Primary elections: GOP contest for governor, Democrat fights for two lesser offices
By ANGIE WATSON
Illinois voters have not seen statewide elections like 1990's in 38 years. Gov. James R. Thompson's decision in August not to seek a fifth term meant the end will come to his record-breaking 14 years in office. It also meant Illinois will have its first gubernatorial contest without an incumbent since 1952. Most important to the political parties is that the November gubernatorial election will likely determine who controls the General Assembly for the next decade. In 1991 legislative and congressional districts must be redrawn, and if Democrats retain their present control of both houses of the General Assembly and win the governor's office, they can draw the maps. If Republicans retain the governorship they can compromise.
Thompson's approaching departure cleared the way for others to test their political ambtions. Before the official candidate filing, every other incumbent in a state executive office had staked out his spot. Secy. of State Jim Edgar appeared the GOP front-runner for Republicans, and Atty. Gen. Neil F. Hartigan was the all-but-certain slated Democrat for governor. Two other incumbents had squared off for secretary of state: Republican Lt. Gov. George H. Ryan and Democratic Treasurer Jerry Cosentino. Incumbent Democratic Comptroller Roland W. Burris is making a bid for attorney general.
But first come the March 20 primaries, and Edgar faces a challenge from conservative Republican Stephen Baer of suburban Chicago. Because the slakes are so high in November, both parties tried hard to keep divisiveness out of the primaries. They also tried to offset any advantage one party might appear to have over the other in supporting women on the ticket. Except for governor, Republicans have no primary contests. The Democratic nominations for both comptroller and treasurer are contested. The Democratic party's successful purge of fringe candidates eliminated contests in three other primary races.
In 1986 followers of extremist Lyndon H. LaRouche stunned Democrats with a surprise victory over slated candidates for lieutenant governor and secretary of state. The LaRouchies lost in the general election, but their primary win dashed Democratic hopes of a Thompson defeat. Unprepared for the LaRouchies in 1986, Democrats were primed for battle in 1990. Hartigan's supporters challenged the LaRouche candidates' petitions saying there were too few signatures from eligible voters to be on the ballot. The State Board of Elections accepted recommendations from a hearing officer January 24 to remove LaRouche candidates from the Democratic primary ballot: comptroller candidate Patricia Noble-Schenk for not meeting residency requirements and candidates Mark Fairchild, Sheila Jones, Janice Hart and Ronnie Fredman for not having enough valid signatures on their nominating petitions. In a separate decision, the board voted to remove perennial candidate Larry Burgess from the Democratic gubernatorial primary because of insufficient valid signatures on petitions.
Early mainline Democratic maneuvering had pitted Sen. Dawn Clark Netsch (D-4, Chicago) against fellow Democrat Bums, but Netsch stepped down from the attorney general race to become the slated candidate for comptroller. Netsch's move prevented a primary battle with Burris, the only black candidate on the statewide ticket, but she winds up with the most opposition of any candidate for a statewide nomination. Her slating, along with that of treasurer candidate state Rep. Peg Breslin (D-75, Ottawa), marked the first time the Democratic party has slated two women for state offices. The endorsement was fueled by strong support from incumbent U.S. Sen. Paul Simon (D-Makanda) who will run atop the November ballot for a second Senate term against Rockford area Republican, U.S. Rep. Lynn Martin. Although slated, Breslin faces stiff opposition in the primary from Patrick Quinn, a high profile political activist out of the Dan Walker administration.
Republicans responded with their own maneuvering to add women to their ticket. Party leaders convinced Public Aid Director Sue Suter to run for comptroller, and Edgar in particular convinced Capital Development Board director Gary Skoien to withdraw from that contest.
While Republicans remain unchallenged in all but the governor's race, that could upset the strategy to win in November. Conservative Baer, five-year executive director of the finance and lobbying group known as the United Republican Fund, announced his candidacy in
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mid-December with the heralded support of anti-abortion activist Phyllis Schlafly of Alton. The 30-year-old conservative is notably anti-tax and opposes making the temporary income tax permanent. Baer maintains that natural state revenue growth would counter the loss of a permanent increase. In Baer's words, Edgar is "on the wrong side of the issues" and has endangered the Republican bid for the statehouse with his support of abortion rights and a permanent income tax increase.
Edgar would make the temporary income tax permanent, because not extending it, he says, would be like "pulling the rug" from under education, which received half of the tax increase. Those in the Edgar camp say that, while Baer's challenge is being taken seriously by Edgar, they believe Edgar will prevail. "I don't think the voters in the Republican primary are going to be responsive to a man who has spent most of his waking hours on how to hurt the Republicans rather than the Democrats and to a man who has questionable qualifications to be governor," said Mike Lawrence, Edgar's press secretary.
Although political insiders do not believe Baer can beat Edgar in the primary, some concede that Baer presents a challenge to Edgar. Baer, they reason, represents a legitimate conservative segment of the Republican party that Edgar must carry in November. He also needs a respectable win in the primary. "Mr. Baer has put Mr. Edgar in a bind," said Paul M. Green, director of the Institute of Public Policy and Administration at Governors State University.
Republicans Edgar and Baer face a third contender in the gubernatorial primary. Dr. Robert Marshall, a Burr Ridge Board of Trustees member, promotes himself as a candidate for the middle class. He maintains that Illinoisans are overtaxed and overgoverned and rejects the idea of making the temporary income tax increase permanent. Unlike Baer but like Edgar, Marshall would not outlaw abortion. Marshall is also a strong advocate of the rights of divorced fathers and gun owners.
The primary races for lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state are virtually uncontested. Republican candidate for lieutenant governor is Sen. Bob Kustra (R-28, Des Plaines); Republican candidate for attorney general is Jim Ryan, DuPage County state's attorney; Republican candidate for secretary of state is George Ryan; and Republican candidate for treasurer is Greg Baise, former Illinois secretary of transportation. For Democrats, Burris for attorney general faces no opposition. Neither does lieutenant gubernatorial candidate James B. Burns, a former U.S. attorney, and secretary of state candidate Cosentino — once the LaRouche candidates were removed.
The two hotly contested Democratic primary races — treasurer and comptroller — may test the value of being slated. "The challenge for a candidate in the middle rung is that they face the difficulty of becoming known in a short time and with little money," said Jim Nowlan, a public policy professor at Knox College in Galesburg. "It puts more responsibility on the part of the party to their endorsed candidates.''
For comptroller, the slated candidate Netsch, a 16-year state senator, says her record as Illinois Senate Revenue Committee chairman, co-chair of the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission and work in the legislature to pass laws to promote responsible state fiscal policies set her apart from her opponents. Netsch believes the comptroller should take an active role in monitoring state purchases and contracts. The Chicagoan has introduced legislation in the past that would allow the comptroller, under specific guidelines, the power to withhold vouchers thought to be improper or illegal. Netsch points to her efforts to seek the comptroller's office in 1986 as evidence of a continuing interest in the position.
Running also for the Democratic comptroller nomination is Rep. Woody Bowman (D-4 Evanston), who questions Netsch's motives and labels the comptroller's race her "consolation prize." Bowman, a 12-year veteran of the Illinois House and chairman of the Appropriations II Committee, envisions the comptroller's job as that of the state troubleshooter and planner whose job is to keep the public aware of state finances: "I believe the comptroller is the second most important job in Illinois." Bowman says that "creative accounting" has led to state budget crises in the past. He would require a state financial report before the budget is released, so the budget could be analyzed more accurately. Bowman also supports annual reports evaluating the cost of newly passed legislation and reports on no-bid contracts.
Also in the Democratic comptroller's race is Shawn Collins who has made no-bid contracts the core of his campaign. "The state isn't doing comparison shopping like citizens of the state do everyday," he says. "The main thing I want to do is stop the money leaks. I want to see the state stop no-bid contracts.'' Collins, a commissioner of the Joliet Housing Authority, describes himself as a "whistle-blower" who would push for more accountability in government spending. His biggest challenge, as he sees it, is to gain the name recognition he needs: "In a race where you can't raise a lot of money for advertising, the person who wears out the most shoe leather wins the race."
Also vying for the Democratic comptroller nomination is Bill Sarto, Kane County Democratic chairman. He also faces low name recognition. An auditor in the comptroller's office, Sarto believes that the comptroller's office should exist outside of politics. As watchdog of taxpayer's money, Sarto says the comptroller should be able to make decisions without fear of political retribution.
The Democratic primary contest for treasurer pits slated candidate Breslin against a more well-known Quinn. Rep. Tom Homer (D-91, Canton) wanted party slating, but he dropped out and backed Breslin when Quinn entered the contest. Breslin, an assistant House majority leader, says that she would like to expand the duties of the treasurer. The 14-year Ottawa legislator introduced a bill in the fall session which would make the treasurer a voting member of eight state bonding authorities and two pension funds that invest and borrow money. Her philosophy is that the stale treasurer should ensure that state money is wisely invested and used to benefit Illinoisans through programs like the linked deposits in which state-deposited money can be earmarked for particular projects.
Quinn, a former director of the Chicago Revenue Department and a former commissioner of the Cook County Board of (Tax) Appeals, advocates reform in the state tax system, including property taxes and consumer-minded banking policies. Quinn, a Chicago tax lawyer, has led statewide petition drives and is particularly known for spearheading the successful constitutional amendment referendum that cut back the Illinois House by one-third and eliminated cumulative voting. If elected, he will promote lower service fees for banks holding state money and the investment of state money to create economic growth, affordable housing and loans for students and small businesses. The treasurer's primary race will be a "referendum on arrogant government" practices, Quinn said. "I'm running against a government that thinks it is okay to raise taxes on a family at the same time the legislature raises its own pay, doubles the governor's pension and hands out enormous tax breaks to one of the largest corporations in the nation [Sears]."
The primary battles are the prelude to what some political experts are calling the big shake-up in Illinois government. Gov. Thompson's departure has broken a log jam at the top of the state political heap, allowing those with political ambitions to move up a rung or two on the ladder. Voters will recognize many candidates on the ballot, running for different offices. The lesser known candidates will have a hard time gaining media attention and publicity for these lower profile offices. Understandably the focus in the primaries will be on the gubernatorial candidates because the winners will battle in November for control of the governorship and its pivotal role in redistricting for the decade.
Angie Watson, a journalism graduate of Murray State University in Murray, Ky., is Illinois Issues Public Affairs Reporting intern in the Statehouse Bureau for the spring legislative session.
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