The organizer of the Coalition for Political Honesty, Pat Quinn has been called shallow, unrealistic and a hypocrite; yet, a large number of Illinois citizens respond when he makes a call for action. Governor Thompson will not soon forget his tea bag mail.
"SAY WHAT you will about populist Pat Quinn," wrote John Camper for the Chicago Daily News in 1977. "Anyone who has been booed by the members of the Illinois House of Representatives can't be all bad." Legislators who normally applaud any grade school class, veterans' organization or politician's wife who happen by once made Quinn the object of catcalls when one of Quinn's few legislative supporters introduced him on the House floor.
Quinn is a "bad boy" on the Illinois political scene. A gadfly. An energetic, committed man, who, depending on who you talk to, is either slightly naive, or is, very simply, a ruthless demogogue. Most will agree, however, that he is clever.
Publicly, Quinn fancies himself a self-styled Howard Jarvis, firmly of the belief that the public dog should wave the bureaucratic tail — and not the other way around. They laughed a year ago when Jarvis got Proposition 13 on the California ballot, Quinn said. They stopped laughing when it passed. Quinn is ultimately trying for the same kind of citizens' initiative in Illinois. The object of Quinn's ire, however, is not the tax structure but the shape of Illinois politics and the need, he says, to keep the politicians honest and their fingers out of the public till.
Put simply, Quinn is a man politicians love to hate. When Quinn was introduced to the House in 1976, House Majority Leader Michael Madigan told Quinn he was not worthy of being called an Irishman. Independent Chicago Democratic Sen. Dawn Clark Netsch, one of Quinn's former law professors at Northwestern University's Law School, once said Quinn should be strung — feet first — from the brass rail encircling the third floor of the Capitol rotunda. House Speaker William Redmond said he wanted to get Quinn slated as a congressional candidate two years ago to "either get him elected or, more surely, get him out of our hair."
Keith Lesnick, executive director of the Independent Voters of Illinois, said Quinn "is an insult to good government." He said Quinn may have a captive audience among people who inherently dislike politicians — "a large constituency," he said — but added that his attempts to "clean up" Illinois politics are shallow and unrealistic. Lesnick, who worked with Quinn during the early 1970's organizing Chicago's machine wards for underdog independent candidates, said Quinn has lost his purity. "Anyone who gets involved in something long enough begins to believe he's right," Lesnick said. "Quinn's gotten carried away. So did Richard Nixon. Quinn's forgotten from whence he came."
Gadfly or hypocrite?
Why does this pleasant, intelligent 30-year-old political activist incur such legislative wrath? First, the name of his organization, the Coalition for Political Honesty, is bad enough. Just as right-wingers tend to be wary of any group that has the word "peace" in its title and liberals suspect organizations that use "American," legislators, as a group, are suspicious of any group that purports to favor honesty. "This guy is really kind of a gadfly or hypocrite," said Senate Republican Leader David Shapiro. "He ought to examine his own backround and the name of his group. His Coalition for Polilical Honesty should be called, more aptly,
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the Coalition for Political Dishonesty."
But lawmakers have more logical reasons for hating Quinn. He has cost them money, and perhaps worse, he used to work for former Illinois Gov. Dan Walker. "Pat Quinn was one of the most personable, clearly gregarious people in the Walker administration," commented Rep. Michael McClain (D., Quincy). "His only problem was that he loved power and was vicious in doling out patronage and taking it away. He is not politically naive. The stuff he says now doesn't jive with the stuff he said then. He's a guy you'd love to have a beer with and in charge of your own patronage, but he would not get the most Christian guy of the year award, by any means." Chicago Democratic Rep. James Taylor put it more simply. "He's got to learn that confrontation politics are out. He's got the Walker image, and you know how popular he was around here."
During 1975, Quinn was considered one of the infamous "ghost payrollers" of the Walker administration. The former governor placed dozens of assistants on agency payrolls where the employee did little or no work and did not report to supervisors there. Walker was accused of attempting to disguise how he had expanded the number of employees in the governor's office because of his campaign pledge not to do so.
Quinn was one of those employees. He was hired in January 1973 as an $18,000 a year assistant and was given a title indicating he would be a liaison to the public. The following year, he was given a pay raise to $20,000. The next year, he was shifted to the payroll of the Illinois Industrial Commission and received a raise to $23,000. At that point, Quinn became the target of legislative inquiry. Legislators, many in open confrontation with Walker, grilled agency directors about their payrolls when they appeared before appropriations committees. The chairman of the Industrial Commission, during one question session, admitted Quinn did not work full time for the agency. The lawmakers also accused Quinn of being "in conflict of interest" because he telephoned legislators seeking support for proposed constitutional amendments while on the commission payroll.
Just prior to that charge, however, Quinn resigned from state government, returned to law school and remained politically active by forming a group known as the Coalition for Political Honesty in Oak Park. The coalition has been fueled by individual contributions and money from Quinn's pocket and kept alive by the help of several dozen volunteers.
"It's so ironic," said Rep. Anne Wilier (D., Western Springs). "Here's a guy who not only was a double-dipper himself, had conflicts of interest and received pay for a job some people say he didn't do — he has turned around to stir up the public a few years later to get them to oust legislators who are double-dippers, have conflicts of interest and who vote themselves pay raises. I think Pat is very intelligent. But I'd say he is nothing short of a hypocrite. What I resent most about him is he knows better. He knows because he's been here himself."
No shrinking violet
Yet Quinn has remained undaunted. He says, "I think if you take strong positions on questions of public policy, there will always be people who take the other side. As for all the name-calling, I think that's all part of the political process. I'm not a shrinking violet. I say my piece, they say theirs and the voters decide in the end. I have nothing to apologize for."
Quinn admits, however, that his reputation has cost him clout. "Lots of times, legislators won't vote on another legislator's bill because they don't like the sponsor, refusing to deal with the bill on its merits. I experience much of the same attitude toward me. On talk shows, for instance, I get people calling me names rather than a good discussion on the merits of my proposals. So we have problems as a group, in getting heard. I think if people addressed our proposals on the merits, there would be little animosity. Because they don't, I get a great deal of difficulty getting my proposals heard on committee schedules. As a result, my projects have maybe a 50-50 chance if they have to do with legislation."
Yet if lawmakers dislike Quinn, they have a grudging respect for his effectiveness — even if he does cost them money. Quinn's group was the only group able to collect the approximately 375,000 signatures needed to put a proposed amendment to the 1970 state Constitution on the ballot. Quinn's petition drive stirred up so much public steam that it convinced legislators the public was very much opposed to their practice of drawing two years' advance pay at the start of the two-year session and they quickly passed a bill to stop it.
The other two parts of the initiative — to end dual government job holding or double-dipping by legislators and to ban legislators' voting on bills in which they have a direct financial interest — didn't fare so well. The proposals were kept off the ballot when the Illinois Supreme Court ruled they violated the constitutional requirement that publicly generated amendments deal with both structural and procedural changes in the legislature.
When the legislature took many by surprise last year and raised the salaries of all its members by $8,000, Quinn seized upon the opportunity and organized a protest, dramatizing the issue by suggesting citizens mail teabags to the governor, reminiscent of the historic Boston Tea Party. Quinn said the teabag protest — an idea he got when he noticed his birthday was the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party — "was a perfect way to get citizens
When the legislature raised the salaries of all of its members by $8,000, Quinn seized upon the opportunity and organized a protest, dramatizing the issue by suggesting citizens mail teabags to the governor
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interested in government again and feel they could make a difference." Using his talents as an organizer, Quinn quickly spurred creation of several citizens' action groups comprised of angry taxpayers. Quinn played upon the growing antagonism toward the whole of state government and toward the legislature in particular.
Quinn also is credited with starting groups like the Taxpayers' Survival Association, which was headed by a St. Louis businessman who lived in Troy and worked out of his basement to organize Southern Illinois' contribution to the pay raise protest. Quinn also helped a retired Peoria government teacher, Bernice Jackson, take the reigns in the teabag mailing campaign, making her the campaign's unofficial spokeswoman. These groups have since disbanded but Mrs. Jackson said recently she will be on hand to help Quinn again should the need arise.
Claude Walker, chairman of Common Cause Illinois, says of Quinn: "Any good politician knows he has to know the mood of the people and pick his issues very carefully. And Quinn certainly knows this as well or better than many politicians. A lot of the old guard resent him because he's good at getting in print, grabbing the headlines with headline-grabbing issues. He's the target of professional envy from the politicians in this state. If we needed something organized or petitions passed, the first man we'd think of hiring is Pat Quinn. We respect his talents as an organizer."
But Quinn denies he has much to do with his successful projects, and he considers the protest over the pay raise controversy one of them. "When citizens are angry enough, you don't have to do much to set them off," says Quinn. "When the politicians started getting teabags in the mail, they didn't have to be geniuses to figure out what people wanted. It was symbolic and the message was clear. The result? Approximately 40,000 persons responded, glutting the governor's mail room with messy mail and forcing the legislature into a special session to delay a portion of their raise for a year. All of these acts angered legislators, of course. The lawmakers didn't like having their powers threatened and their pay raises cut back. But Quinn's later attempt to stop payment of taxpayers' money to legislators and staff who attended the National Conference of State Legislators convention in San Francisco last July had them furious.
The coalition filed suit in Sangamon County Circuit Court to stop state payment on travel vouchers filed by participants of the convention upon their return. Quinn's brother, Tom, served as the attorney for three persons who filed the suit claiming the trip was not a legitimate government expense. The suit also attacked the size of the Illinois delegation to the conference, the largest non-California contingent at the week-long affair. Specifically, the suit charged that 100 legislators and aides traveled to San Francisco for their own enjoyment at a cost of more than $85,000 to the state. The suit was filed by coalition members Michael Webb, Julie Smith and Lisa Molidor, all of the Chicago area. About 113 Illinois lawmakers and staff aides attended the conference but the coalition said only 13 of those paid their own way.
While House Speaker Redmond defended the trip, saying "nobody from other states went to Detroit when it was held there, but Illinois went," and "these affairs can be very worthwhile." Quinn criticized the trip, characterizing it as "a vacation junket taken at taxpayers' expense."
While the suit was being considered in court, Quinn got involved in the political bickering over the Democratic proposal in the General Assembly to completely eliminate the 5-cent state sales tax on grocery food and non-prescription medicine by accusing eight downstate Republican representatives who voted against the measure of "greed and hogging taxpayers' money." Quinn issued a news release saying the legislators voted for the pay raises but against the sales tax measure. The group of legislators charged with doing so vehemently denied the accusations, saying they voted against the elimination of the sales tax to keep the state in good financial health and voted against the pay raises when the hotly debated salary hike was first voted upon. The vote Quinn referred to, they said, was the vote to roll back the raises which was taken after the salary raises had already been signed into law by Gov. James R. Thompson.
"The raises were signed into law last fall and then later, we had to vote on whether to roll them back," said Rep. Jim Reilly (R., Jacksonville), one of the accused. "We had no choice but to vote in favor of the roll back or in favor of the full raise, which was already law. It was a no-win situation and Quinn knew that. Quinn knew he was wrong and was shading the facts but went ahead to tell the people we were hypocrites. He failed to tell them we voted against the entire salary hike when voting against it was a choice."
Following a UPI story that pointed to this discrepancy, Quinn said he telephoned the eight legislators to apologize. But by then, Reilly said, the apology didn't do much good.
Said Quinn: "Regardless of the court decision on the junket suit, we were successful. The legislators are very defensive now when it comes to talking about the junket. The truth hurt them and I bet they will be less enthusiastic about going to next year's conference. We made our point."
Other projects started by the coalition haven't gotten anywhere as yet, and because they take a three-fifths majority to get anywhere, success is unlikely.
One of those projects is to make Illinois the twenty-second state to allow lawmaking by citizen initiative, that is, allowing a proposal to be put on the statewide ballot (by citizen petition or legislative action) and letting the voters decide whether to adopt it. Quinn amits the chances of passing this are slim, since this proposal cannot get on
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the ballot without approval of three-fifths of the members of both houses of the legislature — an unlikely prospect. In the meantime, Quinn's group has been working on another kind of initiative currently allowed by state law, though seldom used in recent years. Under a 1901 law, any public policy question can be placed on the statewide ballot with signatures of 10 percent of the state's registered voters. The results of the referendum would be advisory and nonbinding on the legislature. Many legislators said the initiative would encourage lawmakers to play upon the emotions of a naive public that doesn't know what to believe. But Quinn said, "We're merely asking the politicians to trust the people. When they say the voters are too emotional to be trusted with initiative, they're really saying they don't trust the voters to make common sense judgments."
Quinn said the governor's use of this 1901 law to place his "Thompson Proposition" on the ballot last fall — an advisory referendum asking voters whether they want to place limits on state taxes and local spending — was "commendable" until it became clear that some of the governor's petition passers had forged some signatures. The proposition got on the ballot, however, and the voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of it.
Quinn, now encouraged by the hot feelings over the pay raise, is back with another citizens' initiative. This one would reduce the size of the House from 177 members to 118 (see January 1980 for a debate on this issue). The coalition needs only 252,000 signatures to get the question on the ballot, and there is little doubt it can gather that many names before the May 4, 1980, deadline. Quinn calls the proposal the "Cutback Amendment," a plan that has brought widespread criticism because it relies on the argument that less is more, or that a smaller number of legislators will provide better representation and a better deliberative process than a larger number. The amendment also has received criticism because it would eliminate cumulative voting, a significant change in government that some politicians say will put an end to minority representation because it will make it more difficult for more outspoken, underdog candidates to be elected to office. The plan would place a proposition on the 1980 general election ballot for a binding constitutional amendment to reduce the size of the House by 59 members by eliminating a representative from each of the state's 59 legislative districts. Each district would be halved and elect only one representative for the 118 resulting districts rather than three from each of the 59 present districts.
"You've got to know your enemy and organize accordingly," Quinn said. "There's no nice way of doing things, no subtle way. It's elitist for the people to underestimate the intelligence of citizens. I think most legislators are really afraid of one-on- one contests. But with a one-on-one contest, we'd elect better people. The office would be more prestigious. If a candidate is so good, voters will pick them on one-on-one contests.
But the IVI's Lesnick, one of the more vocal opponents of the plan, disagrees vehemently with Quinn and says he hopes the plan fails miserably. "We think this issue is pure bunk," Lesnick said. "It's a cheap shot and a cheap way to capitalize on the public's attitude toward politicians. Single-member districts would deprive the legislature of the best, most qualified people and would turn both houses back to a two-party system with no room for independence. The House would be a clone of the Senate. When Massachusetts recently passed a bill to get rid of 59 politicians, they reduced the number of women and minorities. But Quinn knows this will happen here. He knows the political machine situation in Chicago. He knows that with single-member districts there would be no independent Democrats left in the legislature. I worked with Quinn some time ago organizing campaigns and he knows no one stands on their merits in Illinois politics; they stand on the backs of precinct captains. Pat Quinn knows this better than anyone. But now he's turned his back on everyone for an issue to organize around. Quinn's simply forgotten from whence he came."
What are Quinn's reasons for plugging away repeatedly at the Illinois General Assembly amid the arrows of outrageous criticism? "I'm like a rolling stone gathering the moss of legislative opposition but it doesn't bother me that much," Quinn says. "I do it because someone has to try to make things better." Lesnick says there is no question but that Quinn wants to be governor someday.
"I've often asked Pat why he keeps on," said brother Tom, a Standford University graduate whom Pat credits with inspiring the citizens' initiative idea in Illinois. "Some have said Pat is doing this to get into an elective office. But this is not so. Pat is not doing this for financial gain. It's been a financial drain instead." The coalition, Tom said, is supported solely by small contributions from its membership, estimated to comprise about four dozen volunteers and 16,000 people throughout the state. The highly
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conservative Union League Club of Chicago also is reported to have made contributions to Quinn's group. "Pat has no ulterior motive, I've asked him a thousand times and I don't know what keeps him going but I share his views of wanting to build a tradition in Illinois of citizen participation in politics."
Quinn agrees. "Lawmaking by initiative is both practical and workable in Illinois," he said. "Other large industrial states like Michigan Ohio, Massachusetts and California have found the initiative process to be an excellent way of directly involving average citizens in state government decisionmaking. Average voters should not be looked upon as little children who need to be protected against themselves. They have common sense and good judgment for making responsible decisions on tough policy questions that affect their lives and pocket-books."
In the mainstream
And while he cringes when hearing criticism, Quinn says his group will win someday. "If you've got a bill you want passed, I wouldn't advise hiring me as your lobbyist," said Quinn. "I haven't exactly endeared myself to the politicians in Springfield. Our group is not even as quote — respectable — unquote as Common Cause. But sometimes it's necessary to open some boils if you want to cure things."
Quinn sees his work as an example of 1960's activism applied to the more inner-directed 1970's. "At first the activists wanted to change the world," Quinn said. "When that didn't work, they decided to try changing the nation. Now the emphasis is on state and local issues. The issues may be the more mundane, but the problems are more relevant to people's day-to-day lives. "There was a survey that showed there are more members of public interest groups like Common Cause and the Ralph Nader group than there are dues-paying members of the Republican and Democratic parties. We're in the mainstream. This is where politics is headed."
Marcia Stepanek, a reporter for United Press International, covers the Illinois legislature from the Springfield bureau.
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