Before serving as governor from 2009 to 2015, Pat Quinn was known as a rabble-rousing reformer who, most famously, led a 1980 citizen initiative that cut the membership of the Illinois House by one-third.
A year and a half after losing the governor's race to Bruce Rauner, Quinn announced he is reviving his political activity with an effort to impose a two-term limit on the mayor of Chicago and create an elected office of Chicago consumer advocate.
"As a long-time Chicagoan, I've been dismayed as insiders tighten their grip on the levers of our government," Quinn wrote in an email to supporters announcing the launch of takechargechicago.org. "That's why I'm launching the Take Charge Chicago petition drive to put two binding referendums on the ballot: a term limit on the Chicago Mayor and creation of a Chicago Consumer Advocate."
Quinn is up against an Aug. 8 deadline to get roughly 53,000 signatures of registered voters in Chicago on petitions to get the proposals on the Nov. 8 ballot. The next Chicago mayoral election not until 2019, so Take Charge Chicago could have an effect on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's future even if it fails to place the term limit question on this year's ballot. The group would get a second chance for the 2018 general election.
Quinn is not a newcomer to term limit advocacy. In 1994, as he was pursuing an unsuccessful bid for secretary of state against incumbent George Ryan, then-Treasurer Quinn led a statewide ballot initiative to put a term limits question for state elected officials on the ballot. The Illinois Supreme Court, however, ruled the measure unconstitutional. Ironically, 20 years later, Bruce Rauner -- during a hotly contested gubernatorial race against Quinn -- would lead a similar effort with the same result.
On the consumer front, Quinn's activism led to the creation in 1984 of the Citizens Utility Board, the state government consumer advocate on energy prices.
Quinn's referendum seeks to make Chicago consumer advocate an elected office, but he offered no hint whether he would pursue such an office to the Associated Press:
He refused to answer if he'd seek public office again. Quinn has recently been making the rounds at political events, fueling talk that he's wants to throw his hat in the ring again.
"I've run for office before," Quinn said. "We'll see about the future."
Here's the complete email message Quinn sent to supporters on Sunday:
As you know, I'm a believer in the power of petition and referendum. Over the years, we've used these tools of direct democracy to win major reforms, such as cutting the size of the Illinois House, creating the Citizens Utility Board and allowing recall of Illinois governors.
As a long-time Chicagoan, I've been dismayed as insiders tighten their grip on the levers of our government. That's why I'm launching the Take Charge Chicago petition drive to put two binding referendums on the ballot: a term limit on the Chicago Mayor and creation of a Chicago Consumer Advocate.
These reforms would put everyday people in charge, not the plutocrats. Take Charge Chicago would bring openness to City Hall and offer relief to beleaguered taxpayers and consumers. It can be accomplished by Petition Power, but I need your help.
Consider three points:
1. Chicago is the only city among the nation's 10 biggest cities without a term limit on its mayor.
2. Incumbent Chicago mayors routinely outspend their challengers by millions of dollars reaped from lobbyists, corporations and billionaires.
3. The best way to achieve true campaign finance reform and end secrecy in City Hall is through mayoral term limits. And the only way to achieve term limits is through a petition drive and binding referendum, a power authorized by the 1970 Illinois Constitution.
So, here's the plan. We hope to gather 100,000 signatures from Chicago registered voters to put the Take Charge Chicago referendums on the ballot. Then, if a majority of voters say "Yes" to a term limit on the office of Chicago mayor and creation of a Consumer Advocate for consumers and taxpayers, both reforms become effective in time for the 2019 election.
We can make history: these would be Chicago's first binding referendums in memory. I expect it will be a healthy exercise in democracy and hope it sparks a citywide debate over the structure of our government.
The Take Charge Chicago referendums will open up City Hall and let the people of Chicago in. Let's change Chicago one petition signature at a time!
Go to TakeChargeChicago.org to learn more and download our petition, or call 773-999-2016 and we'll mail you a petition kit. And I invite you can join me this summer at a farmers' market or neighborhood festival to gather autographs from everyday Chicagoans for the Take Charge Chicago petition drive.
Thanks for your help.