Edgar hems and haws about his future
9/10 News-Gazette column
Edgar says he's able, not sure he's willing
The phone is ringing with regularity, and the questioners keep asking former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar the same old thing: will he or won't he?
"But I don't mind reporters pestering me," Edgar said.
He might mind later because if Edgar runs for the Republican nomination for governor, the stakes will be higher, the scrutiny greater and the questions tougher. But, for now, it's no problem to address inquiries about his possible candidacy, even though the 58-year-old Edgar says he doesn't have an answer and may not for some time.
"I can truly say that I don't know what I'm going to do," he said.
Frankly, it's hard to imagine the former Republican governor running again for the office he held from 1990 to 1998. The fact that he is considering it can be attributed to two undeniable factors, the perceived weakness of other GOP candidates and the degree of voter disenchantment with incumbent Democrat Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Here are two other political realities:
[–] The longer Edgar waits to make a decision, the more likely it is that he will run. That's because it doesn't take resources and staff members to say no. But it takes a well-funded political army to be ready to announce a gubernatorial campaign and hit the ground running.
[–] If Edgar announces that he's a candidate, the Blagojevich campaign almost surely will unleash an immediate barrage of negative ads against him that could make October 2005 look like October 2006, the eve of the general election. Edgar is a popular former governor, and Blagojevich's sagging poll numbers make it a necessity for the current governor to use his ample campaign funds to persuade voters that they really didn't like Edgar at all and certainly don't want him back.
Indeed, the political sniping has already started, just as it did last year when Edgar briefly considered whether to run for the U.S. Senate after GOP nominee Jack Ryan withdrew his candidacy.
Still, Edgar said he feels "pretty comfortable" that if he runs he'll win. So that's not a big hurdle in his decision-making process.
A major concern is the wife factor, and the rumor mill on Brenda Edgar's opinion is running wild. Some reports have her urging him to run and calling potential donors to solicit campaign donations. He said that story is false. Other rumors have her throwing down the gauntlet and warning that his candidacy will have to come over her dead body.
"I don't think she's gone that far," Edgar said.
So what does Brenda Edgar think about another run for governor?
"Brenda thinks it's insane. ... But then she's always thought this business is insane," he said.
Then, there's the health issue. Edgar has had heart problems, and he needs to know if he's strong enough to take the stress that goes with being chief executive of the state and dealing with a Legislature that is likely to remain under Democratic control.
He said that he underwent two days of medical tests this week to see where he stands.
"I'm probably doing a little more testing because I want to have as many questions as possible answered," Edgar said.
So does that mean he's leaning toward running if he gets a clean bill of health? Well, no.
"What I'm basically doing is what I do every year," said Edgar, who indicated that he believes his "health is fine" but said that might be because "I haven't been governor for a while."
Edgar has traveled a long road from his days as the boy wonder of Coles County politics in the early 1970s to his current status as the GOP's gray eminence.
He was beaten badly in his first campaign for the Illinois House of Representatives, a Republican primary against state Rep. Max Coffey. But when Coffey moved to the state Senate a couple years later, Edgar won a seat in the Illinois House.
He later resigned his House seat to work for Gov. Jim Thompson as chief legislative liaison and subsequently was appointed secretary of state by Thompson when Democratic Secretary of State Alan Dixon was elected to the U.S. Senate. After two terms as secretary of state, Edgar, at age 44, won a close race for governor against Democrat Neil Hartigan in 1990 and a landslide re-election victory in 1994.
He stepped down from the governor's office in 1999 and went to work for the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois. Since then, Edgar has enjoyed a lucrative and comfortable private life, earning an annual income in excess of $500,000 a year, and spending long summer vacations in Colorado, where the Edgars' two children and five grandchildren reside and they maintain a second home.
But Edgar also watched in horror as his Republican successor, George Ryan, presided over one of the most politically corrupt and financially irresponsible administrations in state history. (Ryan is scheduled to go on trial Sept. 19 on corruption charges.) In Edgar's view, things have not improved under Democrat Blagojevich, whose budget decisions not only have resulted in a massive increase in state debt but also dramatic hikes in state spending.
For now, Edgar is circumspect in his criticism of the Blagojevich administration.
"I just think fiscally we've made mistakes," he said. "The main thing is, do I have a responsibility to go back and make changes? There is no easy answer. There is no clear answer."
And there certainly will be no quick answer. Some GOP leaders have urged Edgar to announce a decision soon out of deference to other Republicans who want to run for governor. But Edgar insists "there's plenty of time" until the December filing period, the March primary and the November 2006 general election, and he won't be rushed.
"Whether I run or not doesn't stop (other GOP candidates) from going out and seeing people," he said.
So that's where it stands [–] for now and probably for a while longer. Edgar said the list of "personal reasons for running for governor is pretty short." But he's not short on confidence that he can run, win and effectively govern.
"I've been governor. I know the job, and I think I can handle it," Edgar said.