Bill Brady thinks being a good legislator doesn’t necessarily require passing a lot of legislation.
For 15 years, the Republican candidate for Illinois governor has followed a less-is-more philosophy. He hasn’t pushed sweeping legislative schemes. He rarely introduces bills promising to cure the latest headline-grabbing problem.
The result is a legislative record that offers voters little help judging whether Brady, 49, is prepared to run a state struggling with the largest budget deficit in its history.
For Brady, a Bloomington high school football star who joined the family business before entering politics, it wouldn’t be his first time facing a financial crisis.
Twenty-five years ago, his father’s construction business went bankrupt. Brady and his brothers stepped in to help, eventually putting it on sound footing. Today, the company is struggling again.
Brady plays down questions about whether he’s prepared to govern. He says what Illinois needs is the right mix of useful experience and sound policies.
“There are some jobs you never prove (you’re ready for) until you’ve done it,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
His rival, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, scoffs at the idea that Brady is governor material.
“I have a record of accomplishment,” Quinn said. “He talks about great things, but he doesn’t deliver when it comes to the actual record.”
The record shows Brady has spent most of his time in Springfield trying to fine-tune laws on a few select topics, particularly insurance — a reflection of Brady representing Bloomington-Normal, home to both State Farm Insurance Cos. and Country Financial.
People who have worked with him say Brady doesn’t believe a new law is the answer to every new problem — that the best way to help families is to help business grow and create new jobs.
“I don’t think he would put the needs of business ahead of the needs of college students, the developmentally disabled, the mentally ill, but I think he does have a clear focus that if there are no jobs he’s not going to meet those needs anyway,” said Rep. Bill Black, a Danville Republican.
Brady helped pass legislation letting banks sell insurance. He pushed to bar companies from denying coverage to domestic-violence victims and to let them sell stripped-down policies offering little coverage.
Jim Duffett, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Better Health Care, said Brady is consistently on the side of insurance companies. He criticizes Brady’s efforts to allow bare-bones insurance policies, calling them “snake-oil plans” that offer consumers almost nothing for the cost.
Brady’s tenure also reflects his experience as a real estate developer. He has worked to standardize building codes, spell out requirements for home mortgages and settle such mundane issues as installation rules for home sprinkler systems.
One area where Brady has displayed a more activist streak is on conservative social issues.
He has backed legislation allowing discrimination against gay people by groups with religious affiliations, barring any state involvement in embryonic stem cell research, letting pharmacists refuse to dispense emergency contraception and banning civil unions between gay couples.
None of the measures became law. In fact, few of Brady’s bills have ever become law, partly because he has spent virtually his entire career in the legislative minority.
“In very nice terms, I don’t think he has a legislative record. He never really did anything,” said Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat who has served with Brady on the Senate Revenue Committee.
Critics can’t make the same allegation about Brady’s record in business.
Brady’s father filed for bankruptcy in 1984. Brady and his two brothers eventually turned the ailing company into a string of about two dozen businesses.
Jesse Smart was mayor of Bloomington from 1985 to 1997, when the city and the Bradys were growing rapidly. He says Bill, the eldest brother, tends to be the personality of the team, while Ed is the brains and Bobby is the workhorse.
“It’s a good combination,” Smart said. “They all seem to have their role.”
Like many companies involved in property and home sales, the Brady businesses are struggling now. Brady’s personal income has fallen, too — to the point that his business losses outweighed his legislative salary and he wound up paying no federal income taxes last year. Quinn has criticized him for that.
But Brady argues his business struggles prepare him for dealing with the state’s larger financial problems.
“Our challenges are so difficult we’re going to have to think beyond the box,” he said.
Associated Press reporter John O’Connor contributed to this report.