Saturday, March 20, 2010

Democratic Party Officials Audition Candidates for Lt Governor

NOTE: The Illinois Channel on Monday will air our interview with Speaker Madigan's Press Secretary, Steve Brown on the Lt Gov selection process for filling the slot on the Dem Ballot. That will be followed by Prof. Paul Green also commenting on that -- and other issues -- as he is interviewed by our Contributing Correspondent, Jeff Berkowitz.

The auditions/interviews noted in the article below took place in Chicago, though the article has a Springfield dateline.


SPRINGFIELD — Audition day in the Democratic Party brought out a used-car salesman, veteran legislators, an expert on bat houses and a political legend's daughter — all hoping to become the party's nominee for lieutenant governor of Illinois.

In presentations to party leaders Saturday, some argued that they have the government know-how a state official needs. Others stressed their business experience. Some made the case that they understand the interests and worries of regular voters.

"I get to hear what people think," said Jose Ruiz, a 29-year-old Chicago car salesman. "I think my everyday experience has been more than enough to get me ready for any position."

The applicants also included some of the people who failed to win the nomination in last month's primary election.

"Ten thousand signatures, 30,000 miles and $150,000 later, I'm still trying," said Rep. Arthur Turner, who finished second in the primary.

The original nominee for lieutenant governor, Scott Lee Cohen, withdrew in an embarrassing episode for the party. Democratic leaders pressured him to drop out after allegations of domestic abuse, steroid use and failure to pay child support.

Officials decided to throw open the search for Gov. Pat Quinn's new running mate. They allowed anyone interested in the job to apply online and present their argument to the Democratic Central Committee. More than 100 people made their cases at five hearings in Chicago, its suburbs and Springfield.

Applicants praised the very public search as a way to promote interest in the job and to fight the image of Illinois as a place where every political decision is a backroom deal.

But some also said the process might amount to nothing more than political theater.

"I have to move forward as if it's a serious process. I don't know if that's the case," said Rayne Devivo, a stay-at-home mother from LeRoy.

Devivo said she has worked in state government as an assistant attorney general, among other things. Many others have no state experience.

Robert Nelson of Rochester, for instance, said he's a former school bus driver and an environmentalist. He told the committee that he designs bat houses and gives demonstrations on how to build snowshoes.

The applicants also included former Marines, advocates of legalizing marijuana, a radio DJ, the East St. Louis city treasurer and a volunteer firefighter.

One would-be lieutenant governor, Sheila Simon, called them "a really neat group of folks."

Simon, a law professor at Southern Illinois University, is the daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon. She told the committee that she's been part of political campaigns since the age of 7 and understands the rigors of running for statewide office.

In the end, 17 applicants survived the initial screening process and will be considered March 27, when the full Democratic Central Committee is expected to pick a nominee.

The finalists include Turner, Simon and Sen. Susan Garrett, who is on Quinn's list of possibilities. Some relative unknowns also made the cut, including Glenview businesswoman Megan Drilling and DuPage County Board member Dirk Enger.

Committee members are divided on how they'll decide who gets the nomination.

Some say they'll give great deference to Quinn's preference, which the governor says he will reveal in the coming week. Others argue that Turner, the second-place finisher, deserves the nomination.

Rep. Constance Howard, D-Chicago, compared the situation to the Miss America contest. If the winner drops out, she said, the runner-up takes over.

Michael Madigan, chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, offered little guidance on how the decision will be made next Saturday.

"I'm sure the members of the committee, like I, will be greatly interested in the opinion of the governor. We're very interested in working with him," Madigan said.

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