So Why Would Anybody Want to be Illinois Lieutenant Governor? | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

So Why Would Anybody Want to be Illinois Lieutenant Governor?

The office of lieutenant governor in Illinois has been empty since January. That's when Pat Quinn got an instant promotion following the impeachment of then-Governor Rod Blagojevich. More than a dozen candidates are considering runs for the post in next year's election. But the current vacancy has re-ignited the debate over why the office even exists.

Thomas Castillo is an unemployed union electrician from Elmhurst. He says he's never run for any elected office before now.

CASTILLO: Well, you know, the natural progression would be something like a trustee or maybe a mayor or a highway commissioner.

But after doing some homework, Castillo found an office he says would give him the bully pulpit to talk about his issues: green manufacturing and more civics classes in schools.

CASTILLO: I'm running for the office of lieutenant governor of Illinois.

Castillo's research showed that in past elections, the race for lieutenant governor hasn't been very expensive, as the candidate really only has to get through the primary before merging campaigns with the party's nominee for governor.

CASTILLO: Coming from humble beginnings, being just a working class guy. Even though I'm in the union, I'm not one of the good old boys.

Castillo also figured his chances were good because in past elections the race for lieutenant governor hasn't been very crowded. Of course, that was the past.

SANDI JACKSON: Good afternoon, everybody!

At a meeting of the Cook County Democratic Party last month, party leaders heard from Castillo and six other Democrats who want the job.

SCOTT LEE COHEN: I will be the lieutenant governor who listens to the needs of the people...
JACKSON: So that our businesses have greater access...
ART TURNER: As the ambassador for this state...
RICKEY HENDON: I'll bring back that kind of money to every committeeman...
TERRY LINK: I want to make this office a very vocal, powerful office...
KEVIN JOYCE: Great office that can be a great advocate...

Another half-dozen or so Republicans are also seeking the post, including Brad Cole, the mayor of downstate Carbondale. He says he thinks the reason the race is so popular this year has less to do with policy, and more with ambition.

COLE: I think, when Pat Quinn moved up, a lot of people thought this was an easy place to get in and maybe advance their career.

Not himself, of course, says Cole. He insists he's interested in the few real, prescribed-by-law duties of the lieutenant governor, other than waiting around for the governor to die, resign or get impeached. These include running the Governor's Rural Affairs Council, the Illinois River Council, the Mississippi River Council, the Wabash and Ohio Rivers Council...

SOBOTA: Why do we still have this office?

Lenore Sobota edits the editorial page at the Bloomington Pantagraph in central Illinois. In recent years, the Pantagraph has questioned and re-questioned and re-re-questioned the usefulness of the lieutenant governor's office.

SOBOTA: You know, you can look at what's going on right now. The lieutenant governor became the governor. And there's no provision in the constitution for replacing the lieutenant governor, which right there tells you something about how worthwhile the office is.

The office is budgeted at a couple million dollars a year, small beans in the big pot of state government expenses. And the lieutenant governor actually gets paid less than the attorney general or secretary of state.

SOBOTA: But if there's better places to use the money, it still should go to where the priorities are and what would best help the people of Illinois, rather than just perpetuating an office because we've always had it.

The Pantagraph cites past lieutenant governors as further evidence the office should be eliminated. The first is Dave O'Neal. He served as the number two early in Governor Jim Thompson's administration. Halfway through his term, he ran for U.S. Senate and lost. A year later, he quit, reportedly saying he was "bored." And that brings us to our next example: Bob Kustra served as lieutenant governor under Governor Jim Edgar.

KUSTRA: When I came into the office of lieutenant governor, I had to answer questions regularly about, 'What are you doing here? Look what Dave O'Neal did. Why do you want the job if Dave O'Neal walked away from it?' (laughs)

And Kustra did try to walk away - three times. At the end of his first term, Kustra decided to take a job in radio, but changed his mind after Edgar underwent heart surgery and asked him to stick around. A couple years later, Kustra ran for the Senate, but lost. And toward the end of his second term, he finally left, to become a university president.

But through it all, Kustra says he got a lot out of the job, focusing on education issues while working relatively closely with the governor.

KUSTRA: It does prepare someone to wait in the wings. It does allow for the governor to rely on somebody to step in.

That said, Kustra's not exactly adamant in his defense of the office.

KUSTRA: I— really—as a voter or a citizen or even as a farmer lieutenant governor, don't have any strong reason to want to defend the office and if the people of the state of Illinois would choose to get rid of it, Illinois would survive.

Comptroller Dan Hynes, a candidate for governor, agrees. His wants to cut the office entirely, something that would take a constitutional amendment. His Democratic opponent, Governor Quinn—who has first-hand knowledge of the highs and lows of being lieutenant governor— disagrees. As does a Republican candidate for governor, state Senator Bill Brady, who says he'd work closely with his lieutenant governor, promising to make him an important partner in the administration.

Whether his partner ends up liking the job enough to stay in it, that's anybody's guess.

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