State’s elected officials have great job security
by RUSS STEWART
There is in Illinois an official Department of Employment Security, which handles unemployment compensation and addresses wage claims. There also is, unofficially, a "Division of Re-Election Security," which includes the state constitutional offices of treasurer, comptroller, attorney general and secretary of state. Get elected to any of those offices and it’s a lifetime gig. Employment security, meaning re-election, is guaranteed.
Here’s a fact: In 21 elections since 1952, 33 incumbents occupying those offices sought re-election, and a 28, or 85 percent, won. The most recent loser was Republican Comptroller George Lindberg n 1976; prior losers were in 1960 and 1952. The only one to lose a primary was Democratic Treasurer James Donnewald in 1986.
In those 21 elections, 40 candidates were victorious. Of those 40 incumbents, 31 attempted to run for higher statewide office, usually governor or senator, and a few attempted to "step up" from lieutenant governor, comptroller or treasurer to secretary of state or attorney general. Only nine, or just 29 percent, won.
Illinois doesn’t need term limits. Historically, every statewide office has been a revolving door. Everybody aspires higher.
For 2014, Republican Treasurer Dan Rutherford is stepping up to run for governor and Democratic Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon is stepping down to run for comptroller, as a steppingstone to run for senator in 2016. Simon, who is the daughter of the late senator Paul Simon, will face the Republicans’ "Iron Lady," Judy Baar Topinka, who was the state treasurer from 1994 to 2006, who lost to Rod Blagojevich for governor in 2006, and who stepped sideways to win comptroller in 2010.
Poor judgment or a poor political environment, not to mention exalted egotism, takes a toll among state office holders. Unlike the governor, who is held accountable, the record of occupants of down-ballot state offices is vague, and their path to longevity is simple: Don’t screw up or get enmeshed in scandals, slap your name (especially if you’re the secretary of state) on every public document, and generate plenty of publicity, which is invariably positive, since it’s self-generated.
Illinois’ voters habitually re-elect familiar incumbents, so it takes a real effort to lose. Here’s a historical recitation:
Lieutenant Governor: It’s a veritable Death Valley. Democrats Sherwood Dixon and Paul Simon and Republican Corrine Wood lost bids for governor in 1952, 1972 and 2002, respectively. Republicans Dave O’Neal and Bob Kustra lost bids for U.S. senator in 1980 and 1996, and both then quit. Democrat Neil Hartigan, who was elected in 1972 with Dan Walker, lost in 1976 with Mike Howlett, then came back to win for attorney general in 1982.
George Ryan, who served from 1982 to 1990, understood the pecking order. In 1990, when Governor Jim Thompson retired, Ryan deferred to Secretary of State Jim Edgar, ran for Edgar’s job, and then succeeded Edgar as governor in 1998.
The resignation of Governor Otto Kerner in 1968 and the impeachment of Rod Blagojevich in 2009 elevated Sam Shapiro and Pat Quinn to the governorship. In their retention bids, only Quinn won. Neither would have ever been nominated for governor had they not been lieutenant governor.
Attorney General: The office provides the "Midas Touch." Everything turns to gold. Every lawsuit gets positive headlines, since the attorney general is suing polluters, shysters, consumer defrauders, corporate thieves and sundry bad guys, but not a single state attorney general in Illinois’ 195-year history been elected governor or senator.
Republican Bill Scott pioneered media manipulation and saturation. I witnessed the operation firsthand as a Consumer Fraud division law clerk during the summer of 1977. The office’s dozen divisions each had a chief and a press aide, and every lawsuit, of which two or three were filed daily, merited a press release, which began: "Attorney General William J. Scott today sued . . ." Scott’s image was that of the good guy and the tough guy, thanks entirely to the efforts of his underlings.
Elected in 1968 after being treasurer from 1962 to 1966 and losing the 1964 Republican governor primary, Scott was re-elected in 1972 by a margin of 1,146,047 votes, in 1976 by 1,116,213 votes, and in 1978 by 939,579 votes. Scott then got involved in a messy divorce, with allegations of cash stashed in safety deposit boxes. He ran for senator in 1980, lost the primary, and was convicted of tax fraud.
Scott’s predecessor, Democrat Bill Clark, was elected in 1960 and lost a 1968 bid for senator. His successor, Ty Fahner, who was appointed by Thompson, tried to use the Tylenol tampering case to ensure his retention, but Fahner lost to Hartigan in 1982 by 544,689 votes. Hartigan lost to Edgar for governor in 1990 by 83,909 votes. Hartigan’s successor was Democrat Roland Burris, the comptroller from 1978 to 1990 who lost bids for governor in 1994, 1998 and 2002 and for Chicago mayor in 1995 and who was appointed U.S. senator in 2009.
Republican Jim Ryan won the job in 1994 and 1998 and was enormously popular, but in a horrendous Republican year, with scandal surrounding George Ryan, he lost to Blagojevich for governor in 2002 by 252,080 votes. Democrat Lisa Madigan, the daughter of the Illinois House Speaker, replaced Ryan, winning by 114,946 votes in 2002, by 1,677,210 votes in 2006, and by 1,225,296 votes in 2010. She won’t run for governor in 2014, but she has generated an avalanche of positive press, and she surely will be re-elected. By 2018 Madigan will be Illinois’ longest serving attorney general. Does she run for governor? It depends on whether Mike Madigan is still speaker and Quinn is still governor. If a Republican wins in 2014, she’ll go for it.
Secretary of State: There are 12.8 million Illinoisans, of whom 9 million are drivers. They get annual or periodic mailings for license plate, emission testing and driver’s license renewals. They go to driver testing facilities, and if incorporated, incorporators receive annual renewals.
White’s name is everywhere, and nobody takes umbrage. Republican Charles Carpentier, who was elected in 1952, was popular enough to withstand the 1960 Democratic sweep, and he was running for governor in 1964 when he died.
White, age 79 and a cinch to win a fifth term in 2014, likely will retire in 2018, and a horde of contenders covet the job. Only three of Illinois’ 43 governors held the office: Edgar from 1981 to 1990, Ryan from 1990 to 1998 and Louis Emmerson from 1916 to 1928. Alan Dixon (1976 to 1980) was elected to the U.S. Senate. No incumbent has lost since 1952.
Treasurer: In the past the state’s banker was limited to a single 2-year term. They could invest the state’s money in any bank they chose, at whatever interest they chose. Len Small (1905 to 1907 and 1917 to 1919) was indicted after allegedly depositing funds in a fictional bank, loaning it out at 6 percent interest, and paying the state 2 percent. He was acquitted, but he later paid a civil judgment of $650,000. Small was elected governor in 1920. In 1962 the term expanded to 4 years, and in 1974 re-election was permitted.
Two of the eight treasurers since 1970 were re-elected, Dixon in 1974 and Topinka in 1998 and 2002. One, Donnewald, was defeated in the primary. The rest bailed quickly. Jerry Cosentino (1978 to 1982 and 1986 to 1990) lost bids for secretary of state in 1982 and 1990, as did Pat Quinn in 1994 after serving one term, while Alan Dixon won the job in 1976 after serving 6 years. Topinka (1994 to 2006) lost for governor in 2006, and Alexi Giannulias (2006 to 2010) lost for senator in 2010.
Rutherford, an obscure state senator from Pontiac, defeated Democratic state Representative Robin Kelly by 161,049 votes amid the 2010 Republican trend. Giannulias won in 2006 by 432,554 votes. Rutherford carried 98 of 102 counties and lost Cook County by 387,393 votes, while Republican candidate for governor Bill Brady also won 98 counties but lost Cook County by 500,553 votes. A Republican wins statewide by losing Cook County by fewer than 400,000 votes and carrying the Collar Counties by 150,000 votes and Downstate by 250,000 votes.
The 2014 contenders are 22-year state Representative Tom Cross of Oswego, the Illinois House minority leader, and state Senator Mike Frerichs (D-52) of Champaign. Cross, because of his Downstate legislative network, cleared his primary. Frerichs is unknown north of Interstate 80. A number of black Chicagoans are pondering a primary challenge. Cross could win, and if he does he’ll run for higher office in 2018.
Comptroller: The comptroller is the state’s bookkeeper, and the office is a revolving door, with limited upward mobility. After beating Lindberg in 1976, Democrat Mike Bakalis lost for governor in 1978. Burris kept the job for 12 years, winning for attorney general in 1990. Dawn Clark Netsch, lost to Edgar for governor in 1994, Democrat Loleta Didrickson lost a Senate primary in 1996 and bailed out in 1998. Dan Hynes won three terms but lost a 2004 senate primary to Barack Obama and a 2010 primary for governor to Quinn.
Topinka, age 69, who Blagojevich spent $27 million to bury in 2006, benefited from voters’ remorse in 2010, getting 52.7 percent of the vote and winning by a 429,876 votes over an obscure legislator. Topinka won 100 counties and lost Cook County by 209,549 votes.
Without Obama atop the ticket to drive Democratic and African-American turnout, 2014 will be like 2010. Simon, of Carbondale, has picked the wrong race, the wrong foe and the wrong year. She won’t come close.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.