Friday, April 16, 2010

Quick turnabout for state canoe promoter

It was nearly two decades ago when Pat Quinn was challenging then-Illinois Secretary of State George Ryan for his position when he came up with a “hit” that he thought would be devastating.

While looking through print-outs of information from data put together on computer by the Secretary of State’s office, Quinn kept noticing the line “VIP Connected,” which he interpreted to mean that this person was a “Very Important Person” who was politically “connected.”

WHAT UNMITIGATED GALL on the part of Ryan, Quinn thought, to include in official state records which people were political allies of his own. What a misuse of state resources. He went on the attack with a blistering press conference.

All these years later, I forget what “VIP” really stood for -- other than that it was a bit of computer jargon indicating that someone was “connected” to the secretary of state’s computer system. Which means that by trolling through the data, anybody and everybody was “VIP Connected.”

It took Quinn about an hour that day before he had to “take back” his political accusation of Ryan. The resulting stories that got published in newspapers across the state made him look buffoonish.

Kind of like what Quinn went through earlier this week – although personally I must confess that I am not offended by Quinn’s intent.

AT STAKE IS the fact that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources hired someone for a significant position that was intended to be very prominent. The salary, according to news reports, would have been $85,000.

The job would have gone to Claude Walker, a 57-year-old political operative who in recent decades has worked for Quinn just about everywhere he has gone (state treasurer and lieutenant governor, along with his various political campaigns for U.S. senate and Illinois secretary of state). For all I know, he helped plan Quinn’s “VIP Connected” attack on Ryan.

Because of Walker’s past record and because the new position was meant to be an extremely public post, Quinn went so far as to issue a press release, along the lines of, CLAUDE WALKER TO BE STATE’S FIRST CANOE ‘CZAR.’

“Canoe czar?”

OR, AS REPUBLICAN political types who are looking for whatever necessary to nitpick at Quinn during this campaign season “Canoe Czar!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

What an incredible waste of money at a time when the state has significant financial problems that no one has a clue how to resolve, and that are likely to impact local governments and school districts all across Illinois (since they rely so heavily on state grants to fund many of their own programs).

The backlash (along with headshaking from Democratic “allies” who were wondering something along the lines of “What was he thinking?” and “Where’s the Tylenol bottle?”) was severe enough that Walker’s appointment did not last through the day.

The Capitol Fax newsletter used its weblog to report that Natural Resources Department officials rescinded the hiring, at the request of Quinn.

AND NOW, ALL over the Internet, there are several places where people are posting comments about what a clueless boob our governor is for even thinking about such a position at this time.

Now as I wrote earlier, I am not overly offended by this move. The idea was to create a position that would help promote how Illinois is outdoorsy enough for people who enjoy kayaks and canoes to use them.

Illinois’ natural resources extend beyond the merely polluted Chicago River. You don’t have to get in the car and go off to Michigan to enjoy the outdoors. And it seems that Walker himself enjoys kayaks to the point that he was thought to have enough personal knowledge to talk about this issue.

Plus, did you catch earlier where I said Walker is a long-term Quinn ally (albeit, one who has been off the state payroll in recent months, ever since he quit a job with the Illinois Student Assistance Commission)?

IN SHORT, THE position fell under the general category of promoting tourism and recreation. If Walker could turn his personal passion into something that caused people to spend more time and money within Illinois’ borders (instead of heading for surrounding states), then it was something that could generate revenue in the long-run.

It falls under that category of, “You Need to Spend Money in Order to Make Money.”

Of course, the legislators who were quick to jump all over Quinn prefer to use that alternate cliché: “You Can’t Spend What You Don’t Have.”

So I guess this is a tourist-promotion opportunity that will have to wait for some future moment when the state manages (how I don’t know) to stabilize its financial picture.

PERSONALLY, I REALLY have only one gripe about this – the idea that this position would have been called a “canoe czar.” I hate that.

I hate this ridiculous trend to declare these types of positions “czars,” instead of coming up with real titles for them. Whether we’re talking “canoe” czar or “drug “czar,” I think it trivializes the matter.

For if Walker were truly a “czar,” he’d still have the job. At the first sign of dissent, he would have used his “authority” to have his critics (or any Quinn critics, for that matter) put in front of a wall and shot by firing squad.

It sounds a little extreme for a guy whose job would have been to make public appearances at outdoorsy events and talk about how much fun kayaking can be.


EDITOR’S NOTES: State officials initially tried to justify the new kayak/canoe promotion position by saying ( the salary would be paid for through money from special fees.

Only Ken “the Hawk” Harrelson could have dismissed Claude Walker more abruptly than state officials did ( on Wednesday. Perhaps Claude ( has another book in him someday.

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