Saturday, December 11, 2010

A question for Gov. Quinn – What exactly constitutes “frugal,” but “not chintzy?”

A part of me is tempted to work my way down to Springfield on Jan. 10.
QUINN: What is "frugal?"

It’s not that I really have any desire to see the inaugural ceremonies to be held for the officials who won Illinois state government constitutional offices in the Nov. 2 elections. It is more that I would want to see what qualifies as “frugal,” but “not chintzy.”

THAT IS THE description that Gov. Pat Quinn used earlier this week to describe the ceremonies at which he will take the oath of office and become Illinois’ governor through 2015, along with Lt. Gov.-elect Sheila Simon, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (for the third time), Illinois secretary of state Jesse White (for the fourth time), Illinois Comptroller-elect Judy Baar Topinka and Illinois Treasurer-elect Dan Rutherford.

He’s trying to play into the theme that he won’t be wasting money on an elaborate ceremony and inaugural ball, particularly at a time when the state faces some serious financial problems of its own.

Not that I expect anybody to be swayed by this. His partisan critics are going to look for every little nitpicking detail that they can claim is too much – mainly because they don’t want him to have it.

And if he really does do things on the cheap, then he’s going to get bashed about for doing things in a third-rate manner.

IT WOULD NOT shock me to learn that Quinn tries to create the appearance of scaling things back. This is the guy who for many years used to boast of staying at Motel 6 hotels whenever he traveled on government business. (And yes, I know the stories about how his famous Motel 6 club card was long expired and good for nothing, so don’t feel the need to reiterate them to me).

TOPINKA: Will she top herself?

I noticed on the website created to disseminate information about the upcoming Inaugural that it boasts of not using any taxpayer funds, and that the web design itself was donated.

Inaugural Committee officials themselves will only say they’re seeking private donations to come up with money to pay for the festivities that will take over the Capitol Complex and downtown Springfield for a couple of days.

But I also noticed that the basic schedule of events for the 2011 Inaugural is the same as in past years – an early-morning church service at First Presbyterian Church in Springfield (located across the street from the governor’s mansion and one block from the Capitol building), an open house at the Executive Mansion and other state offices during the afternoon and an inaugural ball – which usually just serves to show that Illinois’ government officials don’t have any sense of rhythm.

THERE ALSO IS the “big event,” the inaugural ceremony in mid-day during which the oaths of office are administered at the Prairie Capital Convention Center – which can be converted into an arena seating just over 5,000 people.

Even those ceremonies don’t amount to much, because it is rare that our officials produce some sort of inspiring rhetoric from the newly-sworn-in public officials.

My knowledge of Illinois’ inaugurals comes about mostly from the fact that I was on hand for the events in 1995 and 1999. Trust me when I say that anybody who expects an event in Springfield that will match the majesty of what took place Jan. 20, 2009 in Washington when Barack Obama became president will be seriously disappointed.

Personally, the moments I most remember are (from 1999) when new Gov. George Ryan had his Democratic opponent, Glenn Poshard, stand up in the packed arena, and the crowd gave him an ovation, and (from 1995) when then-Illinois Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka gave her inaugural address and managed to include a “fart joke” that left the crowd silenced.

IT DEFINITELY PUT a damper on what otherwise was a glorious moment of triumph for the Republicans (that was the election cycle where they won every single statewide office, and also took the entire Legislature – beginning a two-year period of domination of Illinois state government).

My big question about Inauguration ’11 is, Will Judy manage to top that moment when it comes to shocking the crowd of government geeks that wants to see the new officials take office.

For those who would want a touching moment, I also remember when soul singer Lou Rawls performed at the 1995 event (the one that saw Republicans begin a two-year period of domination of state government) and altered the lyrics to “Wind Beneath My Wings” to tell then-First Lady Brenda Edgar that she was "the wind" beneath Gov. Jim’s "wings."

For those who are focused on finances, I’m not sure how any of this would have been impacted. In fact, I have always felt that Illinois conducted fairly low-key inaugural ceremonies.

EXCEPT FOR THE fact that we won’t get a “first dance” by the first couple (Quinn is divorced), I’m not sure how much more low-key the event could get.

Unless they decide to skimp on the entertainment at the ball. Simon’s all-female bluegrass band, Loose Gravel, could perform, with a featured solo by Topinka on her accordion.


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