JOLIET – Jason Helland wants to make one thing abundantly clear to the jury that will decide whether he will become Secretary of State: He’s a local product.
Helland, the Grundy County State’s Attorney since 2012 who won the Republican nomination this past spring, is a graduate of Seneca High School, Joliet Junior College and the University of St. Francis.
He conceded he’s facing an uphill climb against five-term incumbent Jesse White, a fact he said isn’t made any easier by the media across the state not taking his campaign seriously – especially in Chicago. He reiterated those points Monday during a sit-down with the Shaw Media Editorial Board.
“Let me tell you about the Chicago media and some of the problems I’ve had with this media,” Helland said. He said because Illinois is a Democratic state and people expect a blue wave in November, he should fold in the face of Jesse White, one of the most popular politicians in the state.
“The problem is absolute power corrupts absolutely, and you have to challenge the incumbents to make change,” Helland said. “I believe this is a winnable election.”
For Helland, the election is about term limits. He said his opponent wanted to retire 10 years ago but continues to run for office because the Secretary of State’s Office is a haven for patronage jobs from the “Democratic Machine,” Helland said.
Helland also said he believes White plans to step down once elected so another Democrat can take his place.
Asked whether he thought that meant Democrat J.B. Pritzker winning the gubernatorial election was a foregone conclusion and Gov. Bruce Rauner would not be able to appoint a Republican if White stepped down, Helland said “absolutely not.”
“Bruce Rauner has the ability to win,” he said. “I don’t care what the polling data says ... I don’t give any weight to polling data because, ultimately, on Election Day there’s going to be 3 million voters.”
If Rauner does not win, he said, there will be no reform in Illinois and the flight of Illinois residents out of the state is going to continue.
Helland’s legal background – he’s a graduate of John Marshall Law School and was a prosecutor in Kankakee County before becoming Grundy County State’s Attorney – came up during the interview. He said he is a traffic safety specialist, and would use his role as secretary of state to improve traffic safety.
One big issue for Helland is the laws surrounding breathalyzers in cars for people convicted of driving under the influence. While the systems check for alcohol on a driver’s breath, they do not check for drugs. He said he wanted to see legislation that would correct the program and expand it.
Helland also said he would cut the Secretary of State’s workforce by exploring opportunities for automation. He didn’t offer specifics, but said he would look at what other similar facilities across the country were doing. It would be part of an effort to trim the budget of the second largest office in the state.
Many of Helland’s ideas to change the office would require legislation and the office could not dictate the changes unilaterally. Asked how he would work with a Democratic General Assembly, he said that White currently proposes and rejects legislation all the time to do so. Helland said he is known for working in a bipartisan manner in Grundy County.