I just returned from the annual Governor’s Day (aka Democrat Day) rally at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. The event is usually a pep-rally for Democratic candidates attended by party activists. This year: Worst Dem Day rally ever.
Democratic Governor Pat Quinn was greeted by loud booing when he approached the grounds. No one heard a word of his speech over the crowd of state employees angry about proposed pension cuts and closures of state facilities. Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan was jeered just as heavily when his name was mentioned. Congressman Danny Davis tried to put in a good word for Quinn and was quickly drowned out.
Only Secretary of State Jesse White and Congressional candidate David Gill were enthusiastically cheered. The biggest applause came when a plane passed overhead with a banner reading “Quinn unfair to workers.”
The crowd size seemed average for an election year but at least half were state employee union members booing the Governor. Quinn finished quickly, to make this the shortest Democrat Day rally I’ve ever seen. Hundreds more workers held signs outside the fairground gates. Not even Rod Blagojevich was ever booed like this after his attacks on state workers. It was in stark contrast to the wildly enthusiastic, large crowd that greeted Barack Obama in 2004 after his famous Democratic convention speech.
Even Quinn supporters in the crowd had a hard time blaming union members for being angry. The union endorsed Quinn and did a lot of work to get him elected in a very close race. They feel betrayed by his push for pension reform. The problem only exists because previous Legislatures and Governors chose not to fully fund the state pension system. Now, state workers are being punished for bad decisions made by politicians.
Some people were sporting “This is not Wisconsin” t-shirts. Democrats aren’t supposed to treat public employees this way.
Chicago-area legislators are isolated from the depth of anxiety and anger state workers are feeling right now, since most state jobs are located downstate. Maybe this will serve as a wake-up call. State government is the top employer in Illinois. If Quinn moves forward with a pension plan that the union doesn’t support, he’ll have to craft a re-election strategy that involves getting far fewer votes from downstate Illinois than he did last time.
© 2012 Willinois. This article is reproduced by permission of the author. All rights reserved.