Saturday, December 20, 2014

Quinn made the safe comptroller choice, no matter what anyone thinks

Gov. Pat Quinn made his pick Friday for who gets to be Illinois comptroller for three-and-a-half weeks, and it’s Jerry Stermer.

That’s a name that will draw a reaction of “Who??!?” from the bulk of people. Although anyone who pays attention to state government and politics and Quinn throughout the years will know the name.

HE ONCE WAS Quinn’s chief of staff, and has held many other positions under Quinn during that man’s time in various government posts. Most recently, he was the governor’s budget director.

Meaning he was the governor’s personal financial expert and the guy whose staff ought to be cooperating with aides to Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner to get them prepared for the state budget they’re going to have to propose in the spring of 2015.

So doesn’t it kind of make sense that Quinn, confronted with a situation where he has to pick a person to run the constitutional office that oversees the state’s bank accounts and makes sure bills get paid in a sort-of timely fashion, would turn to this trusted aide to oversee the state’s finances for the remaining weeks of his gubernatorial term?

To me it does. Personally, I always thought that if Quinn truly wanted to make a non-controversial appointment to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, he ought to just pick his budget director.

HE’S ACQUAINTED WITH how much of a mess the state’s finances are. He’s been around state government for years.

And because he’s not the kind of guy who has ever put his name on a ballot, he’s not likely to have any ambition to stick around beyond the Jan. 12 date on which state government transitions itself to the officials who got themselves elected back in November.

In fact, Stermer himself made a point of saying he would formally resign on Jan. 12 as of Noon, and that he’s not viewing his nearly-one month-long stint as a state constitutional officer as a way of boosting the pension benefits he will someday receive.

He could do that, but he says he won’t. Although he will accept the comptroller’s salary for the next three weeks – which is about $10,000 per year higher than the gubernatorial budget director salary he now receives, according to the Capitol Fax newsletter.

OF COURSE, WE have the ideologues who are upset that he would dare pick someone for a short-term vacancy whose loyalty presumably would be to him.

There are those who will perpetually argue that Topinka’s long-time chief of staff, Nancy Kimme, should have been the one to get a short-term post. Although my own experience in dealing with government staffers (as opposed to the elected officials they work for) is that they usually have the temperament that makes them suited to following orders and running things, rather than setting grand policy decisions.

A good staffer makes an elected official look better. They don’t necessarily make a good public official in and of themselves.

Besides, the ideologue types are likely to get a chance to nominate the long-term pick for Topinka, who won’t be able to fulfill the four-year term to which she was chosen last month.

TRYING TO CLAIM that Quinn was somehow being irresponsible with his pick on Friday merely makes them seem to be greedy! We still have to figure out what will happen for the long-term. Who will Rauner pick? Will the Legislature try to force a special election for the post in 2016?

Considering that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, hasn’t done anything yet to indicate he’s willing to cooperate with Quinn’s demand for a special session come Jan. 8 (it does need to be resolved before the mid-January transition to a new General Assembly), it makes me wonder if it will be more rhetorical nonsense spewed on the issue.

Take into account that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is the one who issued the opinion saying there ought to be a special election and Michael Madigan is saying he wants the two governor-types to resolve this on their own, what happens if father defies daughter?

Will there be a Merry Christmas at the Madigan household next week?


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