February 17, 2021


Politicians sometimes have a clear grasp on reality. They know not to give up a good gig when they have one or they might end up not having one.

A "gig" is a temporary or transitory job or performance. But it especially applies to politics, where ALL jobs are temporary and transitory. HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW.

But "tomorrow" can be delayed and/or postponed. Let's take a premature look at 2022: A whole lot of statewide or Cook County Democrats who already have gigs are eyeing better gigs. Their best risk-free scenario is to run for a new gig while mid-term in one's current gig.

SECRETARY OF STATE: Chicago city clerk Anna Valencia (D) is eyeing a run for Secretary of State, the job now held by the venerable Jesse White (D), who will be retiring after 24 years. Also in the mix are lieutenant governor Juliana Stratton (D), alderman Walter Burnett (27th), and Cook County clerk Karen Yarbrough, a onetime Mike Madigan protege from Maywood. Add in state Senator Mike Hastings, from Downstate Frankfort. In a Democratic primary, identity politics matter. But if the 2022 secretary of state field approaches 10 or more, geography and money will matter more.

The early frontrunner is none other than a blast from the past: Alexi Giannoulias, elected state treasurer at age 30 in 2006. He gave up that gig in 2010 to run for U.S. senator, losing to Mark Kirk (R) 1,778,698-1,719,478 in a big Republican year. HeÕs done his decade-long penance for bad judgement. If he had kept his treasurer gig in 2010 and been re-elected in 2014, he'd likely be governor today - not J.B. Pritzker. Giannolias is well-wired in both the Greek and the banking community.

And that's exactly what Giannoulias wants - J.B.'s job. The Illinois road to the top often runs through the Secretary of State's office, a ministerial job which manages a huge database of 8.7 million drivers, 11 million registered vehicles, 466,000 active corporations, and 170,000 security salespeople.

The office regulates driver's licensing, road tests, license plate stickers, vehicle transfers, incorporations, securities regulation and the State Police. Its tentacles, at some point, reach into everybody's lives.

The bad part of the job is that you stick it to drivers every year to collect stickers, manage those wonderful facilities known as DMV's and generally collect fines and fees. The good part of the job is that there are no policy decisions. There is no need to take a position on any issue. Once in office, a SOS is impossible to beat Ð absent a scandal. White, now age 86, ran and won in 1998 - while in mid-gig as Cook County Recorder Ð and was re-elected in 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014 and with 68.3 percent in 2018.

Since 1818 Illinois has had 37 occupants of the office, of whom six were appointees. Of the 31 electees, six became governor or senator and one, oddly, a Cook County clerk. Two ran for governor but failed. Another two were involved in corruption scandals involving employee shakedowns, kickbacks and bribes for licenses.

Among early secretaries of state where Democrat Stephen A. Douglas (1840-41), who went on to become a U.S. senator (1847-61), defeating Abraham Lincoln in 1858. (Douglas just had a West Side Chicago park renamed because his wife's Mississippi family-owned slaves. The park will now be named after Frederick Douglass.)

Democrat Lyman Trumbull did likewise, serving as SOS 1841-43 and then senator (1855-73). Back then the SOS's job was just maintaining state documents and records.

The breakout occupant was James Rose (R), who won in 1896, 1900, 1904 and 1908, and began building a patronage machine Ð which continues to this day. The office has about 2,000 jobs, of which half are public service positions requiring minimal skills, paying $35-50,000 with good benefits. They are at-will employees subject to termination at any time. These spots are especially desirous Downstate.

Louis Lincoln Emmerson (R) was elected SOS in 1916, 1920 and 1924, and then governor in 1928. Edward Hughes was a Chicago Machine Democrat elected in 1932, 1936 and 1940 who knew his place. No up-gigging for him. He died during 1944 and was replaced on the ballot by another machine mediocrity, Edward Barrett, who won in 1944 and 1948. Barrett lost to Charles Carpentier (R) in 1952 and went on to be county clerk in 1954, a post he held for 19 undistinguished years. Carpentier was popular and won in 1956 and 1960, being the only Republican statewide winner that year. He was running for governor in 1964 when he died in April, two months before the June primary. Chuck Percy (R) won the nomination by default but lost to incumbent Otto Kerner (D).

Carpentier's successor was "Shoebox" Paul Powell from far Downstate Vienna, who had been House speaker for 6 years and in the House for 26 years (since 1938). Powell was re-elected in 1968 and died in October 1970. When they removed his body from his Springfield hotel room dozens of shoeboxes filled with cash were discovered in his closet. Hence, the nickname.

While SOS could be a personal piggybank, it was also a steppingstone. It was an office which could do favors, like vanity license plates and "smooth" driver's license renewals. It afforded great name ID to the occupant. Mike Howlett, a portly and jovial Chicago Democrat and Daley loyalist, had been elected state auditor in 1960, and re-elected in 1964 and 1968. With Powell gone, 1972 was HIS TURN for a new gig, and Daley slated him for SOS. Howlett won easily, but the slated Paul Simon had lost the Democratic primary for governor to Dan Walker, who beat incumbent Dick Ogilvie (R). Walker wanted to be president in 1976, so to make a national name for himself as a "reformer" he constantly goaded and battled Daley. It was like Bruce Rauner, Part I, from 1973-76.

To rid himself of his nemesis, the mayor pressured Howlett to give up his locked-in gig as SOS, which he could have held for 20 years, and primary Walker. Howlett won 811,721-696,380, and then got trounced 3,000,365-1,610,258 by Jim Thompson (R).

Meanwhile, Downstate state senator Alan Dixon of Belleville (known as "Al the Pal") had been elected to a gig as state treasurer in 1970 and re-elected in 1974. He was in mid-gig in 1976 and took a risk-free shot at SOS, which he won. The 1969 Illinois Constitutional Convention switched statewide elections from presidential to mid-term years, effective 1978. Dixon was re-elected as SOS. In 1980 senator Adlai Stevenson III (D) retired, and Al the Pal took a risk-free shot at his seat and won, beating mid-gig lieutenant governor Dave O'Neal (R).? That came to a screeching halt in 1992 when Recorder Carol Mosely Braun (D) gave up her gig to primary him and won. Braun's successor was, no surprise, Jesse White.

When Dixon went off to Washington, his appointed 1981 successor was Jim Edgar (R), a young state representative. Edgar began setting himself up to run for governor and won in 1982 and 1986. Edgar beat attorney general Neil Hartigan (D) in 1990 for gov, proving that SOS trumps AG as a springboard. House speaker George Ryan (R) from Kankakee got on the gubernatorial track in 1982 by winning lieutenant governor with Thompson. Of Illinois' 51 LGs, not one has ever been elected governor or senator while LG. Three became governor upon death or resignation, and one (Pat Quinn) upon impeachment (Blagojevich).

Ryan wisely bailed in 1990 and ran for Edgar's job, beating treasurer Jerome Cosentino (D), who lost to Edgar in 1982, won back his gig in 1986, and then lost it again in 1990. Quinn won Cosentino's job, but then ill-advisedly ran for SOS in 1994, losing to Ryan. While SOS Ryan's fund-raising scheme was to pressure jobholders to buy (also known as "eat") a $1,000-plus in tickets a year. No dough, no promotion, and maybe no job. Given their meager salaries, it is no surprise that they demanded and accepted "gratuities" for their services. This was made apparent after Ryan got indicted in 2003 on 22 counts of racketeering, bribery, fraud and money laundering, and later convicted and jailed.

The list of gig-riskers and gig-keepers goes on and on. White was a keeper. If his successor is anybody but Burnett, the new SOS will be running for governor from Day One. Not running in 2022 will be two gig-keepers: Treasurer Mike Frerichs (D), who made comments that PritzkerÕs "Fair Tax" plan could result in taxing social security and pensions. Oops. The other is comptroller Susana Mendoza, Valencia's predecessor, who got 8 percent for mayor in 2019. Keep your gigs OR have no gig. Wait until J.B. quits, or a senate seat opens.

OUTLOOK: Stratton wants to be Illinois first African-American and woman governor. But she has negligible name ID. She doesn't even show up at Pritzker's COVID-19 briefings (I don't see her). Her road to GOV runs through SOS. Giannoulias is first out of the gate, is contacting Democratic leaders early and often, is raising money, and, as a Greek League basketball player, played pick-up games with Barack Obama in the early 2000s. Obama will likely endorse him for SOS.

GOVERNOR: Republicans will be a statewide presence in 2022. COVID-19 will linger. Polling and anecdotal feedback shows Pritzker "under-water" in suburban areas, with unfavorables topping favorables. Emerging candidates are lawyer Richard Porter, construction magnate Gary Rabine, congressman Adam Kinzinger and state senator Darren Bailey. More on this later.