August 29, 2018


There are certain personal and financial benefits that accrue to the young woman chosen annually as Miss America. One of them is not being Illinois' attorney general.

There was a time when a Miss America was a minor celebrity and would draw rapt attention from the public and the media for whatever she did or said during her yearlong reign, and when pageants were primetime events. Now the whole process is derided as a sexist anachronism.

Only one Miss America has been able to translate her fleeting fame into political advantage, and that was Bess Myerson, the first Jewish winner in 1945, who went on to become a TV celebrity, then New York City's consumer affairs and later cultural affairs commissioner, but lost the Democratic U.S. Senate primary in 1980.

Following in her footsteps is Erika Harold, 2003 Miss America and Harvard Law graduate, who works for a "blue chip" law firm. She is the 2018 Republican candidate for Illinois attorney general. Quite bluntly, she had an easier time winning a pageant against 49 competitors than she has of winning the Nov. 6 election against Democratic state Senator Kwame Raoul, because of you know, politics. Both candidates are well funded - Harold by Governor Bruce Rauner (R) and his allies, Raoul by Mike Madigan (D) and union, tobacco, gaming, utility and liberal sources. And both candidates recognize that whoever occupies the office through 2022 will have special power.

Of the 50 state attorney generals, 22 are Democrats and 27 Republicans. Over the next 2 years, as the Trump Administration continues to invite brutal political assault, every attorney general will have the power to file lawsuits and litigate issues, and the more aggressive Democrats will. It should be noted that after passage of Obamacare a coterie of Republican attorneys general filed a flurry of federal actions to eviscerate and invalidate portions of that law in their states, and that continued until the U.S. Supreme Court validated the act.

In Illinois, the next attorney general will be involved in the enforcement of the upcoming consent decree on Chicago policing practices, allocation of the tobacco settlement, restrictions on redistricting, abortion rights if Roe v. Wade is overturned, video gambling now that bans have been invalidated, and future presidential executive orders concerning immigration, environmental and healthcare issues.

Unlike an "aggrieved" private sector special interest, an AG has the standing and resources - and, especially if they are Democrat, the incentive - to go into federal court with alacrity against any perceived Trump "abomination." If Raoul wins, as expected, he will be very busy.
Outgoing incumbent Lisa Madigan (D) has compiled a worthy record in the past 16 years, particularly on consumer issues, but she has labored under the cloud of her father, Speaker Madigan. Regardless of her good deeds, there was always the sneaking suspicion that she could be doing more, but didn't do more, because of Big Daddy's ties to the myriad of special interests that provided him with $5 to $7 million in donations each campaign cycle. Acknowledging the reality that she could not be governor as long as her father was speaker, she retired.

But the next AG's most critical task, from the perspective of Illinois Democrats and Madigan, will come in 2021 after the 2020 census and the redraw of congressional and legislative districts. The Supreme Court has ruled that "political considerations" can no longer be utilized in drawing state political maps - like in Illinois. The court overturned Republican-crafted remaps in North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida. Madigan will likely be around after 2020, and will draw a legislative map to keep him in power, and a congressional map to get rid of any remaining Republicans. The next AG will have to defend those maps in federal court.

Raoul in the 2018 Democratic primary, with a field of eight candidates, won with 30.2 percent. Lisa Madigan announced her retirement in 2017, and Raoul raised and spent $2.38 million in 6 months. One doesn't raise that kind of money that quickly from special interests if one isn't going to protect the status quo. Raoul will. In the senate for 14 years, Raoul voted in lockstep with President John Cullerton (D), with not a single instance of dissent from the Democratic majority. Raoul is attempting to portray himself as a new, fresh face that will be an "independent." But if elected he will be more of the same old, same old.

The ubiquitous former governor Pat Quinn was Raoul's principal foe in the primary, and he got 27.2 percent. A possible Quinn win struck terror into the heart of the Democratic establishment, as he would use his legal powers to further his populist, anti-Madigan agenda. Quinn got 352,425 votes to Raoul's 390,472 in the race which included Scott Drury, Jesse Ruiz, Nancy Rotering, Sharon Fairly, Aaron Goldstein and Renato Mariotti.

Those six got a combined 42.6 percent, or 340,199 votes. Quinn entered the race with universal name recognition, raised and spent $1.9 million, about two-thirds of Raoul's, but lacked Raoul's ground game in Chicago and black base.

Cook County was determinative, casting 65 percent of the statewide total, and Raoul got 272,261 countywide votes, to Quinn's 177,270 votes. Raoul topped Quinn 165,325-100,271 in Chicago, getting 55 to 70 percent of the vote in the black-majority wards. He topped Quinn 107,246-76,999 in the suburbs. Of Raoul's 390,472 statewide votes, 272,677, or 69.8 percent, came from Cook County. In the wards of white party insiders, like the 19th, 13th and 23rd wards on the Southwest Side, Raoul got barely 20 percent, as was the case on the Northwest Side. In the liberal Lakefront wards, Raoul finished first, with 30 to 35 percent.

Harold, along with her ally Rauner, had primaries against more conservative foes. Rauner won his 372,124-350,038 and Harold won hers 389,197-268,688.

The fundamental difference between Raoul and Harold is that he views the office as a platform for advocacy, while she views it as a venue of enforcement. According to her Web site, Harold pledges to "work for the people, not the powerful," and to use the powers of the office to fight public corruption, find "restorative" ways to keep non-violent offenders out of prison, to seek accountability from state government, prevent workplace harassment, reform worker's compensation, and combat opioid addiction.

Raoul's Web site portrays his role as more of an advocate than administrator. In fact, he seems to want to be a super-state senator. He says the will "fight gun violence," with "more penalties for gun offenders and gun traffickers," will "protect" healthcare and voting rights, as well as women's rights, and will oppose reimposition of the death penalty. These are not part of the job description of the AG's office. Raoul also ripped Mayor Rahm Emanuel for his comment about the "lack of morals" in the black community.

As of June 30, Raoul had $783,513 on-hand, and Harold $232,449 on-hand. Both have begun an intensive media campaign, with Raoul tying Harold to Rauner and Harold to Madigan.
The AG's office has divisions that focus on consumer protection, elder abuse, crime victims, public utilities, public interest, environment and criminal appeals. All have the capacity to generate media headlines. But most critical, from a political standpoint, is the government representation division, which can be reactive if the state or legislature is sued by the feds, and proactive if the feds have to be sued. The job is a great platform for publicity, almost all of it positive.

However, dating back to the early 1900s, being Illinois' AG has been a steppingstone to nowhere. Not a single attorney general has won election as governor or senator. Democrat Bill Clark (1960-68) lost for senator in 1968; Republican Bill Scott (1968-81) lost for senator in 1980; Democrat Neil Hartigan (1982-90) lost for governor in 1990; Democrat Roland Burris (1990-94) lost for governor in 1994; and Republican Jim Ryan (1994-2002) lost for governor in 2002. Raoul may be the exception, as he is viewed among Democratic insiders as the heir apparent to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D), the current senate minority whip, who is expected to run for re-election in 2020 but retire in 2026, when he will be age 81. Other Democrats eyeing the seat are U.S. Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-8) and state Comptroller Susana Mendoza.

The outlook: Rauner beat Quinn in 2014 because the Democrat did not carry Cook County by 500,000 votes, as is customary for Democrats - and necessary for a statewide win. 2018 will not be 2014. Rauner will lose to J.B. Pritzker by 475,000 votes, and Harold will lose to Raoul by 425,000.

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