DEER GROVE – Today, Jesse White officially became the longest-serving secretary of state in Illinois history, and he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
The 79-year-old White was at Deer Valley Country Club on Thursday to speak at the Whiteside County Democrats’ JFK Dinner. White is running for a fifth term as secretary of state, after serving as a state representative for 16 years. Since assuming his current post in 1998, he has handily disposed of his opponents – the closest anyone has come since is 28 points.
White rallied the troops at the fundraiser while focusing on a theme of 50 years of progress since the death of the nation’s 35th president. But the secretary of state’s concept of progress was developed at an early age, and from a vantage point that few are fortunate enough to secure.
“When I was a student at Alabama State University in Montgomery, Alabama, my minister was Martin Luther King Jr.,” White said. “I was in the middle of the civil rights movement when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery.”
White said he vividly recalled the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
“I was teaching school when he was shot,” White said. “I remember the students, in tears, coming in to tell me about it.”
White retraced the Democratic administrations of presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. He lauded the human rights accomplishments of Clinton, and the historic progress inherent in Obama’s ascent to the Oval Office.
“We have made so much progress in the areas of civil rights, health care, education, technology, and transportation,” White said. “Now we must ask ourselves what we can do to continue on that path of progress.”
Keys to continued progress are keeping kids in school and getting people registered to vote, White said.
The secretary of state then asked for support for all of the Democratic candidates for state office, including speakers Lisa Madigan, Sheila Simon and Paul Vallas.
Madigan disappointed some of the party faithful by passing on a run for governor, instead deciding to go after a fourth term as attorney general.
“Lisa Madigan has a great future in this party, and I hope someday she will be senator or governor,” said Phil Hare, a former congressman serving as emcee for the event.
Madigan said that state finances are a big concern for Illinois residents. While people often preface that conversation with “I know finances are not really your thing”, Madigan says her office is not outside that realm.
“The attorney general’s office has brought over $10 billion into the state,” Madigan said. “We have helped bring relief to homeowners during the mortgage crisis, and now we are doing a great deal of work on the student loan front.”
Madigan said she is seeing some of the same practices with student loans that she saw with mortgages.
“We’re looking at $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loans,” Madigan said. “We need to help students contribute to our economy.”
The attorney general said several associates in her office have been at the high-profile Nicholas Sheley trial in Rock Island. She hopes to see the process end as soon as possible.
“This has caused so much pain for people in Whiteside County,” she said. “Hopefully, the families and community will soon have closure.”
Lieutenant Governor Simon is the only Democrat running for state office against a Republican incumbent, Judy Baar Topinka.
Despite “nerd alert” warnings from her daughter, Simon said she is excited by the prospects of what many consider a boring political post.
“The comptroller pays the state’s bills, but accountability for state funds should start here in this office,” Simon said. “Without accountability, you can’t trust that government is doing what it should be doing.”
Simon’s husband, Perry Knop, was at her side, sporting a bow tie that evoked memories of her father, former senator Paul Simon.
“Perry and I met at a Democratic fundraiser in Jackson County,” Simon said. “This is what we do for dates, and we’re ready to get out on the road.”