For most Illinoisans, a visit to one of the state’s euphemistically named driver’s services facilities makes going to the dentist for a root canal feel like eating a juicy Italian beef on a beautiful day on the lakefront.
At the DMV, which is not likely to be all that close to where you live, there is a line to get you into the line meant for people … waiting in line. If you make into even the first of those lines, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get that driving test because the DMV does not follow the Disney rule of serving everyone who arrives before closing time, but instead imposes unpublished cutoffs, meaning that eager teen drivers have no idea if they will make it through in time.
Over the last two years, drivers heading north on Elston Avenue in Chicago, to cite one example, could see a snaking line of freezing Chicagoans, just trying to make it inside to get their plates renewed.
For this reason, it’s absurd to see the office of secretary of state through a partisan lens. It makes more sense for voters to try and figure out which candidate will best improve this most customer-service oriented of public offices.
The choice is between state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, 61, and a longtime funeral home operator; Chicago Democrat and former state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, 46; and Libertarian Jon Stewart, a former professional wrestler from Deerfield.
Both Brady and Giannoulias are credible, likable candidates for the office, each with a strong record of public service. We think both of them would dedicate themselves to the job and serve competently. That’s why we endorsed them in their respective primaries.
Brady and Giannoulias met with the Tribune Editorial Board for a frank discussion about their approach to this office, soon to be vacated by the retiring Democrat Jesse White, a beloved figure in Illinois politics. Unsurprisingly, both candidates say they enjoy strong relationships with their predecessor, although White notably threw his endorsement in the primaries behind Giannoulias’ rival, Anna Valencia.
During the primary, Valencia brought up questionable loans made by the now-failed Broadway Bank, founded by Giannoulias’ father, Alexis. That family history featured in the younger Giannoulias’ 2010 Senate campaign, although he left the bank in 2006 and his subsequent term as state treasurer was seen as clean and corruption-free.
Both Brady and the younger Giannoulias agree that the secretary of state’s office is in need of reform and that many of the digital innovations now familiar in other areas of our lives, including some government-mandated areas such as transportation security and passport renewal, are overdue when it comes to services for motorists.
When we asked for specifics, Brady stressed the need to “cross-train” employees at driver’s services facilities and create a service-by-appointment procedure to alleviate wait times. He also spent much of his time with us discussing his idea to use the system of community colleges in Illinois to supplement existing driver’s services facilities.
His rationale was that these schools already are well-equipped with technological security and funded by Illinois taxpayers. It wasn’t entirely clear whether he was proposing new satellite facilities or back-end processing centers, but Brady clearly saw this as a way to expand services to drivers and vehicle owners without a big cost to taxpayers.
However, he also discussed his plan to reduce vehicle registration fees by $50 during his first year in office. Brady insisted that this would be affordable for the state and would be a way to help cash-strapped motorists.
But there are 11 million vehicles registered in Illinois. Even if 1 million of those vehicles do not renew their registration in a given year, that still appears to amount to a loss in revenue of some $500 million which would need to be plugged. Brady insisted that this was not the case, but even at the end of our session, we couldn’t fully understand his math. And, since we have editorialized against schemes that look like vote-getting giveaways (already a feature of the mayoral race in Chicago), we found this aspect of Brady’s plan to be problematic.
Giannoulias appeared further along in his thinking on how to enhance the digital capabilities of the office, discussing with us his ideas for a new secretary of state app (long overdue) and developing a digital driver’s license, meaning that you would be able to carry around your license on your smartphone. And, of course, that would also allow for instant updating.
Brady rightly pointed out the real dangers of cybercrime and identity theft, but Illinoisans already carry their credit cards and other sensitive documents on their phones. And digitization (to varying degrees) already has happened in other states, including Arizona, Delaware, Oklahoma and Colorado. Much attention has been paid to security. As Giannoulias said, “Illinois doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel.”
Clearly, though, with the Department of Homeland Security already having indicated a willingness to use these digital licenses in conjunction with the looming requirement for the “REAL ID,” now slated to be required from May onward, the digital train is leaving fast and Illinois needs to be onboard. Within a decade or so, those visits to the secretary of state likely will be entirely doable online. Instead of printing stickers and licenses, the office’s employees may be simply making keystrokes. But we trust driving tests still will be on real roads.
One frequent rap against the ambitious Giannoulias is that his myriad political ambitions appear to lie beyond the office he’s running for now. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2010, losing to Republican Mark Kirk.
But he has assured us that he’ll complete his term and dedicate himself to these duties, which include using the office as a bully pulpit to promote driver safety, especially among teen drivers, and we take him at his word.
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October 13, 2022 at 07:05AM