In 1998, running for the first of his million terms as secretary of state, Jesse White promised to seek no higher office. He was obviously trying to discomfit his Republican opponent, Al Salvi, who had lost a U.S. Senate race to Dick Durbin two years before and obviously wanted to be something more than secretary of state.
But White has kept his promise, which makes him unique among modern-day state officeholders. Every politician who has held a constitutional office in the last two decades has run for either governor or senator. When the comptroller or the attorney general says, "I'm just focused on the job I have now," don't believe it. They're all focused on something bigger. These jobs are just minor-league stepping stones to D.C. or the statehouse. Here's the record.
George Ryan, 1983-91: Elected governor in 1998
Bob Kustra, 1991-98: Lost Republican primary for Senate, 1998
Corinne Wood, 1999-2003: Lost Republican primary for governor, 2002
Pat Quinn, 2003-09: Replaced Rod Blagojevich as governor, 2009
Sheila Simon, 2011-present: Father was a senator
Neil Hartigan, 1983-91: Democratic nominee for governor, 1990. Lost to Jim Edgar.
Roland Burris, 1991-95: Lost Democratic primaries for governor in 1998 and 2002. Appointed to U.S. Senate, 2009.
Jim Ryan, 1995-2003: Republican nominee for governor, 2002. Lost to Rod Blagojevich.
Lisa Madigan, 2003-present: Currently mulling how she can "best serve" Illinois.
SECRETARY OF STATE
Alan Dixon, 1977-81: Elected to U.S. Senate, 1980 Jim Edgar, 1981-91: Elected governor, 1990
George Ryan, 1991-99: See above
Jesse White, 1999-present: No further ambition
Pat Quinn, 1991-95: See above
Judy Baar Topinka, 1995-2007: Republican nominee for governor, 2006. Lost to Rod Blagojevich.
Alexi Giannoulias, 2007-2011: Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, 2010. Lost to Mark Kirk.
Dan Rutherford, 2011-present: Running like mad for governor.
Roland Burris, 1979-91: See above
Dawn Clark Netsch, 1991-95: Democratic nominee for governor, 1994. Lost to Jim Edgar.
Loleta Didrickson, 1995-99: Lost Republican primary for U.S. Senate, 1998.
Dan Hynes, 1999-2011. Lost Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, 2004; lost Democratic primary for governor, 2010.