With more than 23 years in office as a wildly popular secretary of state, Democrat Jesse White has finally decided to hang up his spurs.
The 88-year-old has been hinting about retirement for the last couple of terms. And that has opened the floodgates to candidates from his own party who would have been loath to challenge him, as well as a pair of Republicans who see opportunities in what could be a red wave in November.
Among the Democrats are: former state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias; Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia; David Moore, who represents Chicago’s 17th Ward on the city council; and Chicago entrepreneur Sidney Moore, who has been largely absent from campaign events and interviews.
For the Republicans, the candidates are 20-year state Rep. Dan Brady of Bloomington and John Milhiser, a former Sangamon County state’s attorney and U.S. attorney for the Central District of Illinois.
Each candidate from both parties has a deep appreciation that the Secretary of State’s Office is all about customer service. Most of us know the office as the place to go for driver’s licenses and license plates. Few of us emerge from visits to a driver’s license facility with happy stories to tell, so there clearly is work to be done. But the office is much more than that, employing some 4,000 workers who also handle business licensing, the state library system, registration of lobbyists and financial advisers, the entire Capitol Complex, providing official record keeping for the state and protection of historical documents. It also promotes safe driving habits and organ donation.
Alexi Giannoulias knows something about how to run a constitutional office, having been elected state treasurer when he was 30. Since then, he was appointed chairman of the Illinois Community College system and has pursued private sector ventures.
What Giannoulias brings is a well-crafted plan for addressing the challenges of the office, with a primary focus on customer service. He wants to create a smartphone app that would allow users to conduct many of their transactions with the office at home or on a smartphone, bypassing a DMV facility. And he wants customers to be able to download materials to ensure they have what they need when they pay a visit.
As anyone knows, the workings of the DMV haven’t kept pace with the rapid development of technological tools, but we’re confident Giannoulias could introduce the tech that would finally put a dent in wait times and simplify processes.
He also advocates — as do other candidates — having community colleges around the state working in concert with the secretary of state’s office to extend services, which is especially important south of the Chicago metropolitan area.
Giannoulias, Valencia and Moore largely agree on many issues, but during a Union League of Chicago forum last week, Giannoulias and Valencia agreed Illinois should require motorcyclists to wear helmets, while Moore said only minors should be mandated to.
Moore is a thoughtful candidate who shares many of the same ideas on improving the office, but he doesn’t present quite the same detailed plan. A lack of name recognition could erode the Democrats’ chances of winning in November.
Anna Valencia has similar views. But she is handicapped by the fact she failed to disclose her husband’s lobbying activities on her ethics forms. She waved it off as an oversight, but she’s running for a position that has oversight of the registration and activities of lobbyists. That’s a difficult flaw to overcome.
Giannoulias is endorsed.