As a part of its ongoing series profiling candidates in political races that matter to Evanston, the RoundTable contacted four of the gubernatorial candidates seeking interviews. A staff member from Republican candidate Bill Brady responded, saying that she would call back when a time slot could be found. No call came.  No one from the campaign of Independent candidate Scott Lee Cohen ever responded. Rich Whitney’s media advisor attempted to set up an interview, but when the first date did not work out because of RoundTable scheduling conflicts, Whitney’s campaign did not respond to efforts to find another date. Because polls show less than 1% support for the libertarian candidate, the RoundTable did not seek an interview with Lex Green.

The only candidate who responded, agreed to an interview, and followed through was the Democratic nominee and current governor, Pat Quinn. People in Evanston deserve to know what the governor thinks of the City, its pension problems, public transit, and other issues. Second, in a statewide race like that for governor, a candidate’s willingness to speak with a smaller local newspaper shows that such a candidate believes Evanston is important and worth addressing.

Interview with Illinois Governor Pat Quinn

(Edited and condensed by Shawn Jones)

RoundTable: Why are you running for re-election?

Quinn:  I believe in challenges, taking on challenges. We may find ourselves in a difficult situation in Illinois, but in the summer of last year I was in Afghanistan and Iraq and I saw first hand people who were in dire straits and they worked together as a team, never complained and completed the mission. I think that’s a role model and an inspiration for us… I think we have made significant progress since January of last year. We have enacted very strong ethics laws in cleaning up the corruption, and restored integrity to the government. We’ve had to cut the budget $3 billion, very difficult. There’re 1,109 fewer state employees today than there were a year ago – the smallest number of state employees per capita than any state in the union bar none…  But our number one job is obviously getting the economy back on track so we’ve put together a program called put Illinois to Work, that’s employed just since May of this year 26,000 people with 5,000 different private employers working on jobs that pay a decent wage. We’ve passed what’s called a Capital Bill – after a 10-year wait in Illinois – and [after] I was governor 10 weeks, we passed a law to invest in the roads, bridges our water systems our rail systems, improving, building new schools, repairing old schools, laying fiber for the internet. It’s called the Illinois Job Recovery act. We got that enacted, I got the funding for it, and that will produce an estimated 439,000 jobs within the next few years.

RoundTable: Why should Evanstonians vote for you?

Quinn:  I have been to Evanston on many, many occasions, a lot more than any of my opponents. I believe in public transit. I think it’s important to have a good public transit system. I’ve invested in that as governor, both on the capital side as well as the operating side. I believe in education. People in Evanston are and have always been strong supporters of education. I am somebody who believes we need to put more revenue into education, public education in Illinois. My opponents – Sen. Brady wants to cut the education budget by $1.26 billion…You have to have a governor who has the courage to stand in the middle of the arena and say that we need more revenue for education.

RoundTable:  What will you do to about the budget crisis?

Quinn:  Number one you have to have economic growth. We’ve had eight straight months of declining unemployment. We’re in a recovery, [but] we have a long way to go. I don’t want to make it sound like we’re there – we’re far away from there. But our state has created more jobs than any state in the Midwest since the beginning of the year. [B]ig companies like Navistar, and Ford, and Boeing, and UPS – they’ve expanded in our state… You have to get companies that are here to preserve jobs and grow jobs. We’ve also enacted a small business job creation tax credit for small businesses that hire [new] employees… [Federal grant money] for the Put Illinois to Work [program] is used … to hire people on private jobs. Most are private [companies but] there are some not for profits. That money has put 26,000 people to work in Illinois….

Gov. Quinn expanded the program using state dollars: “I think you have got to have a governor who really does care about economic development and employment. I have been the state treasurer I have been Lieutenant Governor and now I’m Governor. Wherever I’ve gone, I’ve had a good record of cleaning up the office and making sure it focuses on economic job creation.

RoundTable: How can the state help with the public employee pension crisis?

Quinn:  At the state level we enacted the farthest reaching public pension reform of any state in the union. That’s according to George Will… Our reforms will save $224 billion over the generation to come. Every fiscal year we’ll save money, $400 million in this fiscal year. I believe in pensions for public employees, but I don’t believe in extravagant pensions. We enacted a number of common sense reforms that will save taxpayers a lot of money and I think at the local level that has to be examined….

RoundTable: How about a two-tiered system?

Quinn:  That’s what we have [at the state level], a two-tiered system for our public employees, so I’m not opposed to that. But I think you have to be fair. You’re talking at the local level, I don’t want to see policemen, or definitely firemen, in any way harmed. Our police officers and firefighters are on the frontline for us, and we can’t do that.

RoundTable: Talk, if you will, about lakefront issues.

Quinn: I’m chairman of the Great Lakes commission as governor of Illinois; there are eight states and two Canadian provinces that are banded together with a federal charter from the U.S. Congress to work on Great Lakes issues… [The] Asian carp – we’ve waged a heroic battle… We have a company that’s going to be taking 30 tons of Asian Carp and selling it to China, where it’s considered a delicacy. So our view is if you can’t beat them, eat them. We’re waging a battle against the fish.

As far as Lake Michigan in general goes, we work a lot on environmental protection, and water and there are precious water… other states. So the Lieutenant Governor was chair of Great Lakes Commission, and now that I’m governor it’s the same way. One of the things we want to do is definitely use our capital budget to make investments to make the water clean.

RoundTable: Windmills in the Lake?

Quinn: Well, it should be monitored carefully. Our whole Great Lakes Commission has looked at that, it is looking at that issue. There are obviously environmental issues that have to be carefully considered. But if they’re way out, way out there, in the Lake, there are high winds, there’s no doubt, probably pretty good winds, but it must be done in a prudent manner.

RoundTable: What can we do to improve public transportation?

Quinn:  This past year, the CTA was in dire straits, we got more state money for them. My opponent, Brady, was not helpful. He basically is a person from Bloomington, Illinois, that is campaigning against Chicago and nearby suburbs [and has been] for years and years. Downstaters make it an art… I support public transit both on the operating side and the capital side and I’ve gotten money for it. We have a long way to go, but you’ve got to make sure people get to work on Metra, PACE and the CTA.

RoundTable: After our last governor, has the state’s reputation improved?

Quinn:  Blagojevich was on Letterman six times, a couple of times on Saturday Night Live. Our state was seen as a laughingstock because of corruption in government and it’s my job, our job, to straighten things out, to get things going in the right direction. So I have been able to do that. We don’t want to go back on David Letterman or Saturday Night Live or anything else.

RoundTable: Do you have a closing statement?

Quinn:  I’ve been to Evanston, as I’ve said many times, and you do have a governor with a heart. We’re running in a very tough economy and our job is to grow jobs… [T]hat’s our paramount responsibility. Getting Illinois back to work, we can use that money that we get from tax revenues to invest in education, health care and public services.