CHICAGO -- Pat Quinn’s tenure as Illinois governor is drawing to a close. Republican challenger and governor elect, Bruce Rauner, will be sworn in Monday.
But the outgoing Governor is weighing in on his six years in office, looking back at a bewildering set of challenges.
"My predecessor had been impeached and removed from office,” Quinn said in a sit-down interview. “His predecessor was in jail. Pretty soon they were both in jail."
It was a tumultuous start to his first few days in office, reeling from the damage left behind by Rod Blagojevich. Not to mention a sinking Illinois economy and huge deficits, all in the midst of the Great Recession.
But within 10 weeks of being sworn in, Quinn helped push a $31 billion "Illinois Job Now" infrastructure bill, with help from the federal government, putting 400,000 people to work.
"Well we had to invest in fixing our roads and bridges making sure we have clean water, taking care of our rail systems, very important to our economy."
Quinn also did his part to rescue the sputtering auto industry, at a time when many questioned the wisdom of propping up a failing enterprise with taxpayer dollars.
"I got a call from the Chrysler people saying they were about to go under,” Quinn recalls. “We have a great plant in Belvedere, Illinois that only had 200 workers and they were going to lose their jobs."
The governor points with pride to the Belvedere plant, which he says now employs about 4,500 workers. And that helped lead Illinois' economy towards a definite rebound.
"We've had a much stronger today than six years ago. Jobs are way up. Unemployment is down," Quinn said.
But the state's staggering fiscal problems remain, with a frightening unfunded pension liability of $100 billion, perhaps even more.
A 2013 General Assembly Bill to pare down the state run pension system, supported by Quinn, could be struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court. Some blame Quinn for failing to get the Democratic-controlled General Assembly to take swifter action.
When it comes to the ill-fated Neighborhood Recovery Program, now under investigation by the Justice Department, Quinn says he reacted swiftly when things didn’t go as planned. The program handed out community crime-fighting grants just before the 2010 election.
The incumbent’s opponent, Bruce Rauner, called the program a political slush fund to bring Democrats to the polls.