SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Gov. Pat Quinn’s special day at the Illinois State Fair wasn’t so special.
Booing, chanting union protesters said his hits on wages and retirement benefits betray the Democratic Party’s tradition of supporting labor. Quinn also got into a feud with “the worst congressman in America” and accidentally declared President Barack Obama dead.
Quinn probably would have preferred devoting Wednesday Governor’s Day at the fair to talking up party unity and building enthusiasm for the fall political campaigns. Unions, however, used the day to draw attention to their grievances with Quinn and other leading Democrats.
They’re furious that Quinn canceled raises required under union contracts with the state, even after employees agreed to postpone the raises and take voluntary furlough days. They object to his plans to cut thousands of jobs by closing prisons and mental health facilities, and they’re fighting efforts to reduce retirement benefits for state employees, teachers and university staff.
One union member said the state’s Democratic leaders aren’t interested in helping workers.
“I don’t believe the Democrats are the party of the working class. The Democrats are the party of the politicians, same as the Republicans,” said Dave Scheina, who recently retired from the Department of Children and Family Services. “They’ll all tell you whatever it takes to get elected.”
At the state fair, protesters chanted “Respect Illinois workers” and cheered when an airplane flew overhead trailing a banner reading, “Gov. Quinn unfair to Illinois workers.” They shouted “liar!” as Quinn spoke to the crowd of Democratic officials and activists at the fairgrounds.
The event, usually a long but festive political rally, ended after just 20 minutes.
The booing largely drowned out Quinn’s remarks, which lasted only 2½ minutes. Quinn said taxpayers support putting more money into education instead of into the “pension piggybank for retired state workers.”
“I understand that some people want to keep that system. I’m here to reform that system. I think the people of Illinois are with me,” he said to the jeering crowd.
Before the event, Illinois Democratic Party chairman Michael Madigan said the friction is natural as state officials try to fix the budget and unions advocate for their members. He denied it would cause any long-term problems for the party or make Quinn a political liability for other candidates.
“Democrats are Democrats. We don’t naturally come together, but we survive,” said Madigan, who also is speaker of the Illinois House.
At a speech earlier in the day, Quinn called outspoken Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh “the worst congressman in America.” Quinn didn’t mention the Chicago-area congressman by name, but he referred to the opponent of Democratic congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth, who is running against Walsh in the November election.
Quinn didn’t explain his assessment, but Walsh has been criticized for a series of comments, including saying Duckworth talks more about her war injuries than a “true hero” would. Duckworth was a pilot in the Iraq War and lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down. Walsh has also said radical Muslims in the Chicago suburbs are trying to kill people and that Democrats have made African-Americans “dependent” on government aid.
The Walsh campaign quickly responded.
“As the worst governor in the country presiding over a state with 8.6 percent unemployment and a massive unfunded pension liability, maybe Governor Quinn should spend more time focusing on how to solve Illinois’ fiscal crisis and get Illinoisans back to work rather than share his unwarranted opinions on the congressman,” Walsh spokeswoman Erin Rapp said.
And the governor goofed during that earlier speech while discussing Obama’s accomplishments.
“Obama, uh, he’s gone, he’s dead, and the American auto industry is alive and well,” Quinn said. After a few seconds of puzzled whispering from the audience, Quinn realized his mistake.
“Osama Bin Laden! I goofed that one up,” Quinn said. “Osama bin Laden is dead and the American auto industry is alive thanks to President Obama!”
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