CHICAGO — The 2014 race for Illinois treasurer began to take shape Wednesday as outgoing House Republican Leader Tom Cross officially launched his bid with a two-day statewide tour touting his experience in law and budgeting.
Cross, who faces DuPage County Auditor Bob Grogan in the March primary, had considered seeking the state's attorney general post, but the former prosecutor changed course after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan decided to seek re-election. He said his legal background will still be an asset in the office of treasurer.
"The treasurers' office, more than ever before, can be a catalyst in trying to turn the state around," he told The Associated Press ahead of his official campaign launch in Chicago. "I understand the budget as well as anybody in the state ... you can take the prosecutorial background and be a fiscal watchdog."
His statewide tour includes stops Wednesday in Chicago, Rockford and Moline. On Thursday he's scheduled to be in Peoria, Quincy, Springfield and Plainfield.
So far, Grogan, 45, is Cross' only opponent. On the Democratic side, state Sen. Mike Frerichs of Champaign has said he's running.
Grogan, who launched his bid last month, has focused on his experience as a certified public accountant at a Chicago firm and the public sector where he's said he improved transparency. He's also taken jabs at Cross, noting that the treasurer's post wasn't his first choice.
"If qualified people don't run, lawyers do," said Grogan.
He also said Cross' name recognition could be a double-edged sword.
Cross, 55, received some criticism at the end of his 10 years as House minority leader, with some partly blaming him for Republicans' poor election showing last year. The House lost seven Republican seats, and both the House and Senate now have veto-proof Democratic majorities.
Cross said it was a matter of numbers and that having President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket hurt Republicans. He also dismissed any notion that he was pushed out of the leadership position.
"You're at the mercy of the math and mercy of a presidential candidate," he said. "No one was talking about anybody taking my place until after I started talking about running (for office)."
In Illinois, the treasurer invests state money and the comptroller writes checks and pays the bills. The treasurer spot is wide open because Treasurer Dan Rutherford is seeking the GOP nomination for governor.
Cross said his background in budgeting could help the treasurer's office take a more active role as lawmakers grapple with intense financial problems. Illinois has the worst-funded pension system in the nation and has a backlog of billions of dollars in unpaid bills.
He worked for eight years as a prosecutor in the Kendall County State's Attorney's Office. The attorney from Oswego has served in the state House since 1993, and as Republican caucus leader since 2003. After he told caucus members about his intentions to run for treasurer, Republicans held an election in late August naming Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs to the leadership post. He'll take over soon.
Cross said his priorities include giving more input on an honest budgeting process, without gimmickry lawmakers use, and giving the public a clearer picture of the state's financial conditions.
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