Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Democratic Debate Times Two

By Shawn Healy
Last month, I attended and reported on the Republican Gubernatorial Debate at the Union League Club. Yesterday, I had the privilege of sitting in on a smaller discussion of their Democratic counterparts who are in a pierced battle for one of the more difficult leadership positions in the country. Incumbent Governor Pat Quinn and State Comptroller Dan Hynes went head-to-head for more than an hour in a debate moderated by ULC Public Affairs Committee member Chris Robling. A recap follows, including an issue-by-issue comparison of these two Springfield titans.

Quinn was sworn in as governor on January 29 of this year, but has a long resume in Illinois politics, serving previously as Lieutenant Governor, Treasurer, and also as a Commissioner on the Cook County Board of Tax Appeals, and as the City of Chicago's revenue director. He acknowledged at the outset that he assumed office under "unusual" circumstances, but has since presided over a "year of reform" that includes a commitment to "strong, touch ethics laws," "grass roots democracy," and to "strengthen the integrity of Illinois state government." He touted his previous service as state treasurer during similarly tough economic times, and his work across the aisle with former Republican Governor Jim Edgar.

Hynes is in the midst of his third term as State Comptroller. He has worked on consumer and taxpayer advocacy, government accountability, and long-term budget reform. The state's Rainy Day Fund is the most prominent example of the former. Hynes admitted up front that he is neither electrifying, charismatic, nor dynamic, yet labeled this election not a coronation, but a choice. Neither man was elected to the position, and he said the state's budget crisis demands immediate solutions that will not harm the middle class.

Quinn and Hynes on the issues (in the order they addressed the audience):

  • Hynes: Highlighted the need to raise more revenue immediately. In the short term, he would raise cigarette taxes and close corporate income tax loopholes. Down the road, he would move toward a progressive income tax (Illinois is one of seven states with a flat tax), but nix tax increases on families that make less than $200,000 annually.
  • Quinn: Echoes each of Hynes on each of these points, but criticized him for being a late comer to progressive taxation, citing his opposition as recently as 2004.
Budget Cuts
  • Quinn: Claims to have made more budget cuts than any governor in Illinois history.
  • Hynes: Suggests that Quinn's cuts are laden with gimmicks, including delayed spending and borrowing.
Free Transit Fares for Seniors
  • Hynes: Open to means testing seniors for free fares; laments the annual Chicago Transit Authority funding crisis and touts the need for a comprehensive solution to this broader problem.
  • Quinn: Free rides should stay; negotiated a short-term solution to this year's installment of the transit crisis last week.
Furloughs for State Employees
  • Quinn: Implemented 12 days of layoffs for state employees this year as a means of avoiding layoffs. Turned to public pensions, and suggested a "two-tier" plan for incoming employees, presumptively at less lucrative levels of compensation.
  • Hynes: Promised to fund pensions properly; highlighted that fact that it was done via borrowing this year.
  • Hynes: Scolded its underfunding by billions and the fact that doctors are fleeing the state as a result.
  • Quinn: Providers have been reimbursed since he was elevated to governor, and as a sign of his commitment to universal health care, he walked the state a decade ago in support of legislation sponsored by former State Senator Barack Obama.
Guantanamo Detainees in Thomson, IL
  • Hynes: Supports Obama's efforts to close Guantanamo, and open to the use of the Thomson facility, a maximum security facility.
  • Quinn: Also supportive, but acknowledges public safety concerns and urges that terrorists be punished for their actions.
Education Funding
  • Quinn: Proper funding with accountability; jobs with follow brainpower; the state income tax should fund our schools and simultaneously provide property tax relief.
  • Hynes: Echoes the excessive reliance on property taxes; cements the notion that we invest in schools for pre-K through college.
School District Consolidation
  • Hynes: Open to the process, but emphasizes the need to create a comprehensive solution through consultation with local leaders.
  • Quinn: Need more consolidation: too many inefficiencies given the large number of single-school districts.
Campaign Finance Reform
  • Quinn: Lifelong commitment to issue; will soon sign historic bill that will continue this mission.
  • Hynes: Began movement to end pay-to-play through state contracts four years ago.
Negative Ads
  • Hynes: His ads are about the central issue of this campaign--the budget, and the taxes to close the operating deficit.
  • Quinn: 85% of Hynes' ads are negative attack ads, and Quinn has a duty to defend himself, for he "can't have folks on the sideline sniping."
Relationship to Blagojevich
  • Quinn: Testified against gross receipts tax and trumpeted the recall amendment, both Blagojevich prerogatives.
  • Hynes: Quinn refused to take on his two-time running mate until they were re-elected; Hynes stood up to Blagojevich during his first term for reckless spending ("Some stood silent, others stood up").
Relationship to Speaker Michael Madigan
  • Hynes: Need to build consensus, but take on tough fights when necessary; any idea with merit can make it through the General Assembly, but credibility and consistent leadership is pivotal.
  • Quinn: Need to get along; Quinn has a record of productivity with the legislature.
Death Penalty
  • Quinn: Keep for heinous crimes; need for reform and to measure its impact; lift moratorium later.
  • Hynes: Essentially an identical position.
As these issue exchanges attest, the differences between Quinn and Hynes are at the margins. Instead, this is a contrast of personalities and political skills. From the sheer perspective of debate performance, Hynes claimed at least a narrow victory. His responses were clear and to the point, and his opening closing statements were well-prepared and smoothly delivered. Quinn, on the other hand, showed less focus and often drifted from the questions posed. Both place forth formidable qualifications for office, and either man will be a worthy opponent for whoever emerges from the crowded field of Republican contenders.

Eleven weeks remain until the February 2nd primary, and Quinn and Hynes will likely ring in the holiday season with continued broadsides and head-on collisions like yesterday's standoff. It is clear from this casual observer that there is no love lost between the two. Perhaps a Christmas truce will soon be in order.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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