Jesse White

Departing Sec. of State Jesse White Discusses His Life in Public Service

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Secretary of State Jesse White, who has served in his position for nearly a quarter-century, will leave office soon, but even as he reflects on his career, he says he still has more to accomplish.

White, first elected to office in 1998, has often been the state’s vote-getter in his reelection bids, and has become famous for his work with the Jesse White Tumblers, who have been helping impact the lives of thousands of young Illinoisans for more than 60 years.

Now, as he prepares to depart office, he’s reminiscing about the environment around the Secretary of State’s Office when he took over for George Ryan in the late 1990’s.

“When I became an elected official, I made sure I was available to the people who elected me to office,” he said. “You should set an example to do what is required to do, and to do it in a highly-professional manner.”

White, who had served as a state representative and the Cook County Recorder of Deeds prior to being elected as secretary of state, had to tackle corruption within the department immediately upon taking office.

“My employees no longer have to buy fundraising tickets, sell fundraising tickets, do political work, or have to attend any of my events where they have to pay,” he said.

Aside from tackling corruption and ethics questions, White also spearheaded efforts to strengthen teen driving programs and organ donation programs, both of which saved countless lives.

“(Through) those changes, we’ve been able to save a lot of lives,” he said. “The organ donor program is a highly successful one.”

Now, as White prepares to depart the political stage, he will continue to work with the Jesse White Tumblers, a group he says has helped nearly 20,000 young Illinoisans since it was founded more than 60 years ago.

“I’ve had this program for 64 years, more than 18,000 young people have come through it, and only 15 have gotten in trouble with the law,” he said. “I remind those kids that I always want them to look up, and the only time I want them to look down is when they tie their shoes.”

White will be succeeded by Alexi Giannoulias as secretary of state early next year.

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