Sheila Simon's Candidacy Not Without Political Irony

Irony alert: Paul Simon basically created the separate primary ticket system that gave us Scott Lee Cohen

By Edward McClelland
|  Tuesday, Mar 9, 2010  |  Updated 2:59 PM CDT
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Sen. Paul Simon announcing his intention to seek the presidential nomination. (Photo by Terry Ashe//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

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Sheila Simon, heiress to the most honest name in Illinois politics -- and a large collection of bow ties! -- has joined the list of Democrats angling for the lieutenant governor’s job.

And how ironic is that: it was Sheila Simon's father who made this post-Scott Lee Cohen debacle possible in the first place.

True story. In 1968, when Simon was seven years old, her father served under Republican Governor Richard Ogilvie.

“We loaded up a car with ‘Paul Simon for Lieutenant Governor’ painted on the side, and spent the summer driving around the state,” Simon recalled Tuesday. “It was one of those old station wagons with wood.”

Paul Simon won, but the Lt. Gov/Gov relationship was strained. So strained, in fact, that Simon had to promise not to appoint a senator if one dropped dead while the governor was out of state.

The mismatched couple led Illinois to change its constitution, so candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in the primary, but as a team in the general election.

That, of course, is the system that gave us Scott Lee Cohen.

And now the family that created the split primary system may benefit from it -- 42 years later.
 
So far, Simon’s campaign consists of a YouTube video featuring testimonials from her friends in Carbondale, where she teaches law at Southern Illinois University and served a term on the city council.

“I think the number one thing I can add to the ticket is geography,” Simon said, echoing the pitch from her campaign video. “The Republican ticket is spread far and wide across the state. This ‘Chicago versus the rest of the state’ is pitched often, and not necessarily to anyone’s advantage. To hear someone from Carbondale say, ‘Yeah, we have links to Chicago,’ that’s pretty significant.”
 
As lieutenant governor, Simon would continue her reform crusade by promoting a fairer system for drawing congressional districts. The ones we have now look like squids, dumbbells or seahorses.
 
“I’d like to see the districts reflect meaningful geographic units,” she said.
 
Simon's candidacy isn't a long shot, either. Quinn's already appointed Simon to the Illinois Reform Commission, and she was said to be on his short list of replacements after Cohen stepped down last month.

And don't forget: the Democratic Party owes Simon big time.

As the guardian of her father’s political legacy, Simon cut a legendary ad for Barack Obama during the 2004 Democratic primary for Senate, declaring him the heir to the Paul Simon tradition of progressivism and honest government. That ad was the spark that ignited Obama’s surge to the top of the polls. Obama tried to return the favor three years later, campaigning for Simon when she ran for mayor of Carbondale. Simon lost that election.

Maybe that was because she’s too liberal for Little Egypt. Though she could be just right for Illinois.

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