CHICAGO – From running an alpaca farm to working at Chicago law firms, Illinois’ six lieutenant governor candidates cover a wide spectrum of political and life experiences – differences in the spotlight more than ever before.
For the first time, the state’s governor and lieutenant governor candidates are running together, a recent reform that’s evident on the campaign trail. The six duos split up to reach more voters with their message ahead of the March 18 primary and talk about team work once in office, while most offer some level of demographic and geographic diversity. But running in pairs is also risky, like when candidates disagree on an issue.
The six candidates for the state’s No. 2 spot are relatively unknown statewide, aside from one Republican lawmaker and a former Chicago Public Schools chief. They’ve kept low profiles and are sparsely seen in ads. However, the team approach – instituted after embarrassing revelations about the 2010 Democratic nominee – could refashion the role of the next understudy governor after years of questions over whether the state needs one at all.
“It’s a new role as kind of an equal partner,” said Republican state Rep. Jil Tracy, who is running with Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale.
Of the four Republicans, Dillard has incorporated his pick the most. At debates, he’s held up Tracy’s picture while describing her as an attorney whose family runs Mt. Sterling-based Dot Foods. He says she will be tasked with repealing anti-business regulations.
However, the team is less in sync when it comes to the Legislature’s landmark state pension overhaul, which will cut benefits to state workers and retirees if not overturned by the courts. Dillard voted against it. Tracy was in favor and served on the committee that drafted a framework for it.
A rival governor candidate, state Sen. Bill Brady, often points out the discrepancy. Officials with the Illinois Retired Teachers Association, who endorsed Dillard because of his no vote, said the split caused them to pause.
Tracy, of Quincy, acknowledges it’s hard to explain.
“We had cobbled together a bill. It was not perfect,” she said. “Sen. Dillard and I ... agree wholeheartedly on most issues.”
Winnetka venture capitalist Bruce Rauner and his lieutenant governor partner, Wheeling City Councilwoman Evelyn Sanguinetti, disagree on Illinois’ new medical marijuana law. Rauner said he wouldn’t extend a pilot program adopted last year that will allow sick patients to get medical cannabis. But Sanguinetti is in favor; she suffers from multiple sclerosis and said there are benefits for people in pain.
“Bruce and I will differ,” she said, indicating she didn’t see it as a problem.
The lieutenant governor picks have been a way to offer voters some diversity. The four Republicans are all white males and each chose either a woman or a minority, both target demographic groups as the party attempts to broaden its appeal after big losses in 2012.
Brady of Bloomington selected former Long Grove Village President Maria Rodriguez, whose family owns an alpaca farm. She’s mostly Irish, her husband is part Cuban and she talks about embracing all cultures. She’s also writing a book on women’s empowerment.
“I was very upfront with Bill Brady about the fact that it is a great platform to speak to women about the importance of getting involved,” she said.
Treasurer Dan Rutherford, another GOP governor candidate, chose Steve Kim, a Korean-American who immigrated as a young child, a story he shares at Korean churches.
“A lot of the Asian community feels as though they haven’t been represented,” he said.
Sanguinetti – a Spanish-speaking attorney and professor whose parents are from Ecuador and Cuba – has reached out to Latinos. She considers her life story her biggest achievement, including lifting herself from poverty. It’s a contrast to the narrative around her ticket partner, Rauner, who’s been able to pour millions into his own campaign.
Like others, the two travel Illinois separately, something Sanguinetti describes as a “divide and conquer approach.”
The lieutenant governor has few official duties beyond being prepared to take over, earning it the nickname “light governor.” But that remote possibility actually unfolded when Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested and jailed on corruption charges. He was impeached in 2009, allowing then-Lt. Gov. Quinn to assume the office.
The following year, the Democratic nomination was won by Scott Lee Cohen, a pawn shop owner. But Democratic leaders forced him to step aside after a past domestic battery charge and other issues surfaced. Soon after, lawmakers changed election law to make governor and lieutenant governor candidates run together.
Quinn has chosen former Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas, a former CPS leader and currently a school superintendent in Connecticut. The governor faces only one lesser-known Democratic challenger and isn’t expected to ramp up his campaign until after the primary, but Vallas has campaigned without him.
Quinn’s challenger, anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman, chose Brunell Donald, a Chicago attorney who worked as a public defender and motivational speaker. The two campaign together, recently in rough East St. Louis neighborhoods.
Donald has helped her ticket mate deal with a character issue he faces. He once starred in a documentary film about keeping Chicago youths away from violence, but was accused of domestic battery by his wife last year before the charges ultimately were dropped. He denies wrongdoing, and Donald talks about her first campaign task being to ask his wife about the allegations to decide if she wanted to run.
“I had to look her in the eye ... and she was comfortable,” Donald said explaining the woman’s demeanor. “I’m a woman. I have kids and a reputation.”
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