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Illinois Issues: The Attorney General Race


Photos courtesy of candidates' campaigns

When Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced last August that she would not seek re-election for a fifth term, 10 different candidates — eight Democrats and two Republicans — jumped to get on the November ballot. For over 15 years, Madigan — who is House Speaker Michael Madigan's daughter — has made it unappealing to other Democrats who might have otherwise pursued the position.

Democratic primary contender state Sen. Kwame Raoul narrowly beat former Gov.Pat Quinn with about 30 percent of the votes. Republican nominee Erika Harold defeated opponent Gary Grasso with 60 percent of the vote.

That has left two African-American candidates — a first — in the running for Illinois attorney general. The state's last African-American attorney general, Democrat Roland W. Burris, was in office for one term in the mid 1990s.

Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) on the campaign trail.

Kwame Raoul's campaign

As he has in the campign for governor, Speaker Madigan has become an issue in the attorney general's race.  Harold is Gov. Rauner's favorite on the GOP party's statewide ballot, and he has publicly encouraged her to prosecute the senior Madigan for alleged corruption in office. The incumbent governor has also pledged to donate more money to Harold's campaign -- from the donated $1.3 million so far -- eliciting questions of ethics and conflict of interest.

Rauner tried to tie Raoul to the speaker, a message Harold has embraced in her own campign ads.

Raoul was appointed to take over Barack Obama's empty state senate seat 14 years ago. Harold, who formerly ran for Congress, and is a lawyer at a private Champaign firm, hasn't held a job in the legislature. Raoul has described Harold's experience as too light to lead the office of the attorney general.

Both candidates say they want to work toward greater transparency in government. Both candidates have also had to answer questions about past statements about social issues particularly same-sex marriage. 

Erika Harold talking with some young Illinoisans on the campaign trail.

Erika Harold's campaign

Years ago, in a beauty pageant interview, Harold acknowledged she did not support adoption by same-sex couples. Raoul says Harold's views on that and abortion disqualify her for the job. But the Republican candidate said the views she held when she was 18 years old are not the same and, regardless, she won't let her personal views bleed into her work. 

For his part, during a 2013 Senate floor debate over whether to legalize same-sex marriage, Raoul spoke about how he, too, had different views growing up. He argues it's not the same with Harold and her views, which he claims have changed over the last five years. "I talked about being a boy and having discriminated as a boy," he recently said of his remarks made during the 2013 debate.

Both have pointed fingers at each other for not wanting to debate.

"We reached out, we initiated conversations about having debates, so this notion about I'm afraid having debates, I don't know where that came from," Raoul said.

A Libertarian candidate, Du Quoin attorney Bubba Harsy, is also running in the general election, which is only nine weeks away.

Erika Harold's only other run for public office was an unsuccessful primary challenge to US Representative Rodney Davis in 2013.

Erika Harold's campaign

ERIKA HAROLD (Republican)

Education: Harvard Law School

Hometown: Champaign

Erika Harold, 38, made her first campaign appearance in 2013 as a candidate for the 13th Congressional District seat, in which she took on Republican Rodney Davis in the primary. Some Republicans were chagrined by Harold's decision to go after an incumbent with more money, and Davis won the Republican nomination for the district.

Five years later, Harold says, she looks back at the experience in a positive light. "It gave me the opportunity to interact with Republicans on a variety of levels - whether it was elected officials or grassroots individuals - and it also showed me the importance of being able to take your message outside of the traditional confines of the party," she said.

Harold is also a former Miss America, a contest she said she entered to cover tuition costs for Harvard Law School. "As a result of winning that pageant, I was able to graduate debt-free," she said. Though her opponent has questioned whether her beauty pageant experience harmed her credibility, Harold said the experience has taught her about rallying and raising awareness around an issue.

In days leading to the annual Governor's Day rally at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, Gov. Rauner continued his campaign attacks on House Speaker Madigan. He also announced a $1 million donation for Harold's campaign that would go toward helping her beat opponent Kwame Raoul to ultimately fight "the Madigan machine."

Asked if she would be willing to do what Rauner asked of her and whether she thought receiving money from the current governor would be unethical, Harold said she would remain impartial. "No one will direct me to do anything," she said.

"I think every candidate is able to receive contributions from people in their party, and we will all do that. The important thing is that you put safeguards in place to maintain the office's independence," she said.

At the Governor's Day rally, Rauner singled Harold out. "These Democrats are deeply afraid of Erika Harold," he said to the crowd of supporters, who had given Harold a standing ovation during her speech.

Rauner blamed the current AG and past attorneys general for not prosecuting or investigating what he called "the corrupt machine out of Chicago." "They (Democratic AGs) won't ever investigate the conflicts of interests, they won't investigate the unethical and corrupt behavior, they won't propose legislation to fix it and make it illegal," he said.

Raoul has said the attacks on him coming from his opponent are a distraction, and insists Harold isn't qualified to take on the job because of her total lack of experience as an officeholder.

Harold said she believes otherwise. "I think if you asked most voters whether they feel that working in Springfield is a prerequisite to being a good attorney general, they would vigorously disagree with that."

Kwame Raoul has been an Illinois state senator since 2004.

Kwame Raoul's campaign

Kwame Raoul (Democrat)

Education: Chicago-Kent College of Law

Hometown: Chicago

Standing before a room of about 3,000 people during the Illinois Democratic County Chairs' Association annual State Fair brunch, state Sen. Kwame Raoul, 53, reminisced about the day he began his 14-year-long tenure as a state senator.

"November 6th has long been a special day for me," he said. "It was November 6th — 14 years ago — that I was appointed to replace another guy with a funny name — Barack Obama." Obama had left his seat vacant in the legislature when he went on to serve as a U.S. Senator in 2004.

In early August, Obama endorsed Raoul, as well as Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker. To that, Raoul said he "felt proud."

Raoul, a prostate cancer survivor and son of Haitian immigrants, said his years in the legislature, as well as an attorney, helped shape his platform to lead the office of attorney general. But Harold has claimed it's exactly that tenure in Springfield that makes Raoul's candidacy troubling, as well as his alleged connection with the speaker of the House.

"He's not been willing to stand up against speaker Michael Madigan and he's not been able to exercise independence from there, from his party," she said. 

"I never served in the House of Representatives," Raoul said. "Mike Madigan did not ask me to run for attorney general; Mike Madigan did not support me in the primary for attorney general. I was not recruited to run like my opponent was."

Bubba Harsey has worked in both state and federal government.

Bubba Harsey's campaign

Bubba Harsy (Libertarian)

Education: American University in Washington D.C.

Hometown: Du Quoin

The 29-year-old attorney from southern Illinois works in a private practice in Du Quoin where he says he spends most of his efforts "helping small businesses, ensuring the government complies with their own rules, and providing criminal defenses to those in need." He's been practicing law for two years.

Despite his short time as an attorney, Harsy said his experience working at various levels of government branches — from being a legislative aide in the Maryland General Assembly, to working at the U.S Department of Education and interning at the U.S. Senate — qualifies him for the job of attorney general. "I don't feel like that makes me any less qualified that anyone else pursuing the position," he said.

Harsy said his motivation to seek the nomination for attorney general was based on what he called "a total lack of government accountability" where the attorney general did not investigate corruption.

He said he thinks neither Harold or Raoul will be able to keep public officials within their respective parties accountable. "That's not going to help the people of Illinois going forward," he said.

As attorney general, Harsy said he'd like to focus on investigating government corruption, getting property taxes under control and pushing to allow healthcare purchasing across state lines.



Lisa Madigan over the last year has joined other attorneys general across the country in filing briefs condemning the federal immigration executive orders, among those were the Muslim travel ban and the zero-tolerance policy at the U.S.-Mexico border. The candidates were asked if they would follow suit, and whether their political affiliation would interfere with similar joint-filings.

  • Erika Harold said she would have "absolutely weighed in on those issues." "It's not a matter of whether you agree or disagree with the particular policy," she said. "It's whether the scope of constitutional authority has been exceeded and if so, then advocating for the state's interest and advocating for the proper limitations of power to be respected." Harold said an attorney general doesn't always need to initiate a lawsuit to weigh in on an issue — sending a letter or highlighting a legal issue from a state's perspective would be suitable ways to have someone act on behalf of the state.
  • Kwame Raoul has said he believes the race for attorney general has never been more important. He points to President Trump's administration and policies. "There's an assault on all fronts and it is the attorney generals (sic) that are stepping up." Raoul also points out he would still go after a Democratic president's administration under the same circumstances and policies.
  • Bubba Harsy, the Du Quoin native, said he doesn't believe immigration should be a concern for individual states. "I believe in protecting the interest of the people that live in Illinois," he said. "But at the same time, immigration is something that should be handled at the federal level."


A recent investigation in Philadelphia into the Catholic Church uncovered clergy abuse of over 1,000 victims. In the report, at least seven priests had ties to Illinois. Madigan announced she'd be meeting with the Chicago Archdioceses and other dioceses across the state to investigate. The candidates have been asked if they think it's the attorney general's job to intervene and push for a deeper investigation.

  • Erika Harold has said she thinks a statewide grand jury would be the appropriate venue for investigating the claims. "I think it's one Illinois should certainly explore because we want to make sure that we get to the heart of what is happening in terms of the scope of abuse," she said.
  • Kwame Raoul said he isn't sure if a statewide grand jury would be the appropriate approach, but in a statement said he would go after any institution attempting to hide cases of abuse. "Protecting children from harm must be an essential focus of the next attorney general, and I would absolutely pursue all legal options in order to go after any predator."
  • Bubba Harsy said he would like to see the states attorney in the community where the crime took place, investigate. "I don't really feel like it's the responsibility of the Supreme Court," he said. "So, if the states attorneys are not willing to do their job, then I would find it appropriate for the attorney general to step in and to start prosecuting."


The legislature tackled abortion and LBGT rights issues recently, including one bill adopted, and signed by the governor last year, that would fund abortions under Medicaid and state employee insurance. The measure also included a "trigger provision" on state law in case Roe v. Wade is overturned. The legislature also debated issues over women's and LBGTQ rights. The governor vetoed a measure that would have expanded the Illinois Human Rights Act to include small businesses.

  • Erika Harold has maintained conservative views on social issues, including opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, but has said she would still advocate on behalf of everyone. "You want to have an open door so that people who feel like their rights are not being properly respected can talk to the attorney general," she said.
  • Kwame Raoul said he believes in protecting the rights of women and those in same-sex unions. He has pointed to legislation he has sponsored, like voting in favor of same-sex unions in the state and backing the expansion of taxpayer funding of abortion.
  • Bubba Harsey said access to abortions and same-sex marriage rights should not be the government's call. "In a perfect world, there would never be an abortion," he said. "And I believe anybody that wants to have the legal benefits of marriage, they should have the legal benefits of marriage."

Illinois Issues is in-depth reporting and analysis that takes you beyond the headlines to provide a deeper understanding of our state. Illinois Issues is produced by NPR Illinois in Springfield.