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updated: 3/21/2014 5:44 AM

Unions face big decision -- how hard to back Quinn

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  • Teachers picket in Streamwood last year to protest cuts to their pension benefits.

       Teachers picket in Streamwood last year to protest cuts to their pension benefits.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

Looking to November, Illinois public union leaders whose candidate narrowly lost on primary night won't have to pick between Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican businessman Bruce Rauner.

After all, it's clear how they feel about Rauner, a candidate who criticized the influence of "government union bosses" in Springfield at every turn on his way to winning the Republican nomination Tuesday.

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"Rauner would make Scott Walker look like FDR," Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery said Thursday.

The question facing Montgomery and the hundreds of thousands of teachers, state workers and other public employees in November is whether to work hard for Quinn.

In a likely historic race for governor, that decision could be a big one.

Dillard showed why

One of the key potential lessons from Tuesday night was that the major Illinois institutions that backed state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale for governor -- teacher unions and the Illinois State Rifle Association, for example -- are pretty good at getting their members to vote.

TV ads are great. Debates are great. You need to get your message to people.

But then they need to go vote.

With the backing of the state's two biggest teachers union and the biggest state employees union, Dillard came within a whiff of Rauner despite Rauner being on TV and radio constantly for months.

"Dillard got very close to winning a race that we got in very late," Montgomery said.

Not an easy call

Union leaders fought a major multiyear battle with Quinn over their members' pension benefits, and that's why going all-in for him might not be an easy call despite their distaste for Rauner.

The governor pushed for and signed a law cutting public pension benefits in December.

A blow to their long-term retirement security pushed by a guy many of them work for was a tough thing to stomach for a lot of public-sector workers.

"There is no question Gov. Quinn has been very difficult for our members," Montgomery said.

"But it's a new season." he said.

Quinn's hope

Reporter Marty Hobe caught up with Quinn as he left the Illinois House Thursday and asked him if he expected public unions to support him in November.

"Yeah, I think they will," Quinn said before bolting down some stairs back to his office. "Sure."

Rauschenberger return?

With the surprise resignation of Democrat Keith Farnham from the Illinois House this week days after federal agents searched his home and office, speculation has grown about what might happen to the Elgin-based legislative seat in November.

Former state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger said he's been approached by some Republicans about possibly being the GOP candidate. No Republican has filed to run for the seat, but party leaders could appoint one.

"I said I would give it some thought, but I doubt it," he said.

The longtime state lawmaker said he'd prefer to see a younger candidate.

Farnham, who said he resigned for health reasons, faced tough campaigns early in his career but a new legislative map has made the district Democratic-leaning.

Still, Rauschenberger argues a resignation and the lack of an incumbent makes the seat ripe for a good race.

"It gives the community a chance to kind of re-evaluate," he said.

Looking back

Northbrook attorney Steve Kim was back to work this week after his months as Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford's running mate, an experience he called a "very difficult campaign."

Kim praised Rutherford, though, for how he handled accusations of sexual harassment made by a former employee, which Rutherford insists are baseless.

Kim said the Chenoa Republican didn't send out a memo to staff and volunteers denying the accusations but instead reached out to talk to people individually.

"He will make that call one-on-one and say, 'Hey, thank you for your help.'" Kim said. "That means a lot to people."

Kim, who ran for attorney general in 2010, says he doesn't know what specifically is next for him in politics, though he plans to stay active and help push for changes in how political boundaries are drawn every decade.

Still waiting

The taxpayer-funded independent investigation into the accusations remain a secret despite the primary campaign's end.

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