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Simon announces bid for Illinois comptroller

Published: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 11:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 11:38 a.m. CST

CHICAGO (AP) — Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon said Wednesday that she's running for Illinois comptroller, ending five months of uncertainty about which statewide office she would seek next year.

Simon, a Democrat, formally announced her plan during a campaign stop in downtown Chicago. She's was scheduled to visit Springfield and her hometown of Carbondale later in the day.

"I want to go beyond just transparency and where there is corruption and misspending," she told The Associated Press ahead of her announcement. "Let's engage people about where we're spending money as a state. Let's all be watchdogs."

The comptroller is central to handling Illinois' tax money and maintains the state's accounts, paying bills and signing checks to employees.

Simon is likely to face at least one Democratic challenger in the primary: Will County Auditor Duffy Blackburn has mentioned plans to run. Either would face a difficult challenge against Republican Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, a former three-term state treasurer who lost the 2006 governor's race to Rod Blagojevich. Along with experience in winning statewide offices, Topinka has a fundraising advantage, reporting more than $805,000 cash on hand at the end of the second quarter, compared with $272,000 for Simon and $25,300 for Blackburn.

Simon said she's up for the challenge.

"I'm not seeking an easier race," she said, explaining why she didn't choose state treasurer.

That office is wide open, with Treasurer Dan Rutherford seeking the GOP nomination for governor. However, for Simon to jump in would mean challenging a fellow downstate Democrat, state Sen. Mike Frerichs, who's exploring a bid.

Her approach Wednesday was admittedly low key, as she planned to drive instead of fly to each stop to save money.

In February, Simon abruptly announced her plans not to seek re-election with Gov. Pat Quinn, but she declined to say which statewide office she would seek. Instead, she played up her legal background as a former prosecutor and law professor, fueling talk that she would run for attorney general. Simon's campaign later mentioned comptroller and treasurer as possibilities.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan said this month she would seek another term rather than challenge Quinn. That caught Simon by surprise, but she said she was happy with how things turned out.

Simon explained that she made her early announcement to stay out of the lieutenant governor's race so that Quinn would have ample time to pick a running mate. She also said she wanted to focus on her own political future.

Simon, the daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, worked in Jackson County as an assistant state's attorney and taught law at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. She was placed on the 2010 lieutenant governor's ballot by Democratic officials even though she had little campaign experience. She had run for Carbondale's mayor, but lost.

She said that while weighing her decision, she thought about a conversation she once had with former Illinois Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch, who died in March. Netsch helped rewrite the state constitution and was the first woman to get the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor.

"I asked her what she found most exciting. It was the opportunity to teach people about the budget, to get more people engaged about how we spend money as a state," Simon told AP. "That's exactly what I want to do."

The office has received attention lately as Quinn moved to halt lawmakers' pay after they failed to act on pensions. After review the matter, Topinka said she had no choice but to withhold paychecks, citing a previous court case. The head of the House and Senate filed a lawsuit against Quinn over the issue on Tuesday.

Simon said she agreed with Topinka's assessment that Quinn was within his power to veto the budget to cut salaries. If elected, she says she also plans to keep a focus on Illinois' massive backlog of unpaid bills.

"It's a shameful state that we're in," she said. "That's something that lawmakers need to pay attention to."

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Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen

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