Tuesday, February 3, 2009

New Illinois Governor Vows to Fight Nature-Deficit Disorder

My Web Times – January 30, 2009

New Illinois Governor Vows to Fight Nature-Deficit Disorder Following is the text of Pat Quinn's first press conference as Illinois governor.

Pat Quinn: It’s an honor to be here, it’s a special place, the building of the people of Illinois. I was really moved by the serious purpose of the Illinois Senate today and how the senators conducted themselves this entire week. I think they were the essence of fairness and due process.

I think every person in Illinois should be proud of our House of Representatives and our senators there and our senators this week for how they conducted themselves. I really think they followed the Constitution. The rule of law prevailed in Illinois. We are ready to move forward. We understand that we have to amend the flaws of our politics and our government.

I think it’s extremely important that the people of Illinois come together, and its something I’m going to work on night and day to make sure we try to ask folks to put aside differences of the past and focus on the common good. I think there’s a great opportunity for great reform. We want to make this a year of great reform for Illinois. I think we can do that if we summon the energy of the people, and some of the energy of the, energy of the members of the legislative and executive branch.

I want to salute the four constitutional officers I’ve worked with over last several years: Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Secretary of State Jesse White, Comptroller Dan Hynes, Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. I think in the last 50 days that have been trying, we have worked together as at team. We have been meeting on a regular basis, the four constitutional officers and the governor, because we have so much talent in the legislature and executive branch to put a strategy and blueprint together to come up with the reforms that are vitally needed by the public.

I was reading today the speech of President Ford after the resignation of President Nixon, and I think there was a line in there that struck me. He pointed out that he was not elected by the ballots of the people so he asked the people of America to confirm his office by their prayers. And I have the same request of the people of Illinois. This is probably the most trying difficult time as a state. We’re in two wars as a country; we have an economy that is faltering in America and in Illinois. We have a fiscal crisis, a budget crisis in this state as there is in almost every state in the union and we all know we have an integrity crisis. And I hope we can in the best traditions of Lincoln’s democracy, to come together not for a profit, for a cause we believe in. And that cause is to protect our state and our democracy and to move forward.

Not too long ago, about 12 days ago, I went to a dedication of a school gym. In Chicago, at Logandale Middle School. It was dedicated to Staff Sgt. Jason Vazquez who lost his life in Afghanistan defending our democracy. It was a very moving ceremony on that day. And I remember the principal of the school saying that every day at that school, when Jason was there and when the children today are there, that they start the day by saying "expect the best." And I think that’s what we’ve got to do in Illinois. Expect the best. We will achieve the best. And we will make the will of the people the law of the land.

I’ll be glad to answer any questions you may have.

Q: Governor – the department heads – do they all move forward in their jobs or are you going to look at all the serious department heads?

A: I think it’s important that each and every person in an appointed position in a department, a cabinet director will look at each and every one. I know many of them, not every single one. Everybody will be under review, that’s the way it’s gonna be.

Q: When did you start meeting with members of former Gov. Blagojevich’s staff about a transition? When did you meet with his chief of staff and just get the wheels in motion?

A: Well there wasn’t really a transition the way that President Bush was gracious and cooperative with President Obama. President Obama acknowledged that and said he was so grateful with President Bush for being cooperative with information and staff members and so on, but there was no transition here, it was nonexistent. So we will have a period of time, probably the rest of … the coming month, to have a transition and make sure that things are done properly. I’m confident that’ll happen. I think that everyone who works for state government understands that their job is public service. And I really want to salute the hard-working employees of Illinois, the public employees; some of them out there are moving snow during a snow storm or making sure that children are protected or doing what has to be done with respect to law enforcement. So I think we should honor the hard work of public employees as we honor the labor of everyone in Illinois and make sure that everyone who’s breathing and able bodies has a job. That’s job one for I think for the governor of Illinois.

Q: Will closed parks open this week?

A: I sure hope so. I think we need to, with dispatch, open the parks of Illinois. I recently read a book – it talked about nature deficit disorder where we should leave no child inside. I think in these hard times where a lot of families can’t take a lot of vacations out of state, our state parks are precious. As lieutenant governor I worked on our rivers and conservation and I think parents want to take their children to see an eagle fly over the Illinois River — you can do that right now — and I think it’s very, very important that we reopen the parks and make sure they’re welcome.

Q: How do you walk into the office with a $4 billion budget hole facing you?

A: It could be worse. We’ll find out, you know? We don’t really know, we really don’t know the nature, the size of the deficit. We don’t, I wasn’t given access to all the information necessary. I think in the coming weeks, certainly going to ask the speaker of the house and the president of the Senate to move the State of the Budget Address from the 18th of February to the 18th of March and I think that will give us a little time to assess the damage, find out what the deficit truly is. I think the governor has to level with the people of Illinois. That’s what they want — then we’ll have a blueprint for getting out of this morass.

Q: Would you have to be digging for months practically where the money is?

A: I’m very grateful to Comptroller Dan Hynes, he’s provided some information from his end of things. Obviously there may be bills held up in agencies that haven’t arrived in his office but I think a comprehensive, and certainly the state treasurer, Alexi Giannoulias and I flew down today, and he’s a very good friend, and I think all of us working together will figure out where the deficit is and also will think will have to put the full court press on to make sure Illinois gets every dollar it can from the federal government. It’s very important to keep our state, like Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, the heartland, a strong, vibrant, and we want to make sure we’re working hard for the federal stimulus.

Q: Can the state of Illinois afford an income tax increase?

A: We’re going to take a look at what the damage is. I think it’s very important to know what the facts are. And I think right now, that’s the duty: to do fact finding on fiscal matters. We’ll spend the probably next six weeks doing that. On the 17th or 18th of March when the budget address is, I’ll have a full plan for the people of Illinois how we get to a better place.

Q: Are you staffed yet?

A: In the coming week, there will be some names that we will talk about. I don’t think it will be in the next day or two. I have my family here tonight and my mom is 91 and my aunt, her sister, who she hasn’t seen in 6 years. My aunt lives here in Springfield, she’s disabled, and so it was quite emotional getting together. I think we may be going to the governor’s mansion tonight for dinner, that’s what I heard. But I hope that’s the case. We look forward to it, I do, living in the governor’s mansion. It is the people’s house. I’m grateful to the people of Illinois. I think all the people, they feel blessed to have such a special place. It’s the third-oldest mansion I think in the country and it is a place where we want to bring the world to Illinois. It’s a very important year, the year of Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial of his birth. The American president most admired of all by far, is Abraham Lincoln, from people from foreign lands. And we want them to come to Illinois, the city of Abraham Lincoln and other places in Illinois to look for Lincoln. You can go to Beardstown and see a courthouse where Lincoln actually practiced in. So I think the governor’s mansion is going to get a good work out this year in letting the world know that Illinois has a lot of good things and what they may have seen in the last 50 days is really just something in the rearview mirror.

Q: Are you going to spend the night there tonight?

A: I don’t know. I have an apartment at Lincoln Towers and uh, my Mom is in, she has a walker. So there’s an elevator there. So we’ll figure out what it is.

Q: Governor, have you heard from President Obama or anyone else today?

A: Not today, no. The (state) Senate just acted. Barack Obama is an inspiration for all of us. I was at his swearing in there, on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol last week, and it was really one for the ages. And I really think we’re all blessed in Illinois to have a great president who knows the country and knows our state.

Q: Have you heard from former Gov. Blagojevich?

A: No.

Q: Are you concerned he’s going to drag it out by filing a lawsuit and tie you in knots for awhile?

A: It would be meritless.

Q: What needs to be done to fix state governance and politics?

A: I talk this morning to Patrick Collins. Pat Collins, I asked him to head up a reform commission, and I think that reform commission of a number of men and women will make some excellent recommendations. Their report will be due around about Easter, about a hundred days from now, and I think it will be what the doctor ordered, the prescription necessary, the strong medicine necessary to deal with the culture of corruption that has afflicted our state for far too long.

Q: What about historic sites?

A: I think both the parks and the historic sites should be places that are open. I think that historic based tourism along with nature-based tourism; those are the two fastest growing types of tourism in our country. People don’t go to another town to look at their Wal-Mart, they know what Wal-Mart looks like. So going to a special place that Abraham Lincoln, or maybe one of his colleagues along the way, spent serious time in is something I think we want to have open so that people can enjoy it.

Q: How will you pay for opening the parks?

A: We will find the money because I think its squeezing a nickel to close parks and historic sites, you squeeze a nickel and lose a half dollar. That’s not smart government.

Q: You’ve only been governor for a few moments. Is this one of your wildest dreams come true?

A: Some people who are here, like this Ray Long over here, he’s observed me in past situations. I think it comes as a surprise, you know. When I woke up on the morning of Dec. 9, it was quite a shock. I think to everybody in Illinois. And it still is something I guess you have to accustom yourself to. And I’m an organizer. I believe in organizing. Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and organize. So that’s what we gotta do in Illinois for everyday people. I know that my mission here in the next 700 days is to work as hard as I can for those people who don’t have lobbyists in Springfield, who don’t have friends in high places, maybe they’re afraid of losing their job or losing their home or their income’s declining, my job is to fight for them.

Q: Will you support campaign finance reform legislation?

A: I believe in that and we’ll have a lot to say about that.

Q: Does that mean spending limits?

A: It’s a little early yet, we’ll have a good plan.

Q: Will you move jobs from Springfield to the southern part of the state? There’s a lot of people nervous around here.

A: The decision, it’s going to be reviewed from top to bottom, that decision.

Q: What can you do to restore confidence in government in Illinois?

A: Well, I think one way to do it is to be accessible. I think it’s not good for the governor to be isolated, insulated and not get around the whole of Illinois. I think I probably am the only statewide official who’s actually lived south of here. I lived in Madison County, St. Clair County, lived in E. St. Louis, in 704 N. 76th St. and I lived in a mobile home near Edwardsville long ago, and so I think it’s important that the whole state of Illinois understand that their governor understands their county, their area. There’s issues that, you know, aren’t big issues in metropolitan Chicago that are major issues in other parts of Illinois. And I believe in walking. I walked across Illinois from the Mississippi River all the way to Lake Michigan. And I think we’re going to do a lot of that walking, it’s a good way to catch up to people.

Q: Pontiac Prison?

A: That one will be reviewed as well.

Q: How soon will you have the title of governor chiseled on your tombstone?

A: I don’t have that…(inaudible)

Q: Is there anything you need to undo in these last few days before he was ousted?

A: We have to find out if anything happened in the last several days. As I said, the cooperation was spotty as far as any kind of information. We’ll find out.

Q: What official actions would you look at overturning?

A: Which ones?

Q: Are there certain official actions you’d look at overturning that Blagojevich has made besides state parks?

A: Well appointments, and thing like that, transfers, things that were done at the midnight hour.

Q: What about Kurt Granberg (state legislator appointed by Blagojevich to become head of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources)?

A: I believe there should be a natural resource professional in the Department of Natural Resources. I’ve said that for six years.

Q: Will you run in 2010 for governor?

A: You know, I don’t think the people of Illinois need politics right now. We’ve had our dose of that, a heavy dose for the last seven weeks. This should be a year of government, where people really work on repairing damage and making things better, and there’ll be plenty of time for politics in 2010.

Q: What will be your first official action be and when will you take it.

A: Tomorrow.

Q: What is it?

A: No, it’ll be a surprise. You won’t come back. It’s my one and only shot.

Q: What about exempt state employees, two or three thousand, do they need to worry now? Will you review everybody?

A: Yeah, I think…if you’re an employee, public or private, you’re always going to be under review. If you’re not doing a good job, then you should be, you know, concerned. But if you are doing a good job, being diligent, that’s what we’re looking for.

Q: Will you review everybody, or are there certain classes of folks that you think will be gone?

A: I haven’t looked at any of that, but I think they’ll be a thorough review over the next month or two to make sure that state government works for the people who pay the taxes.

Q: There are many folks in Springfield who remember you for your many trips here, and they proudly remember is that you were a hard worker and a cheapskate. They say that with pride.

A: Cheapskate? Frugal...that’s different. Cheapskate? I’m very, very generous, I’m always picking up the tab.

Q: Let’s talk about your frugality. That’s something you’re proud of, isn’t it?

A: Well, I am proud of being frugal, I’m a VIP member at Super 8 (shows card to laughter) and I moved up from Motel 6. I think being frugal is useful, but I am very generous, I think everybody will tell you that I’m generous to a fault.

Q: How will frugality define your time as governor?

A: I think we’ll have to tighten our belts, whenever possible. We want to focus on the key, key priorities of government – public safety, education, decent health care. Those are the kinds of things that I think people look for. And you know, we’ll have a budget on the 18th of March that will be a proper one for the times we are now finding ourselves in.

Q: Governor, what did you think of the governor’s speech?

A: Well…

Q: I’m sorry, I mean Blagojevich.

A: He spoke for himself. I know it came from the heart. You can tell he was speaking from the heart. I don’t think he was persuasive. You know, I think now is the time to go forward. There’s a reason God put our eyes in front of our head. If we could always look backwards, we probably wouldn’t go very far in Illinois or anywhere else. I think we need to look forward. You know Gov. Blagojevich and his wife…they are now private citizens, and we should leave it there.

Q: Are the names coming off the toll road signs and are you putting your name on them?

A: (Laughter) The answer is I’m not putting my name on there. Only you would ask that question, I suppose. I think those signs will come down.

Q: Why aren’t you putting your name on there?

A: I’m not in for this imperial governorship routine. I think it should be a government that is proud of its people. We need a humble governor who’s proud of our people. So frankly, if they have to change signs on the borders of Illinois, I would like to see is the "People of Illinois Welcome You."

And we are a hospitable group of 13 million citizens, and we want to see the world come to Illinois and see about Abraham Lincoln, the Mississippi River, Lake Michigan, hopefully, the Olympics. Really it should be the people calling the shots, not the officeholders’ vanity. So to answer your question, we will find a way to take those signs down that are obviously no longer accurate.

Q: Are you going to use executive security?

A: We’ll have adequate security. We’ll see what that develops to.

Q: Gov. Blagojevich did not have regular press conferences, did not give interviews, He was adamantly opposed to tax increases. You taught economics. What is your philosophic approach?

A: Well, number one I believe in regular contact with the press. I enjoy the back-and-forth, and I think that’s a good way to be accountable. So we’ll have regular gatherings. I hope they’re as well attended as tonight. We’ll see about that. I think it’s important that when you come into a community to answer questions from the media. It’s part of our First Amendment, having a vigorous press. Issues of taxation, and all of that… I taught tax law for 24 years, and nobody likes paying taxes. April 15 is not my favorite day. Never will be. So I think it’s important that to understand that in our democracy, the price of being in our democracy that citizens do agree to pay taxes in order for the common good. So we will find a way to have a fair system which hopefully keeps taxes as low as possible.

Q: Former Gov. Thompson said that it’s been a custom of Illinois to extend their predecessor security detail for a year. Will you extend that courtesy to former Gov. Blagojevich, or is he done?

A: No, I already told the superintendent of state police that when the governor arrived at home and was secure… former governor Blagojevich… that would be the end of security. And he agreed. As a matter of fact, he thought that was the proper way to go. I did yesterday speak to the people in the city of Chicago, where I lived. I lived in a neighborhood in Chicago in the west side. I have full confidence in the Chicago Police Department. They serve and protect. A number of policemen live in my neighborhood. And they will do, I’m sure, an adequate and good job to protect Rod Blagojevich and Patti Blagojevich and everyone else in their family.

Q: Why did you stop? Was it a purely money-saving concern?

A: I don’t think there’s any statue that requires this, and under the circumstances I think that was the appropriate way to go.

Q: Have you changed the locks on the offices?

A: Somebody’s doing that, I don’t know.

Q: Governor, what is your plan for education funding reform?

A: Well that’s a major issue. I will have something to say, but not tonight. I think it’s something that re really have to understand that, jobs follow brainpower, and if we’re going to have jobs, we have to have smart people from early childhood. I taught community college, I believe in community colleges. I think, we want as many young men and women in Illinois to go to four-year universities, and when they graduate we want them to stay in Illinois. We don’t want them to go somewhere else. We have a good state and we’re gonna be even better.

Q: Capital plan?

A: Well we need to pass a capital plan. I would hope we could do that with dispatch. That is a top priority. We have a federal stimulus plan that does not require a local or state match. We’ll have to spend that money in a very prudent way, a very quick way, so we can get our economy going, and at the same time we want to fund for the state of Illinois capitol construction plan, a way to really build. I think we should build in a sustainable way, a green way, we don’t want to be building like we did in 1956. We want to make sure we do a 21st century capitol plan that invests in sustainability like energy conservation, energy efficiency, water conservation. If we’re doing roads, we should have trenches along the road, so we can have fiber there so we can have high-speed internet. That’s the way to really have smart government.

Q: What are you going to do for the rest of tonight?

A: My mom and aunt and some of our family members are here. I think we’re going to have dinner over at the Governor’s Mansion. I haven’t been there in a while, but I know that my past experience that it is a... the staff is a really committed people. They really believe that the mansion is a special place in Illinois. I’d like to see artists come, people who are writers, so that folks in Illinois can learn from them. As lieutenant governor, I often times would have special people that we would honor, and I look forward to doing that in the Governor’s Mansion.

Q: What about tomorrow? What are your plans tomorrow?

A: Well I think we’re going to do something in front of the governor’s office, roughly around 10 o’ clock or so, we’ll have one announcement there. We’ll see how many of you guys come back.

Q: Is there a governor in Illinois history that you’d like to model…

A: My office is in the Hall of Governors, so I get to walk by there. (John Peter) Altgeld is certainly a special man, he was a man of courage, and I think a poem was written about him, a very important poem. You know, I think he’s a good man.

Q: Will Rod Blagojevich’s picture go up in the Hall of Governors?

A: Yes.

Q: How will you respond to the Blagojevich plan to not increase the income or sales tax?

A: Well I think that we need to assess the damage left by my predecessor. I kept going to dinner … (with someone) who ate it up at dinner and ran up the bill, and then you look around when it comes time to pay the bill and they’ve left the building. And, you know, if that is what’s happened in Illinois, we have a huge credit card bill, billions of dollars, we’re gonna have to assess how much the debt is - nobody knows. We’ll find out, though, and then once we do that, we will have a plan to pay off the debt. The reason this is important, especially in times of tough economic conditions, if Illinois doesn’t pay its bills soon to vendors like hospitals, well they employ thousands of people. More people work for hospitals in Illinois than car plants, and both of them are important. So we want to make sure that the state is not failing to paying its bills, and then leading to layoffs of thousands of workers for state vendors. This is a big issue, it’s connected, and we will have a plan. But it’s going to take a few weeks to put that together. And that blueprint will be all lined in the budget address.

Q: Are you going to take the pay raise that comes with your new position?

A: No…

Q: I think it’s about $40,000.

A: You mean the pay raise the governor got?

Q: The increase in pay for lieutenant governor versus governor.

A: Well it’s a different job. I’m not going to take the highest pay of the governor. I think he got a pay raise last year? Something like that. We won’t go that high. But it’s a different job, I haven’t even looked what the salary is. I haven’t even looked at that.

Q: The Republican Party is already saying you benefited as Blagojevich’s running mate through his contributions and all Democrats who didn’t oppose him in 2006 should share some of the blame for all of this…your thoughts on this in the future and now?

A: Well I led the effort on recall, and I think recall is something we need to get in our Constitution. I hope we can get it in the ballot in 2010. I think that is one of the very best ways the public can act if something goes wrong after an election. And so, I’ll let that be my point of view.

Q: Did you make a mistake by not speaking out in 2006?

A: I was a pretty loud speaker for recall. I was for recall for 33 years. I think this may be the moment for recall.

Q: What’s on the menu for your first meal?

A: I have no idea, I’m sure it’ll be very good. I look forward to engaging everyone here. Dialogue, question and answer, Socratic Method, very good. Learn a lot. I’ll see you all later.
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