Rutherford vows high energy campaign for Secretary of State
He won't make it official until shortly after the Labor Day weekend, but state Sen. Dan Rutherford, the Pontiac Republican, is running for his party's nomination for secretary of state.
Rutherford, a veteran state legislator who's served in a variety of staff roles for prominent Republicans, says he's looking forward to conducting a high-energy, pedal-to-the-metal campaign.
"I thrive on (campaigning)," said Rutherford. "I enjoy this stuff. I'm the kind of guy who enjoys being in parades."
The 50-year-old Rutherford has long been interested in seeking statewide office, and he's been soliciting opinions from friends and supporters about what, if any, office he should seek. He subscribes to the theory that the candidate who knows the most people wins, and Rutherford has traveling across the state for the past couple of years to see what opportunities are available.
So far, Rutherford said, he sees no other Republicans interested in his party's nomination to challenge a probable re-election effort by Democratic incumbent Jesse White.
"I've been out there for the last three years on the statewide circuit. I don't see anyone ( else in the Republican Party running for secretary of state)," he said.
But if a challenger for the GOP nomination steps forward, Rutherford said, he's still in the race. Rutherford joked that the only thing that could drive him out of the GOP race is if former governor and secretary of state Jim Edgar would decide to run, and he said he doesn't expect that to happen.
In fact, Rutherford said it looks to him like Edgar will run for governor against Democratic incumbent Rod Blagojevich and that Edgar's name at the top of the ballot would boost the entire GOP ticket.
However the ballot reads, Rutherford still will face a tough race against the popular White, who's served two terms and is expected to run for a third. He won re-election in 2002 in a landslide, garnering most of the endorsements from newspapers across the state. Although a career politician, White is perceived in a much more flattering light than the average office seeker.
A former professional athlete, the genial White travels across Illinois with the "Jesse White tumblers," a team of gymnasts who put on eye-popping demonstrations under White's direction. They routinely appear at basketball games at the Assembly Hall and always are well received.
The question facing White is whether he wants another term in office and, at his advanced age, has the stomach for the serious challenge Rutherford intends to mount. That's not to suggest that Rutherford will wage a nasty campaign. Indeed, he went out of his way to say that he has a "great deal of respect for Mr. White."
"I'm not going to run against Jesse," Rutherford said. "We're going to run for secretary of state."
By that, Rutherford said, he intends to emphasize the importance of "constituent service" by focusing on how modern technology can make the office more efficient and customer friendly.
"It seems to me that you don't have to have people stand in line for 90 minutes to 2 hours," Rutherford said, arguing that it should be possible for motorists to make appointments for specific appointment times over the Internet.
"I just know there are things corporations are doing today that they weren't doing three years ago, and I would suggest government needs to be doing the same thing," he said.
In addition to his 14 years experience in the Legislature, Rutherford is a longtime employee of Servicemaster Inc. He currently holds the title of vice president.
A former president of the student body at Illinois State University, Rutherford served as a staff aide to former state Rep. Tom Ewing, was a statewide coordinator of the Reagan presidential campaign in 1980 and later worked for Gov. Jim Thompson.
He has proven to be both a zealous campaigner and an equally dedicated student of public policy. With no significant name recognition across Illinois, Rutherford has his work cut out for him. But there are few aspiring officeholders in Illinois better equipped to wage the kind of campaign necessary to put the secretary of state's office back in the GOP column.