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After turmoil, new Ill. gov. stresses diplomacy

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[February 28, 2009]  SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Pat Quinn's first 30 days as Illinois governor often saw him acting more like a diplomat than a chief executive.

Hoping to repair relationships destroyed by his predecessor, Quinn schmoozed with members of Congress, chatted with state lawmakers, held an open house at the governor's mansion and celebrated Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday with schoolchildren across Illinois.

And when asked about the hard decisions he'll face in coming months, Quinn offered cautious generalities rather than firm declarations, an approach that preserved his flexibility and postponed any ugly policy clashes.

The Chicago Democrat certainly took decisive action in some cases.

He fired former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's last-minute choice to run the Department of Natural Resources. He called for Sen. Roland Burris to resign. He surprised Springfield by picking the head of a child-advocacy group as his chief of staff.

Presumably, Quinn is busy behind the scenes laying the foundation for a new administration and preparing for his first big test - the March 18 budget address where he'll have to come up with a plan to close a massive deficit.

"Divine intervention would help," he joked Thursday. "We'll be praying a lot in the next two weeks."

Quinn was thrust into office when the Senate kicked Blagojevich out for a long list of transgressions. The most spectacular was the charge that he schemed to benefit from his power to pick President Barack Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate. Blagojevich denies any wrongdoing.

Quinn took the oath of office the evening of Jan. 29. Saturday marks his 30th full day in office.

After the constant drama of Blagojevich's six years in office, Quinn certainly has plenty of support from people who hope state government can actually get something done.

"The most gratifying thing is, wherever I go people are very encouraging, no matter where they're from or what their political views are. They're relieved that the ordeal of the past is over and they're very supportive," Quinn said.

Lawmakers generally give Quinn high marks for trying to establish a collaborative relationship with the General Assembly after Blagojevich spent years alienating people. Quinn met with all four legislative caucuses, talked individually with some and made frequent appearances around the state Capitol.

"That's probably the most important thing he could be doing," said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, a Republican.

Democratic Sen. Martin Sandoval praised Quinn's diplomatic efforts and gave him generally high marks. But Sandoval said he was surprised that Quinn didn't launch his administration with more of a bang.

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"He's been a little cautious, a little methodical coming out of the blocks," Sandoval said.

Quinn didn't name a chief of staff until he had been in office 11 days, despite having weeks to prepare for Blagojevich's inevitable ouster. The person he eventually picked was an unexpected choice - Jerry Stermer, head of the advocacy group Voices for Illinois Children. His selection of someone who knows Springfield but is hardly an insider suggests Quinn has some new ideas about running the governor's office.

And his position on the Senate seat once held by Obama has been confusing.

Before taking office, he supported a special election to choose a replacement but later backed away from that. After Burris was appointed to the seat and got in hot water, Quinn again announced his support for special elections to fill future vacancies but he objected to an immediate special election to remove Burris. Later, however, he said removing Burris may be necessary soon.

The budget is clearly the top issue for state government right now, and Quinn has offered few specifics so far.

He mentions spending cuts and suggests his budget proposal will require sacrifices, including tax increases, yet he avoids specifics about what he may ask of Illinoisans. Quinn won't even reveal his estimate of the state deficit, which is expected to top $9 billion in the upcoming budget year.

Radogno, the state Senate's top Republican, said it's fair for Quinn to avoid specifics while he finalizes a budget. Once the budget is out with all its painful realities, she said, everyone in Springfield is likely to need some of the goodwill that Quinn's been cultivating.

"Hopefully, we'll remember the love," she said.


Associated Press writer John O'Connor contributed to this report.

[Associated Press; By CHRISTOPHER WILLS]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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