Jesse White is going out on top.
After 22 years as Illinois secretary of state, the most popular elected official in Illinois really is calling it quits when his term expires in 2022.
He’s changed his mind before — announcing he wouldn’t seek reelection only to reverse course.
But this time, he means it.
“He is not running in 2022,” declared White’s longtime spokesman, Dave Druker.
White has easily won election every year he’s run statewide — faring far better than any of his Democratic counterparts who have appeared on the ballot in the same election year.
White has been so dominant, he has won every election to the office by at least 30 points except for his first secretary of state victory in 1998. Most recently, White retained his title as secretary of state in 2018 with 68% of the vote — 39 points above his Republican challenger.
But with White off the ticket in 2022 and no preferred candidate to replace him at this time, according to his spokesman, that leaves a power vacuum to oversee the most public-facing elected office in the state that oversees a workforce of 3,600 employees and could be used as a stepping stone to an even higher office.
At least five Democrats are eyeing a statewide run to be the next secretary of state:
Ald. Walter Burnett
The longtime Chicago alderman is also a protégé of White’s, and the two continue to have a close relationship. “We’re gonna look at it. I may do a poll and see how it is and we take it a day at a time,” Burnett said. “For me, being in the position I’m in now, I gotta make sure it’s something I seriously want to do and can do.”
The former Illinois treasurer is mulling his third statewide campaign in 12 years. After losing his 2010 campaign for the U.S. Senate to Republican Mark Kirk, he stepped away from elective politics. Even though he hasn’t run in an Illinois election in more than a decade, Giannoulias still had $740,000 in his campaign account — by far the most of any of the other Democrats considering a run. A Giannoulias spokesman did not comment.
State Sen. Michael Hastings
The Frankfort Democrat briefly filed paperwork to run for secretary of state in 2018 — but backed away when White made it clear he was in fact running again. Hastings is a former Army captain who has been taking on more responsibility in the Senate since his 2012 election, and is currently in Senate leadership. Hastings also helped successfully override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a bill that raised the limit someone suing the state could win in the Court of Claims from $100,000 to $2 million, making it retroactive to also include the families of those who died of Legionnaires’ disease at the state-run veterans’ home in Quincy. “I believe I can help build on the legacy of Jesse White,” Hastings said.
The Chicago city clerk — appointed in 2017 and elected to a full term in 2019 — has already made the symbolic gesture of filing paperwork with the state making clear her ambitions of running for secretary of state. Now, she’s calling on a new generation of elected officials to take the reins. “There’s an array of things I’ve done as official records-keeper and making sure that we’re open in government that I think would transfer really well for the secretary of state’s office at a larger scale,” she said.
The Cook County clerk is no stranger to Springfield. As state representative, Yarbrough ushered through the indoor smoking ban and abolished the death penalty. As clerk, her office has absorbed the duties of the Cook County recorder of deeds. “This is a seat I’ve looked at for a long time,” she told WBEZ of running for secretary of state. “I believe this pandemic has shown us that we can do business — government business — in a better way, a more efficient way.”
Tony Arnold covers state politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.