A recent meeting between metro-east legislators and Gov. Pat Quinn's staff turned heated at times, and as a result nothing was accomplished in the standoff over Quinn's appointments to the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees.
The governor's three appointments were unanimously rejected by the Senate in February -- the first time anybody I've talked to can remember that happening. But the governor has doubled down instead of compromising.
Quinn replaced three members with close ties to the university's Edwardsville campus. For years, governors followed a "gentleman's agreement" which gave the Edwardsville campus three of the governor's seven nominated members. That agreement coincided with explosive growth at the formerly backwater campus, so locals are loathe to go back to the old days of being treated as the redheaded step-child of the Carbondale campus. Just one of Quinn's appointments had connections to the metro-east, a complete unknown who applied for the post on the Internet.
The metro-east legislators want Quinn to back off his choices and they want to make sure that Roger Herrin is not reinstated as chairman. Quinn engineered Herrin's election as chairman a couple years back, but he was later ousted in a coup orchestrated by SIU President Glenn Poshard and replaced with famed metro-east trial lawyer John Simmons. Simmons was, in turn, ousted by Quinn last month.
The area's legislators want to make Edwardsville School Superintendent Ed Hightower the new board chairman. Hightower, an African-American, was also ousted by Quinn, a move that has been sharply attacked by the local NAACP and area black ministers.
But the governor is flatly refusing to back down, which led to some heated moments in that recent meeting, with at least two Democratic legislators raising their voices and denouncing the governor's tactics. And Quinn told reporters last week that the Senate needs to take another look at these appointees.
"The governor appoints people, and I appointed three people who I thought were good, so I'll keep working on that."
The Illinois Constitution prohibits Quinn from reappointing the three rejected trustees. A resolution from the Senate "requesting" that Quinn renominate the three would be required before they could move forward. That appears unlikely at best.
Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, has introduced legislation requiring that at least three members of the university's board be from the metro-east, with another three from the Carbondale area and the seventh from Sangamon County. SIU has a medical school in Springfield. The bill appears to be picking up major steam.
You'd think in an era where Quinn needs as much help as possible solving the pension funding crisis and the state's busted budget he'd try to avoid openly antagonizing legislators and wasting valuable energy and time over stupid stuff like this. Instead, he's angering and alienating the very people he needs to get the job done.
Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.