RVs might not make most people think of a burgeoning career in government, but for Austin Baidas that is where it all began. "I grew up in a family business working after school and on weekends," Baidas recalled of General RV, which was founded by his grandfather and expanded into an interstate, multi-franchised company through three generations. "The experience of managing and growing with my family's company has shaped my career."
That career culminated Oct. 11, when Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn appointed Baidas as the new assistant director of Central Management Services ( CMS ). Baidas is the second openly gay member of the Quinn administration, joining Director of the Department of Human Rights Rocco Claps and following in the footsteps of out gay former cabinet members Mike McRaith and Brent Adams. "This appointment demonstrates Gov. Quinn's commitment to have a cabinet which reflects the diversity of Illinois," Baidas said. "To give all communities a voice at the table and to treat all people equally and fairly."
CMS is in charge of several facets of government administration that affect the daily lives of Illinois citizens, including procurement, information technology, telecommunications, facilities, vehicles, surplus property, employee and retiree benefits, personnel, labor relations and disadvantaged business outreach. It reaches all state employees and agenciessomething of which Baidas is very aware. He plans on leading Quinn's effort to implement changes that will improve efficiencies, eliminate waste and save taxpayer dollars.
Baidas is originally from Michigan, but has called Chicago home for the past 15 years. He graduated from the Gerstacker Institute at Albion College with a bachelor's degree in economics and management and then spent most of the next 12 years as his own bossturning around, restructuring, and managing floundering companies. But four years ago, that all changed.
"In 2009, with the economic collapse worldwide and the political scandals in Illinois, I felt a responsibility to get involved with government." That is when Baidas started working with the Quinn administration, and eventually he was appointed associate director of the governor's office of management and budget. In that role, Baidas was able to assist Quinn in balancing the budget and making the full pension payments, while paying down a stack of unpaid state bills.
"Under Gov. Quinn's leadership, we eliminated over 2 million square feet of underutilized leased spacesaving taxpayers over $54 million annually," Baidas said. "We closed inefficient prisons, saving over $70 million per year. And we negotiated a new union contract generating approximately $900 million in health care savings over the next two years."
When he talks about his work in the government, Baidas' voice resonates with conviction. "Even though the task ahead will be challenging, I'm going to give my best effort to live up to the trust that Governor Quinn and the people of Illinois have placed in me while remembering my roots in our [the LGBT] community."
Those roots run deep, especially in Chicago. Baidas has long been a pillar of the community, supporting the Center on Halsted's capital campaign and then joining its Board of Directors in 2009. He has participated in the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Associationthe largest not-for-profit gay and lesbian sports organization in the Midwestsince 1998 playing softball, kickball, dodge ball and flag football. "Currently, my 'Replay' flag football team is undefeated in spite of the interceptions I've thrown as quarterback," Baidas adds with a laugh.
He has also run six marathons, including the Chicago Gay Games marathon in 2006. He is a multi-year participant of the Chicago Ride for AIDS where he has raised thousands of dollars for the Test-Positive Awareness Program ( TPAN ) as a member of the 'Election Cycles' team.
Beyond his own personal identity as a gay man, Baidas has another strong motivation for his work for change in the state government: his uncle, who is also gay. This brings the issues that affect the GLBT communityespecially gay marriageto the forefront for Baidas. "One of the privileges I've had while working for Gov. Quinn is being part of his team pushing for the passage of Marriage Equality in Illinois," Baidas said. "Watching and learning from state Rep. Greg Harris [the chief sponsor of the legislation] has been an honor."
With a gay uncle planning to marry his partner of 30 years next summer, the urgency and passion over the issue of same-sex marriage has hit home for Baidas and has inspired him to actively engage with the legislation to legalize it in Illinois. "Along with Rep. Harris, community leaders and advocacy groups have taught me the intricacies of the issue and the challenges faced in passing this bill," said Baidas. "These relationships and the knowledge I've gained has allowed me to strengthen the connection between Gov. Quinn and the community to reach our goal of all people in Illinois being treated fairly and equally."
That is a long way from the hard-working Michigan boy with the friendly smile. But then againif the warm and engaging nature of the man Baidas turned out to be is any indicationmaybe it is not that long after all.