Opinion: Secretary of State For Life - NBC Chicago
Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Opinion: Secretary of State For Life



    Secretary of State Jesse White, who is 78 years old and showing signs of diminished political judgment, announced today that he will seek a fifth term in office. White, who is already the longest-serving constitutional officer in Illinois history, will be 84 in 2018, which would almost certainly make him the oldest constitutional officer in Illinois history.

    As 27th Ward Committeemen, White was responsible for the appointment of state Rep. Derrick Smith, who is currently facing expulsion from the House after his arrest on federal bribery charges. White also appointed state Sen. Annazette Collins, then turned against her when it was discovered she didn’t live in her district. Republicans are already planning to use the chaos in White’s West Side fiefdom as a campaign issue in 2014. White is a politician, so his political decisions are fair game.

    The Republicans can beat White, especially in an off-year with Barack Obama on the ballot, but they can only beat him if they run a candidate who a) has political stature, and b) actually wants to be Secretary of State.

    In 2010, the Republicans ran Robert Enriquez, whose only political experience was as the holder of a Republican-mandated seat on the Illinois Human Rights Commission. White clobbered him, 73 percent to 24 percent.

    White has held on to the Secretary of State’s office for so long because he has no higher political ambitions. During his first run for the office, in 1998, he promised never to run for any office but secretary of state. His opponent, Al Salvi, who had lost a U.S. Senate election two years before, would not make the same pledge. In 2006, White ran against another political climber, state Sen. Dan Rutherford, who obviously wanted the office as a stepping-stone to the governorship. White whipped Rutherford, who is now using the state treasurer’s office as his stepping-stone to the governorship.

    Look at the careers of White’s four predecessors.

        George Ryan, 1991-99:      Elected governor in 1998
        Jim Edgar, 1981-91:            Elected governor in 1990
        Alan Dixon, 1977-81:           Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1980
        Michael Howlett, 1973-77:  Ran for governor in 1976

    Since he runs the Driver Services Facilities, the Secretary of State deals directly with the public more than any other constitutional officer. Any Secretary of State who succeeds in making driver’s license renewal less unpleasant than seven years in purgatory will be re-elected over and over and over again by a grateful public, if that’s what he wants. That’s what White wants, and that’s what he’s gotten. He can be beaten, but obly by someone who wants the same thing. 

    Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!