

Regardless of which candidate wins in November, kicking of the can down the road -- to apply the metaphor of our time -- will not be an available or acceptable strategy, and even if some kicking manages to take place, the issue will be down which of two very different roads the can will be sent.

Voters sometimes complain that the alternatives they face on Election Day present them with very little real choice, that the distinctions confronting them are matters more of style than of substance. No one will say that of this campaign.

On the Democratic side, we'll have someone who has been a creature of Springfield virtually his entire career, though Pat Quinn cut his teeth in Illinois politics as something of a populist outsider even as he worked his way through the channels of the traditional Democratic Party.

On the Republican side, the notion of a populist outsider remains prominent, but it takes on a very unconventional form in billionaire Bruce Rauner.

It may be said that Quinn -- who, with his leadership of the successful drive in 1980 to restructure the legislature, is one of the few public figures in Illinois with direct prior experience leading an initiative that, for good or ill, fundamentally reshaped Illinois government -- has spent his life shaking up Springfield from the inside while Rauner -- who, despite having nine luxurious homes of his own around the world, promises to become the first governor in perhaps two decades to actually live in the Springfield mansion -- has until now striven to do his shaking from the outside.

However you characterize them, they are two very different men. To the extent that many politicians define the goal of government as the greatest good for the greatest number, they may have a similar ultimate objective, but the paths they will take to get there are completely different. As are their leadership styles, their experiences and their specific visions.

Now, we voters have seven months in which to really get to know them. Let's hope that in that process their campaigns dwell less on who is friends with whom or who wears the cheaper watch than on whose combination of style, experiences and vision has the better chance of securing a stable and prosperous future for the state and all the people who live and work here.

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