The governor’s race might get interesting

By Samuel Rosenberg

The 2006 Illinois Gubernatorial Election is off and running. Despite the disappointment felt by many Democrats with the performance of Rod Blagojevich, it seems as though there will be no significant opposition during the primary. The first-term governor has had more than his fair share of political battles over the past few years simply within his own party. With the ink on the election results barely dry, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and the Governor got into a spat over funding, while, more recently, Blagojevich has bickered with his father-in-law, South Side Alderman Dick Mel. Although discussions had circulated about Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (step-daughter to North Side State General Assembly Leader Mike Madigan) seeking nomination, that idea was put to rest when Ms. Madigan announced that she would instead seek re-election for the office of attorney general.

On the other side of the aisle, the competition is more intense. Two main teams have formed in their attempts to secure the nomination and get a shot at running against the semi-popular incumbent. Both candidates have named their lieutenant governor picks as well, with the only Republican-held state executive office, State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, choosing DuPage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett and Chicago businessman Ron Gidwitz opting for State Senator Steve Rauschenberger (Note: In Illinois the lieutenant governor’s race and Governor’s race are run individually, but frequently the candidates team up for campaigning purposes. Although it is possible that the two positions could be occupied by members of a different party, that is a rare occurrence.) The main focus is on the Republican race, for both main tickets have decided to go for a mix of moderate and ultra-conservative views in an attempt to win their votes from the entire spectrum.

If the primary were held today, Topinka and Birkett would most likely win the Republican slot, given that both have run for state-wide office previously (Birkett lost to Madigan in 2002) and have a substantial force behind them. Although Topinka is moderate, favoring pro-choice measures and supporting civil unions for homosexuals, her running mate is not. Birkett is fairly right wing, supporting a reinstatement of the state’s death penalty and hailing from the western suburbs, one of the strongest Republican districts in the state, if not the country (think Wheaton College).

Making their announcement less than a week before that of Topinka-Birkett, Gidwitz came to the campaign with money and experience. In addition to having held a number of campaign posts for Republican candidates, Gidwitz was the chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education from 1999 to 2003. Although he gets an A for effort, Gidwitz has rarely been at the campaign victory celebration. The fact that he is an active Republican within the City of Chicago says volumes about his moderate stance on most issues and his acceptance of loss. Serving as the state senator from Elgin since 1993, Rauschenberger is not unlike Birkett in that he has a track record that pleases conservatives and he comes from a highly Republican area (his district encompasses both parts of Kane and DuPage

Excluding a miracle for either long shot candidate and dairy magnate Jim Oberweis and Bloomington (central Illinois) Senator Bill Brady, the Republican primary will come down to these two teams. Both of these candidates declined to pick running mates and, if elected, will simply go with whomever wins the lieutenant gubernatorial

What is also interesting about all of these races is that downstate districts and basically everywhere beyond the reach of the Chicagoland area are being ignored. The only prominent southern Illinois candidate was Glen Poshard in 1998, a Democrat who, in fact, lost. Poshard now is the president of Southern Illinois University. Since that time Illinois has become much more of a “blue” state, with regards to its representatives in both state and federal offices. Yet even with that aside, such avoidance is peculiar. Recent data has shown that almost all of the regions beyond the reach of the city’s highways are hurting economically and are showing little signs of improvement. Is this not an issue that needs to be addressed? Is Chicago’s prosperity supposed to handle the financial burden of the entire state? No matter how many trips candidates make to Rock Island, Galesburg, or Cairo, the fact remains that the Chicagoland area is the state’s engine. With this focus being placed on the northeastern Illinois region, it makes our gubernatorial vote in the spring and fall that much more powerful.