Jim Dey: Getting, staying on ballot equally tough for Dems in AG race

Jim Dey: Getting, staying on ballot equally tough for Dems in AG race

Hear more from Dey Wednesday at 10 on WDWS.

The eight-way race for the Democratic Party's nomination to succeed Lisa Madigan as this state's attorney general is becoming a true free-for-all among ambitious politicos, and tempers are growing short.

Former Gov. Pat Quinn, pursuing yet another political comeback, recently flared when pressed by reporters about why he has decided to seek public office yet again.

"I'm not going away, all right!" Quinn snapped.

Pressed by a rival candidate about taking what he called an "advance bribe" of $100,000 from tobacco companies when the office he seeks is negotiating a national tobacco settlement, Chicago state Sen. Kwame Raoul suggested that his critic, Chicago lawyer Jesse Ruiz, is no better because Ruiz "just stepped off Exelon's board and took" money from the powerful utility.

Then there's state Rep. Scott Drury of suburban Highwood. He's the real black sheep of this august group, the bete noir of a party establishment led by Democratic state party chairman and all-powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Madigan not only doesn't want Drury to win the Democratic Party's nomination to run for his daughter's current job, he also doesn't — make that didn't — want Drury in the race at all.

That's why powerful Democrats tried — and failed — to knock Drury off the ballot with a clever ploy to challenge the legality of his candidate filing.

Was Madigan behind the effort?

He's too clever to leave his fingerprints behind. But Madigan's chief of staff, Tim Mapes, obtained copies of Drury's petitions, and Drury was the only candidate whose petitions were challenged by party regulars.

(Drury did challenge the petitions of a rival candidate, Renato Mariotti, because he said there was evidence of fraudulent signatures. The challenge was dismissed because the elections board said Mariotti has enough signatures otherwise to qualify for the ballot.)

So while the evidence is not bullet-proof, it was close enough for Drury to declare victory over the Democratic establishment generally, and Madigan specifically, last week after the Illinois State Board of Elections voted 5-3 to allow his name to remain on the ballot.

"Throughout this challenge, Mike Madigan and a corrupt political system tried to thwart democracy and maintain their grip on power. The good guys won, and there will be a lot more victories for the public when I'm attorney general," said Drury, a former federal prosecutor.

Here's what the dispute was about.

Candidates for office are required to file statements of economic interest, documents that vaguely outline the candidate's finances.

Drury filed that statement as a state legislator in April with Secretary of State Jesse White's office. It lists his holdings — stocks, mutual funds and retirement accounts.

So when Drury filed to run for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, he filed a receipt, a move that he said the law permits, that indicated his economic interest statement was already online and available to the public.

Thomas Rottman, a business agent for Operating Engineers Union Local 150 in Chicago, challenged Drury's ballot standing because Drury failed to file a new form that was identical to the one already on file.

An ISBE hearing office recommended Drury be thrown off the ballot, while the board's legal counsel said Drury had met the legal requirements to remain a candidate.

The board voted 5-3 — all three members who voted to oust Drury are Democrats — to reject the challenge.

Illinois courts have made it clear that technical violations — not filing a copy of a statement already on file is pretty technical and not even a violation — should be viewed with suspicion, that reviewing bodies ought to opt to let the voters, not politically motivated challengers, pick winners and losers.

But challenges like this are not only routine but also encouraged as a means of harassing candidates. The best-case scenario is to get the candidate thrown off the ballot, forcing expensive litigation if the ousted candidate challenges the decision in court. At a minimum, political operatives can force their target to spend time and money that could otherwise be devoted to the campaign.

That's what this was all about, and there's a good reason why.

To borrow a phrase from Chicago political folklore, Madigan "don't want nobody nobody sent." No party insider wants anything to do with Drury, at least publicly.

During his brief time in the House, Drury has made his distaste for Madigan's autocratic leadership style well-known. He publicly explained his reasons for refusing to vote to re-elect Madigan as speaker, prompting Madigan to strip him of committee assignments that reduced Drury's legislative salary.

Now Drury, a traditional liberal Democrat, is running for attorney general on a campaign pledge to prosecute corruption and do what he can to put an end to Madigan-style business as usual.

If elected, Drury said he will partner with county state's attorneys' offices to conduct joint grand-jury probes. He said he disputes claims from Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office that she has little to no jurisdiction over political-corruption cases. Drury said it's his opinion that the Illinois Constitution indicates otherwise.

"Just because an attorney general hasn't used the jurisdiction doesn't mean it doesn't exist," he said. "I'm going to push very hard to use jurisdiction that already exists."

Whatever authority he lacks,Drury said he would seek from the Legislature, a move that would guarantee another bitter public battle with Michael Madigan.

"I believe Illinois should get out of the business of outsourcing the political-corruption fight to the federal government, news organizations and public-interest organizations," he said.

That's a message that will resonate with a lot of Illinoisans, particularly Democrats who are as dismayed with Madigan as they are with Republicans. Now that he has put the ballot challenge in his rearview mirror, Drury is free to see if Democratic voters in the March 20 primary are as interested in it as public opinion polls conducted by Southern Illinois University-Carbondale indicate they are.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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JohnRalphio wrote on January 16, 2018 at 11:01 am

Wow, the N-G just can't help fetishizing Madigan. He's an octopus of intrigue! Even when there's no evidence that he was involved in a minor political squabble, it's all about him and his power struggle, etc. etc. 

Seems like the main reason the News-Gazette approves of Scott Drury is he's likely to obstruct any revisions to Illinois' tax code that would create a progressive tax.