The politicians vying to become Illinois’ next governor face their first big test in the coming months: picking a running mate.
A change in state law means that candidates for Illinois governor and lieutenant governor will run as a team in the March primary elections instead of seeking the offices separately and then joining forces for the November general election.
Names of several potential contenders have been bandied about — both in and out of state politics — though Democratic and Republican governor candidates still are in the early stages of trying to settle on an acceptable second banana. Much like a presidential nominee picking a vice presidential hopeful, the choice will say much about a candidate’s priorities in terms of political strategy and campaign image.
“This is in the forefront of every governor candidate’s minds right now,” said state Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine, an unsuccessful contender for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor in 2010 who has taken himself out of consideration this time.
“Whether the position of lieutenant governor is of critical importance is obviously up for debate,” Murphy said. “But if we’re going to have this position, and have people fill it, shouldn’t we at least have somebody who’s compatible and works well with the governor candidate and as good as you can have if they have to step in for the governor?”
Pat Quinn’s elevation from lieutenant governor to governor in 2009 after lawmakers tossed now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich out of office gave some momentary heft to the position known in political circles as “lite guv.”
That was the exception rather than the rule, however. The office continues to hold fairly little political regard and has few defined job responsibilities.
There’s a litany of lieutenant governors who, once having the job, looked to get out of it. Dave O’Neal resigned the post under Gov. Jim Thompson. Bob Kustra wanted to quit until Gov. Jim Edgar underwent heart surgery. Kustra later left to enter the world of university presidents. By law, he was not replaced.
This time out, when candidates begin circulating their nominating petitions Sept. 3 to appear on the March 18 primary ballot, the name of their chosen running mates also must be included. The early pairing up provides an advantage because it allows the candidates to cover more political ground during the primary season.
The new law was the result of the Democratic primary in 2010. That’s when a Chicago pawnbroker with a checkered past, Scott Lee Cohen, won the right to become Gov. Quinn’s general election running mate and threatened the top of the Democratic ticket.
Cohen, facing intense public scrutiny and severe political pressure, ultimately gave up the nomination. Quinn subsequently chose Sheila Simon, daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, as his new running mate, and the two went on to a narrow victory.
But Simon has opted to give up the post for 2014, instead looking to a likely run for state comptroller after Lisa Madigan announced her intention to seek re-election for attorney general. That makes Quinn’s choice of a new running mate one of his most significant political re-election moves. More…