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Watch now: With Jesse White retiring, field for Illinois secretary of state race growing

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Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has said he would not seek reelection in 2022.

In 2019, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White said he would not seek reelection in 2022 — for real, this time. 

It’s been a running joke of sorts in political circles as White, 86, has toyed with retirement before, even saying he wouldn’t run again in 2018 before backtracking and coasting to a record sixth term.

But White is serious this time, leaving an open seat for the first time in 24 years. And a wide range of candidates have already announced campaigns to fill it.

Former State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is the most prominent candidate throwing his hat in the ring. He's also been joined by fellow Democrats Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia, south suburban state Sen. Michael Hastings and Chicago aldermen Pat Dowell and David Moore.

There are currently no declared candidates on the Republican side, but former Illinois Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, who resigned in January after being deposed from his leadership position, is believed to be considering a run.

State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, confirmed to Heart of Illinois ABC last week that he is also considering a run. State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, has also been linked to a run for statewide office in 2022.

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It’s easy to see why Democrats wanted to keep White around as long as possible. He’s a beloved figure in the party and by most accounts runs a good office.

And it was one less statewide race to worry about — White has secured at least 62% of the vote in all of his reelection campaigns, often winning in areas Democrats have long ceded in other state and federal races. It’s been several cycles since Republicans seriously contested the office.

It could present the best opportunity for Republicans to break through on the statewide ballot in 2022 given that it's an open seat and that it should be a favorable national climate for the party.  

There's a lot at stake. After all, it’s the state's second-largest constitutional office after the governor’s office, employing more than 4,000 people, with responsibilities that exceed most of its counterpart offices in other states. 

Most prominently, it is the unit of government that issues driver’s licenses and registers motor vehicles. The secretary of state is also the keeper of official state records, maintains the 20-building Capitol Complex and oversees the state library. 

And from a political perspective, the office has been a springboard for higher office. White's two immediate predecessors, George Ryan and Jim Edgar, went on to become governor. Alan Dixon, who served from 1977 to 1981, was subsequently elected to the U.S. Senate. 

Giannoulias is easily the most prominent name to emerge. A basketball buddy of former President Barack Obama who was elected state treasurer in 2006 at the age of 30, he was considered a rising star in Illinois politics.

But that rise came to a crashing halt in 2010, when he was defeated in his run for U.S. Senate by Republican Mark Kirk. It was a lousy year for Democrats nationally, but many attributed Giannoulias’ defeat to his ties with his family’s troubled bank, which closed that year after becoming overburdened with bad loans. 

Those same questions will undoubtedly resurface as the campaign heats up. But thus far, Giannoulias has proven that he still has political chops after 10 years in the private sector. 

In recent weeks, he has announced several major endorsements, including from the Service Employees International Union State Council, which counts 150,000 members in Illinois. The union’s Local 73 represents about 2,700 workers in the secretary of state’s office. 

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“Alexi’s knowledge of our issues, his demonstrated support for worker rights and his clear understanding of the Secretary of State’s office makes him the undisputed choice for labor and the best chance we have for ensuring the seat remains held by a Democrat,” said SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff. 

Days later, he added influential U.S. Rep. Chuy Garcia, D-Chicago, to the list along with several other prominent Latinx officials in Garcia’s orbit. And money isn’t an issue — Giannoulias has more than $2.4 million on hand, according to Illinois Sunshine.

But, the road to the nomination won’t be a coronation. 

Valencia, who officially announced her campaign earlier this week, has secured endorsements from Unite Here Local 1, which represents about 15,000 Chicago-area hospitality workers, and the Latino Victory Fund, a political organization that supports Latinx candidates running at all levels of government. 

Before her appointment as Chicago City Clerk in 2016, Valencia was a well-regarded political operative, running campaigns for Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Chicago, and Sen. Dick Durbin before serving in both governmental and political roles under former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

She is also a native of Granite City, perhaps providing an opening to capture support in Metro East. 

Hastings, an Army veteran, has served in the Illinois Senate since 2013. He has secured the endorsement of the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters. 

Dowell has served on the Chicago City Council since 2007, representing the south lakefront, including McCormick Place. Moore was elected to the council in 2015, representing several South Side neighborhoods

And there’s still time for others to jump in. There will definitely be Republicans who take the leap.

However, in this initial stage, which some have called the “invisible primary,” Giannoulias is off to a fast start. We will see if he can maintain that momentum through the June 28, 2022 primary. 

Lawmakers to return next week

As promised, the Illinois General Assembly is heading back to Springfield next week to take up clean energy legislation and a handful of other unresolved topics.

The Senate will be in town Tuesday and the House on Wednesday.

The energy bill is expected to outline a roadmap to a carbon-free future and provide subsidies to three of Exelon’s nuclear power plants, which were in danger of closure.

The process hit a roadblock after some lawmakers raised concerns about the future of municipally-owned and cooperative coal-fired power plants. But, those issues have apparently been resolved. 



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