Without exception the most authentic breath of fresh air running for the U.S. Senate on a major party ticket is Pat Quinn. He is battling to defeat Cong. Richard Durbin, a true corporate Democrat, in the Illinois Senatorial primary this month.
Quinn is a remarkable man. As a citizen activist, he sparked a referendum in the Seventies that cut the Illinois legislature by a third. This victory enraged the Chicago politicos yet he pressed on. He led the fight for the Illinois Citizens Utility Board (CUB) — based on a voluntary dues checkoff insert in utility company and state government mailings.
This law resulted in consumer savings of about $4 billion in utility rates over the past 12 years, including one whopping $1.3 billion refund from Commonwealth Edison in 1993.
The wry Irish writer, Oscar Wilde, once said that he could resist everything but temptation. Pat Quinn has resisted temptations, both as a reformer on the Cook County Board of Tax Appeals and as the State Treasurer of Illinois. These two posts have been temptation pits for political corruption and other inequities in the past. Quinn was a clean broom on the Tax Appeals Board while giving homeowners millions of dollars in property tax relief.
As State Treasurer in the Nineties, he placed state funds in productive investments that created many jobs, while cutting his budget and, typically, refusing a payraise. Bob Creamer, director of the Illinois Public Action Council, a citizens group, says of Quinn: “He is totally clean.”
Conscientious, courteous and courageous, Quinn has worked hard in his election attempts because he does not run a money campaign. He has chosen to run with the people, instead of raising tons of cash from demanding lobbying groups and then parading himself on 30 second television ads.
As a result, he has eight thousand volunteers throughout the state working for his election. In late February he was ahead of Durbin by ten points. Then Durbin, with money from AT&T, the banks, Caterpillar, Archer-Daniels-Midland and many other business checks, poured a million dollars in television ads and swung ahead. Quinn’s entire budget so far is around $200,000.
This primary struggle between Quinn, a people’s Democrat, and an increasingly corporate Democrat, Durbin, has national significance. If the national Democratic Party, led by the Senator from Aetna, Chris Dodd, continues to tell its progressive wing that it has nowhere to go, it will either stay home or split off to join other new parties. In the 1994 Congressional elections, more than a few of these disgusted Democrats stayed home.
Now comes the 1996 elections. Durbin has become, in recent years, a cash-register politician, catering to corporate contributors of the most disreputable behavior. He voted for the NAFTA and GATT trade agreements and still will not admit that NAFTA has been a job-destroying, taxpayer bailout of the Mexican oligarchy. And it may be added, a border pollution-disease-smuggling disaster.
Durbin voted arrogantly for a huge raise in Congressional Pay and Pensions, opposed Medicare for everyone, opposes term limits and, not surprisingly, is uninterested in fundamental campaign finance reform. He is also big on corporate welfare subsidies, except for tobacco.
Quinn is on the other side of these issues. Durbin doesn’t want to debate before the people around the state. Quinn is willing to debate Durbin anywhere.
What makes Quinn so special is that he is a committed, proven builder of democracy. For years he has pushed for inserts in bank statements, insurance and cable television billing envelopes inviting consumers to voluntarily band together in effective associations, run and funded by their consumer members, to protect their interests against powerful corporations. Illinois CUB has proven the worth of this proposal. He has been a champion of statewide referendums and recalls as well as an advisory national referendum procedure.
Most of the union leaders support Durbin, even though he voted for NAFTA and GATT. These leaders cannot tolerate Quinn’s belief in direct democracy, term limits and campaign finance reform.
Pat Quinn is up against the corporate state and its money chests. He is fighting for the soul of the Democratic Party — a risky venture since it assumes that the Party has any soul left to rescue.