News Local/State

Running For Lieutenant Governor Is A Risky Business


For the first time, candidates for governor in Illinois will choose their second in command.

They used to get stuck with whomever primary voters choose for lieutenant governor, whether the two got along or not.  It is an opportunity for candidates to find a running mate they work well with or perhaps someone to balance out the ticket.

It is expected at least some of the six men will try to broaden their appeal by pairing up with a woman, or to someone from a different part of the state.

The new selection process might also have unintended consequences.

For a role that is widely thought of as so irrelevant, even candidates for the position periodically suggest eliminating it. Elections for lieutenant governor have wreaked a lot of havoc in Illinois politics.

Take the scenario that led to this new method of selecting someone for the role.

In 2010, with party leaders' attention elsewhere, a wealthy pawn broker and political newcomer named Scott Lee Cohen beat out four Democratic legislators in the race for lieutenant governor.

"And I focused on that position because I felt it was the right office to allow me to bring in my business experience, and to be honest my life experience," Cohen said after the primary, when word had spread that Cohen had once been arrested for domestic abuse, creating an outrage.

It looked like Cohen could drag down the Democrats' gubernatorial nominee, incumbent Pat Quinn. 

Democratic leaders pressured Cohen to step down. It worked out for Quinn; he basically got to handpick Sheila Simon as a running mate. but it was a big enough scare that in 2011, the General Assembly changed the process.

Starting with the upcoming election, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor must run as a team  -- in the primary, as well as in the general election.  That has left voters like Niles Township Republican Committeeman Joe Hendrick wondering:  "Who's the lieutenant governor candidates?"

The shirt he was wearing at Republican Day at the State Fair was visual proof of his status as an undecided voter. It was covered in stickers - including one for each of the four Republicans running for governor. Hendrick said whom each of the candidates chooses for a running mate might help him make up his mind.

"I don't know that it would matter, but it could matter,” he said. "Either positive or negative, I mean if they put out someone that balances them but ... is .... extremely one way, then I might not be enthusiastic about that candidate."

For now, rumors abound.

On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. Simon chose to run for another office rather than stay on with Quinn. The Governor's not ready to say who'll replace her, only saying earlier this month that "there are a lot of good people out there, we're working on that.”

Democratic challenger Bill Daley, a former U.S. Commerce Secretary, is also reportedly still searching.  Republican candidates are beginning to make their declarations.

There are campaign insiders who admit that it has not been easy finding a credible, experienced politician willing to pair up with a candidate who isn't even assured of getting out of the primary, but none of the candidates profess to having trouble, including Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington). 

As the GOP's nominee for governor in 2010, Brady was matched with Jason Plummer, then a relatively unknown, 29-year-old lumber company heir. Political strategists say Plummer did not help Brady win. Brady said while Plummer was a great candidate, he is excited about the opportunity to run as a team.

“This gives you an option to be ideologically on the same path,” Brady said.

Brady said he sees no downside to this new method, but Jim Nowlan said he does.

Nowlan is now a member of the state's Executive Ethics Commission, but in 1972 he was a 28-year-old legislator and the Republican's nominee for lieutenant governor.

"And was clearly not the first choice of incumbent Gov. Dick Ogilvie, but he was had enacted the income tax and was not particularly popular," he said.

Nowlan said Ogilvie's initial choices had turned him down. 

They feared they had be paired with a likely loser, ending - or at least putting a dent in - their political careers. 

They predicted correctly - Ogilvie and Nowlan lost. Nowlan said it is an indicator of what may be happening behind-the-scenes as candidates for governor court potential running mates for 2014.

"It creates some challenges for the governor candidates because prospective running mates will look at the prospects and say 'Gee, I could lose in the primary with you,' " he said.

Whereas before, it was up to a lieutenant governor to win or lose a primary on his or her own; after that, there was a 50/50 shot at winning. But now candidates for that post will be tied, for better or for worse, to a gubernatorial candidate from the onset. 

The ’14 field is crowded -- there's a six-way race for governor.

"That's why it is difficult for House members in the legislature to give up their seats in order to run for a post where they could lose at two gates on the running course," Nowlan  said.

Nowlan said it is a great opportunity for some up-and-comers, but they're also taking a big risk.

And even if they do win, this new method of match-making means there'll be a tighter link between governors and their number twos in the future. 

A lieutenant governor's sole, constitutional responsibility is to be on standby to take over -which is exactly how Pat Quinn came to be governor, following Rod Blagojevich's ouster.

Though Quinn stood by Blagojevich until nearly the end, it was well known the two weren't close. That saved Quinn during the 2010 campaign. He was able to overcome accusations he'd been part of Blagojevich's schemes.

From here on out, lieutenant governors will not be able to make that excuse.