Who is Jesse White?

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On Sept. 4, Democrat incumbent Jesse White appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. Watch the video above to find out why he’s running for re-election as Illinois secretary of state.

The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates running for Illinois secretary of state a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. Democratic nominee Jesse White submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:


What will be your priorities as secretary of state?

White: Since I took office in 1999, we have made the roads safer, improved customer service and changed the culture of an office once beset by institutional corruption and wrongdoing.

If re-elected, I will continue to work to make our roads even safer. While we have had successes in this regard – Illinois is considered a national leader in traffic safety – I believe we can still make improvements. We implemented one of the most comprehensive Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device (BAIID) programs in the nation. Our Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program is widely viewed as among the best in the U.S. As a result, DUI and teen driving fatalities have been cut in half. We were one of the first states to pass a complete ban on texting while driving and expanded it further this year by making a first offense a moving violation that goes on a driver’s permanent record. Nevertheless, I want to crack down further on driving while intoxicated, statutory summary suspensions and distracted driving.

We have upgraded the issuance process and security features to the Illinois driver’s license/ID card design to better protect citizens from fraud and identity theft. We are implementing the federally mandated REAL ID program and will be fully REAL ID compliant early next year.

I will continue to use technology creatively to improve customer service and shorten wait times in facilities — even though wait times are shorter now than ever before. And regarding the culture of the office, I will continue with my zero tolerance policy for unethical behavior. Working with Jim Burns, my Inspector General and former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, we will continue to ensure employees serve the public admirably and we will not tolerate any forms of misconduct or wrongdoing.

In addition, I will continue to run the office efficiently, with a vigilant eye on saving taxpayer dollars. I will continue to look for new and innovative ways to grow the Organ/Tissue Donor registry beyond the current record size of 6.5 million currently registered.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White shows the new driver's license that will feature upgraded security left) and the temporary paper license that will be issued at license facilities. | Rich Hein for the Sun-Times

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White shows the new driver’s license that will feature upgraded security left) and the temporary paper license that will be issued at license facilities. | Rich Hein for the Sun-Times


Who is Jesse White?

He’s running for: Illinois Secretary of State

His political/civic background: Illinois Secretary of State; Cook County Recorder of Deeds; Illinois State Representative; Jesse White Tumbling Team; U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division; Illinois National Guard and Reserve.

His occupation: Illinois Secretary of State

His education: B.S. from Alabama State College (now Alabama State University)

Campaign website:

Twitter: @JesseWhite2018

Illinois continues to struggle with massive debt and unfunded pension liabilities. How will you trim expenses in the office of secretary of state?

White: My administration is committed to continue using taxpayer dollars wisely. In fact, during the last nine years of my tenure, the General Revenue Fund portion of my office’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget is nearly $2.4 million less than my office’s GRF portion in Fiscal Year 2010.

We will continue to cut back on spending in many areas, including hiring, overtime, travel, and printing.

The overall number of employees in my office has decreased and is approximately 500 fewer than the Edgar and Ryan Administrations, with approximately 3,600 employees today. Yet we continue to add new responsibilities – many through our initiatives and some new laws mandated by the General Assembly. We are doing more with less, and we have been successful due to creatively streamlining operations and the use of new innovations in technology. And we are always looking at spending taxpayer dollars wisely and frugally.

What more might be done to reduce the incidence of drunk driving in Illinois?

White: I have worked to help make the roads of Illinois as safe as possible. While we have had successes in this regard – Illinois is considered a national leader in traffic safety – I believe we can still make improvements. We implemented one of the most comprehensive Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device (BAIID) programs in the nation and as a result, drunk driving fatalities have been cut in half.

Nevertheless, I believe we can and should do more to combat drunk driving. One area I will focus on is statutory summary suspensions. I want to change the law to make it more difficult for judges to rescind statutory summary suspensions. I envision such a law change would require the judiciary, in cases in which a statutory summary suspension is rescinded, to provide a factual basis for the rescission. In addition, I want to triple the length of time in which a drunk driver is considered a first-time offender under the state’s statutory summary suspension law. Currently, under the statutory summary suspension law, motorists are considered first time DUI offenders if more than five years has passed since their last DUI. I want to increase this time period to 15 years.



A more recent threat to safety on our roads is distracted driving. Drivers who are on the phone or texting are causing accidents. What can be done about it?

White: I’m proud of the fact that nearly 10 years ago we led the effort to crack down on texting while driving and talking on a cell phone while driving. In fact, Illinois was one of the first states to pass a complete ban on texting while driving for all drivers on all roads. This year we expanded it further by making a first offense a moving violation that goes on a driver’s permanent record. I believe it is critical to keep strengthening the laws and penalties for distracted driving offenses while also leveraging public awareness campaigns with the help of law enforcement agencies to make it clear to the motoring public of all ages that distracted driving – and especially texting while driving – will not be tolerated.

Two major automakers, Toyota of Japan and Audi of German, have requested federal permission to use “adaptive beam” headlights — the standard in Europe — to improve the ability of drivers to see at night. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been sitting on the request for four years. Do you favor adaptive beam headlights, and as Illinois secretary of state would you advocate for them?

White: I favor technology that demonstrably improves traffic safety and will help lead to fewer crashes, fewer injuries and fewer deaths on our roads. I want to be clear, however, that a topic such as this – which involves the vehicle and its various components – falls under the auspices of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and not the Secretary of State. That said, I will in-struct my staff to contact IDOT and work with them to see if we can be of any help in this matter, with the goal being fewer crashes and fewer injuries and deaths.

Do you believe that the Secretary of State police are necessary? Please explain.

White: Yes. Secretary of State Police fulfill an important role that is not covered by already over-burdened state and local police agencies. The Secretary of State Police is responsible for the enforcement of the motor vehicle theft statutes and the regulation of the automotive industry, covering more than 15,000 licensees including new and used dealers, used part dealers, repairers and rebuilders. The Secretary of State Police oversee the Capitol Police force that provides security for the more than 20 buildings that comprise the capitol complex in Springfield. In addition, the Secretary of State Police also houses the Hazardous Devices Unit (HDU), a collection of highly trained technicians who respond to and render safe various bomb threats when called upon by law enforcement agencies and the public throughout the state.

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Do you, or would you, accept campaign contributions from secretary of state employees, contractors or suppliers?

White: No, I do not accept contributions from employees. In fact, years ago I set strict fund-raising policies prohibiting employee contributions. This action was part of my response to addressing an office that was under a cloud of controversy when I first became Secretary of State. I committed myself from Day One to combating institutional corruption and wrongdoing and changing the culture of the office. I hired Jim Burns, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, as my Inspector General. We instituted a zero tolerance policy on unethical behavior. We instituted legislation to make the position of inspector general permanent with broad powers to root out corruption. We established a code of conduct for employees, which included strict fund-raising policies prohibiting them from making employee contributions.

What’s the biggest difference, relevant to the running of this office, between you and your opponent?

White: My record as secretary of state and the accomplishments we have achieved while in office. Wait times in Driver Services facilities are shorter than ever before. The culture of the office, once be-set by scandal and corruption, has been overhauled and changed to one that vigorously pursues and roots out any form of wrongdoing or unethical behavior. The roads of Illinois are among the safest in the nation. Since we established our state’s nationally recognized Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program, teen driving deaths in Illinois have dropped by more than 50 percent. Our innovative BAIID program was one of the first of its kind in the nation, and drunk driving deaths have been cut in half during my tenure. National studies highlight Illinois as a national leader in traffic safety as a result. I am proud of these accomplishments as well as many others that my administration has achieved.

In addition, I’d like to highlight the unique experiences I have developed over the years working with young people through the Jesse White Tumbling Team, which I founded in 1959, and as a former school teacher and administrator in Chicago Public Schools for 33 years. I have been able to use these experiences in a way to effectively communicate with teens and to be able to show them that my concern for their well-being is genuine. I believe this helped play a role in our heralded success in saving teen lives through our state’s Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) pro-gram. I am always looking for ways that I can help young people find the right path to success so they too will someday be able to make a positive impact on society. This is my goal each and every day of my life.

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October 1, 2018 at 01:25PM

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