Column: Labor seems to be liking Alexi Giannoulias’ secretary of state bid

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Alexi Giannoulias, pictured in a 2010 file photo, is running for Illinois secretary of state.

Alexi Giannoulias, pictured in a 2010 file photo, is running for Illinois secretary of state. (Brian Kersey / Getty Images)

By this time next year, we should know who has made the Illinois primary election cut and will grace the Nov. 8 ballot. While most of us enjoyed an extended Fourth of July weekend, pols have been hard at work.

None of them has been working harder than Alexi Giannoulias, a Democrat who wants to be the next Illinois secretary of state. He has been rapidly picking up endorsements across the Land of Lincoln in an effort to succeed the popular Jesse White, Illinois’ longest-serving secretary of state.

White, who turned 87 last month, is the first African American to hold the post and has been in office since 1999.

Most years, Illinois voters have cast primary ballots in what usually is a raw Tuesday near the end of March. Next year, under a wide-ranging voting measure signed last month by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the primary election will be held June 28.

That March election date always left candidates a campaign breather until the November election. Illinois now moves into unknown territory in a shortened election cycle, a position where other states have been for decades.

With a June election, candidates will begin circulating their petitions of candidacy Jan. 13 and filing them with the Illinois State Board of Elections or county clerks between March 7-14, 2022. In-person early voting would begin May 19.

That is if redistricting maps for Congress and the Legislature pass legal muster. U.S. Census data, used to draw new political districts, has been delayed by the pandemic.

Complete local population and demographic data from the 2020 Census is not expected until mid-August at the earliest. It was supposed to be available by March last year.

Giannoulias doesn’t have to worry about census figures. He has to fret about support within the party in what is expected to be a donnybrook among Democrats.

Besides Giannoulias, currently there are three other announced Democrats, all Chicagoans, seeking the post. They include Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia and two city aldermen, Pat Dowell and David Moore. On the GOP side are state Reps. Dan Brady of Bloomington and Tom Demmer of Dixon, who have been reported as mulling a potential bid.

Hopefully, one of the candidates has ideas to bring the office into the 21st century. Long lines and slow service at driver’s license facilities have been frustrating to state motorists and have only gotten worse over the past few months.

The Secretary of State’s Office is the second-largest Illinois constitutional office after the governor’s office. It employs more than 4,000 Illinoisans who mainly dispense our driver’s licenses and register our motor vehicles. The office also is the steward of official state records, is in charge of the massive state Capitol complex in Springfield and administers the state library, including handing out grants to local libraries.

It’s also been seen as a steppingstone to higher office. Republicans Jim Edgar and George Ryan leveraged the secretary of state’s post to governorships; Democrat Alan Dixon to a U.S. Senate seat.

Giannoulias, state treasurer from 2007 to 2011, has statewide campaign experience. He has also been picking up steam among Illinois building trades unions. Just the other day he received the backing of the Laborers’ International Union, less than a week after being endorsed by the Teamsters.

So far, he’s garnered the support of more than a half dozen Illinois unions, powerful tools in a Democratic primary election where politically active members can prod get-out-the vote drives.

He’s also racking up endorsements from elected Democrats across Illinois. The financier has also taken an early lead in the all-important fundraising race, with so far more than $1.5 million set aside for campaigning.

While Giannoulias is Chicago-centric, Lake County voters may remember him from his U.S. Senate run in 2010 against then-Congressman Mark Kirk of Highland Park. He barely lost to Kirk who won the rancorous general election by a 1.6% margin, 48% to 46.4%. It was one of the closest Senate elections in 2010.

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Kirk was the state’s last GOP senator and was defeated by the state’s now-junior senator, Tammi Duckworth, in 2016. Her seat will be up for reelection next year.

Plans for many a state pol could change, though, if Democrat Gov. J.B. Pritzker passes on seeking a second four-year term. Until that happens, Giannoulias continues on a steady road toward the secretary of state’s office.

Charles Selle is a former News-Sun reporter, political editor and editor.

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July 7, 2021 at 05:05PM

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