Exclusive: Alexi Giannoulias Reveals Why He Decided to Run for Secretary of State

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After nearly 50 years of service, Illinois Secretary of State Jessie White will not be on next year's ballot, leaving room for a heated Democratic primary to take shape.

One of four candidates vying to fill the space is Alexi Giannoulias, who emerged with an early lead in endorsements and campaign contributions.

Running for secretary of state would mark a re-entry into public life for Giannoulias, who once served as state treasurer before losing a heated campaign for U.S. Senate in 2010 to Republican Mark Kirk. Since then, he was appointed chair of the Community College System and joined the Chicago Public Library Board.

"I think we need people to step up to fight for our state, to fight for our country, to fight for our planet," Giannoulias told NBC Chicago in an exclusive interview.

If he wins, Giannoulias will be forced to tackle a number of issues, like long lines at driver services facilities. His solution? Upgrading technology to modernize offices and develop a "skip the line program" that would allow people to schedule an appointment and "avoid these lines."

The position of secretary of state has been held by Jesse White for more than 20 years. Three other Democrats, all from Chicago, are also candidates in the race. They include City Clerk Anna Valencia, Ald. Pat Dowell and Ald. David Moore.

While Giannoulias has received hundreds of endorsements and has $3 million in contributions, his opponents have raised questions dating back more than 10 years to Giannoulias' family's Broadway bank and its questionable loans.

"Unfortunately my family's business didn't survive and it was painful for me personally, obviously it hurt a lot to see that happen, but that's nothing compared to the pain that many other small businesses and family businesses have faced," Giannoulias said.

He also explained why he didn't endorse State Treasurer Mike Frerichs, instead speaking favorably about Republican candidate Tom Cross.

"Seven years ago I said something nice about someone from the other party, I never endorsed him," Giannoulias told NBC 5's Mary Ann Ahern. "And I can you tell you, Mary Ann, no one is talking about that. They're talking about how we can make the lines shorter at the DMV, how we can technologically advance the office."

That wasn't the only time Giannoulias was seen extending an arm to the other side of aisle.

After his crushing loss in the U.S. Senate race, Giannoulias shared a beer with Sen. Mark Kirk.

But now, he's looking forward to reaching out to voters.

"I just think we need people to step up and it's made me refocus my intentions," he said.

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