Jim Dey | Big field of candidates angling for secretary of state’s job


While Secretary of State Jesse White goes about his business, a small army of ambitious Democrats are trying to figure out how to replace him.

Just as was the case with longtime Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan before him, White’s lengthy tenure has tried the patience of would-be successors. But with White’s pledge to retire after completing his sixth term in 2022, the field of candidates has been steadily growing, even though the party’s primary election is more than 15 months away.

The latest candidate to officially express her interest is Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia, a 35-year-old native of Alton who graduated from the University of Illinois intent on a career in politics.

In addition to Valencia, other candidates who have announced interest or are reported to be interested are former state Treasurer and unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias, Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, state Sen. Michael Hastings of Tinley Park and Chicago Alderman Walter Burnett.

Kent Redfield, a retired political-science professor from the University of Illinois-Springfield, said he is not surprised by the broad interest or the early announcements by those wishing to succeed White.

“You want to get there first. You’d like to clear the field. You’d like to get money on the table to discourage other candidates,” he said.

Redfield speculated that by the time the full field of candidates is in place, there will be representatives from every demographic and every region in the state.

That was pretty much the case in 2018, when eight candidates competed for their party’s nomination to succeed the retiring Lisa Madigan as attorney general. Then Chicago state Sen. Kwame Raoul won the Democratic primary and then the general election, defeating Champaign lawyer Erika Harold.

The duties of the secretary of state’s office are administrative and hardly glamorous. It keeps the state’s records, laws, library and archives and oversees corporation registration, vehicle registration and driver licensing.

But the office is considered attractive because it is relatively high profile, controls hundreds of jobs and can be effective in attracting campaign contributions. That makes it a useful launching pad for ambitious pols intent on moving up.

Longtime U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon, two-term Gov. Jim Edgar and former Gov. George Ryan are among the state’s politicians who have used the office to move up the ranks.

In contrast, once White was elected secretary of state, he stayed right where he was. In the process, he has become one of the state’s most popular public officials, repeatedly winning re-election by landslide margins.

Initially elected in 1998, the 86-year-old White announced two years ago that he would not run for a seventh term in 2022.

He said he is looking “forward to the final two years of this term” and called his office a great vehicle to “help people.”

“We are the state agency that works closest with people on a daily basis,” he said.

White told The News-Gazette that he “never intended to use the secretary of state’s office as a stepping stone.”

“The number-one priority is to serve the public, and I would encourage anyone running for this office to keep this in mind,” he said in response to an inquiry from The News-Gazette.

Although White appears steadfast in his pledge to retire, he could change his mind and run again. Some wonder if he will because he has in the past.

In 2015, White indicated he would not run for re-election to a sixth term in 2018. He subsequently changed his mind and won another easy re-election.

The large field of candidates reflects more than just than ambitions of political wannabes. It also demonstrates the declining power of political parties to pick and choose from among their candidates.

Time was that both parties, particularly the Democrats exercising the power of Chicago’s political machine, slated candidates who would run with their official endorsements.

Mavericks — one was former Gov. Dan Walker — occasionally challenged party power brokers over not being slated and ran anyhow. Now candidates signal their interest and, if they can gain support and campaign contributions, run regardless of what party chieftains think.

The big field “is just a further indication that political parties don’t control things the way they used to,” Redfield said.

via The News-Gazette

December 13, 2020 at 02:24PM

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