December 31, 2008


In the Bible, Matthew quotes Christ as saying in the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."

In Illinois politics, the opposite is true. The beatitude would read, "Not blessed are lieutenant governors, for they are too meek to inherit, retain or gain the governorship."

The good news for Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn is that he will be governor sooner rather than later. Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich will be impeached and removed some time in 2009.

The bad news is that the sooner Quinn succeeds Blagojevich, the quicker he gets the blame for the looming 2009 budget crisis.

The worst news is that, historically, the post of lieutenant governor has been a ticket to oblivion. Of the office's 42 occupants since 1830, not a single sitting lieutenant governor, nor any of the seven who succeeded to governor, has been elected governor.

Quinn hopes to delay his succession until the summer so legislative Democrats and the media can pin blame for the state's projected $5 billion budget shortfall on the "disabled" Blagojevich. State income or sales taxes will have to be raised, or spending and services will have to be significantly slashed. Quinn will have to stake out a pro-tax increase or a pro-cut position.

After replacing Blagojevich, Quinn will enjoy a brief "honeymoon." But can he milk it until the February 2010 primary?  His principal Democratic rival, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the daughter of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, will run for governor on an anti-tax, anti-corruption platform. If taxes are raised, it would be Lisa Madigan's father who compels the Illinois House to vote for them.

The Illinois Supreme Court refused to determine that Blagojevich is "disabled," as requested by the attorney general. The Illinois House must vote by a simple majority to impeach, and the Illinois Senate must vote by a two-thirds majority to convict and remove. That will occur, perhaps unanimously.

Historically, two Illinois governors have been medically "disabled," but neither was impeached nor removed. One was indicted, but not impeached. There is no legal precedent that mandates Blagojevich's removal. Here's a look at past situations:

1860: Illinois' first Republican governor was William Bissell of Belleville. A former Democrat, a Mexican War hero and a political ally of Abraham Lincoln, Bissell was elected in 1856. He also was unable to walk, allegedly because of syphilis contracted in Mexico. He never entered the State Capitol, transacting all business from his bedroom at the Executive Mansion. By 1860 he was a recluse, making no effort to govern, and he died in March. No attempt was made to remove him.

Bissell's successor was Republican John Wood of Quincy, the lieutenant governor. But Wood's ascension was too late, as the Republicans' convention had already chosen Richard Yates, a former congressman, as their candidate for governor. Yates was elected.

1872: Republican Richard Oglesby was elected governor in 1864 as a pro-war, pro-Lincoln candidate. He retired in 1868, but he ran and won in 1872. The legislature named him a U.S. senator in January of 1873. His successor was Republican John Beveridge, the lieutenant governor and a Civil War general, who governed competently for nearly 4 years. Beveridge sought a full term in 1876, but Shelby Cullom, a popular Springfield congressman, was nominated at the convention and elected by 6,798 votes.

1884: Cullom was re-elected in 1880. The legislature chose him to be a U.S. senator in February of 1883, and he served until 1913, a record 30 years in Washington. Cullom's lieutenant governor, John Hamilton of Bloomington, a protege of powerful U.S. Senator John Logan (after whom Logan Square is named), took over. In 1884 the Republicans, fearful of defeat, dumped Hamilton and chose instead former governor (1865 to 1868 and 1873) and senator (1873 to 1878) Richard Oglesby, who won a third non-consecutive term.

1920: Republican Len Small swept into the governorship on a tide of anti-Woodrow Wilson, anti-League of Nations sentiment, winning by a record margin of 511,597 votes, with 58.9 percent of the votes cast. Small, of Kankakee, had been Illinois treasurer during 1905-06 and 1917-18; at the time, state law limited the treasurer to one 2-year term. Also, the treasurer could deposit state funds in any state bank, pay the state "call money" interest rates, and pocket the difference. During his second term, Small deposited state funds in a dormant private bank in Kankakee, loaned the money to Chicago meat packers at 6 percent interest, and paid the state 2 percent.

After Small cut the budget of state Attorney General Edward Brundage in 1921, Brundage indicted Small for conspiracy and embezzlement. After a 1922 trial in Waukegan, Small was acquitted, and he was re-elected in 1924. For 2 years Illinois had an indicted governor, but no attempt was made to remove or impeach him. And, demonstrating lack of voter outrage, Small endorsed Oscar Carlstrom in the 1924 Republican primary for attorney general. He defeated Brundage in the primary and was elected.

Small was an ally of Chicago Republican boss "Swede" Lundin, the brains behind the political machine of Republican Mayor "Big Bill" Thompson, who served from 1915 to 1923 and from 1927 to 1931. In the 1920 primary, Small beat Lieutenant Governor John Oglesby, the son of the former governor, backed by outgoing Republican Governor Frank Lowden, who quit to run for president. Lowden's candidate for lieutenant governor, Fred Sterling of Rockford, won the primary and was elected, serving 12 years in the post -- a longevity record still unmatched.

Had Small been convicted, Sterling would have become governor, but Sterling made no effort to usurp power or demand Small's impeachment.

1940: Democrat Henry Horner, an obscure Jewish Chicago probate court judge, was the hand-picked candidate for governor in 1932 of the Chicago Democratic Machine headed by Mayor Anton Cermak. Cermak beat Thompson in 1931, and he was killed in the assassination attempt on President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. Horner won in 1932, but he was soon embroiled in a feud with the Chicago Kelly-Nash Machine, run by Mayor Ed Kelly and party boss Pat Nash. In 1936 Horner beat machine-backed Dr. Herman Bundesen in the primary, but Downstater John Stelle of McLeansboro, also backed by Kelly-Nash, beat Horner's candidate for lieutenant governor.

In 1938 Horner's candidate for U.S. senator defeated the Kelly-Nash Machine candidate. Shortly after the 1938 election, Horner suffered a coronary thrombosis and was incapacitated. He governed from his Executive Mansion bedroom, from Florida in the winter, and later from a Winnetka mansion. He refused to quit and allow the detested Stelle to become governor.

Stelle charged that Samuel Nudelman, Horner's finance director, was running the state as part of a "regency" and that Horner was "disabled," and he proclaimed himself governor. The secretary of state, a Kelly-Nash loyalist, refused to certify Stelle in Horner's place. In late 1939 the ailing Horner cut a deal with the Kelly-Nash minions to back Harry Hershey, Horner's insurance commissioner, for governor in 1940. Hershey beat Stelle in the primary but lost to Republican Dwight Green in the election.

Horner died in October of 1940, and Stelle became governor for a few months. Had Horner died a year earlier, Stelle would have been the nominee for governor -- and he would have lost to Green.

1952: Democrat Adlai Stevenson II was elected governor in 1948 by 572,067 votes, with 57.1 percent of the votes cast, and he was a cinch to win again in 1952, but he was nominated as the Democratic presidential candidate in June of 1952. His ballot replacement was Lieutenant Governor Sherwood Dixon of Downstate Lee County. Dixon lost to Republican Bill Stratton, age 38, a former state treasurer (1943-44 and 1951-52), by 227,642 votes, while Stevenson lost Illinois to Dwight Eisenhower by 443,407 votes. Dixon was the first sitting lieutenant governor to run for governor.

1968: Democrat Sam Shapiro, Illinois' second Jewish governor, was born in Estonia, and he came to America at age 1. He was elected Kankakee County state's attorney in 1936 and to the Illinois House in 1946. In 1960 he was slated for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Otto Kerner. In mid-1967 Kerner, after chairing a commission on civil disorders, was nominated for the federal Court of Appeals. Shapiro was slated to run for governor in 1968, and he became governor in May of 1968.

Incumbency mattered not. Shapiro lost to Republican Dick Ogilvie by 127,794 votes, while Richard Nixon won the state by 134,960 votes. Kerner was later indicted for and convicted of bribery and perjury.

1972: Democrat Paul Simon ran on the 1968 ticket with Shapiro, and he won by 96,421 votes. In 1972 he lost the primary to Dan Walker by 40,293 votes out of 1,430,093 cast.

2002: Republican Corrinne Wood lost the primary.

The scorecard: Zero for 12. Five sitting lieutenant governors succeeded to governor, but only one was thereafter nominated. Three lost primaries. Two lost elections. Two lost for U.S. senator.

Historians will note that two recent former lieutenant governors, Democrat Neil Hartigan (1973 to 1976) and Republican George Ryan (1983 to 1990), ran for governor. But they first "upgraded" and won another statewide office, Hartigan as attorney general in 1982 (and losing for governor in 1990) and Ryan as secretary of state in 1990 (and winning for governor in 1998).

For Quinn, it's too late to "upgrade." The state's "curse" on lieutenant governors continues.