In 2010, Gov. Pat Quinn desperately needed a respectable running mate on the Democratic ticket, after primary voters saddled him with Scott Lee Cohen, a little-known Chicago pawnbroker. Cohen stepped aside after embarrassing facts about his past came to light.
Quinn found one in Sheila Simon, a law professor at Southern Illinois University and the daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, a popular, longtime politician.
In a close race, the Quinn-Simon ticket prevailed. In harmony with her new boss, Simon settled in to focus on education, rural affairs, clean water, and other issues.
That was then.
Last Monday, Simon announced her disapproval of the pension reform package that Quinn championed – the first time to our knowledge that she has publicly disagreed with her boss on such a major issue.
The bill “puts too much of the burden on lower income workers and retirees,” Simon said.
Despite that, the Legislature approved the bill, and Quinn signed it into law Thursday. No mention was made of Simon’s dissenting views.
After Simon announced in February that she would not run again for lieutenant governor with Quinn, their political breakup has been fairly low key. Simon pondered running for other statewide offices before setting her sights on comptroller. Quinn chose a new running mate, Paul Vallas, the former Chicago Public Schools CEO.
But a political coolness had set in well before last week. We note that Simon’s name was mentioned in the governor’s online press releases 39 times between January and June, but only twice since then.
Quinn knows something of the estrangement that can occur between a governor and lieutenant governor. As lieutenant governor from 2003 to 2009, Quinn openly feuded with his boss, ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who once angrily declared that Quinn was no longer part of his administration.
As 2013 gives way to 2014, Illinoisans need their leaders to pull in the same direction as the state struggles with thorny financial problems, a slow economy, and a difficult recovery from November’s deadly tornado outbreak.
We don’t expect Quinn and Simon to allow their relationship to deteriorate to the bitter level of the Blagojevich-Quinn era. In fact, from what we can tell, their split has been amicable.
For the good of a troubled state, we hope it stays that way.