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Tom Cross Takes Lead over Mike Frerichs in Treasurers Race

Russ Stewart 20 August 2014 No Comment

A whole bunch of words and phrases aptly describe the Illinois state treasurer’s contest, none of which have yet registered a blip on the votes’ radar:

Not. Most. Why? Nobody. Uh-oh. Stay Put. Plan No. Mess. And, lastly, Blame George Bush. Here’s a synopsis.

NOT. As a job, being state treasurer is not rocket science. It’s just arithmetic. State revenue is generated from taxes and fees; it is collected by the treasurer; it is invested by the treasurer for maximum return; and, periodically, it is transferred to a state account administered by the Comptroller, who then pays the state’s recurrent bills.

Unfortunately, Illinois collects $2 for every $3 it spends, with a $12 billion annual shortfall. That means current bills are deferred until the next fiscal year, monies are borrowed to pay the bills, or the bills are ignored. The state Constitution mandates a balanced budget. Illinois has $7 billion in unpaid (primarily Medicaid vendor) bills, and total indebtedness of $192 billion, which includes bonded debt of $45 billion and unfunded pensions of $85 billion; add to that $44 billion annually in retiree health care costs, $2.4 billion owed the federal government for unemployment compensation payouts, and $13 billion in debt interest payments (almost a third of the state’s annual revenue), and Illinois is up the creek without a paddle.

The next treasurer’s job will not be to pay bills, but to decide which bills not to pay.

MOST: In a 2011 interview, current Treasurer Dan Rutherford (R) called Illinois the “most bankrupt state,” with the worst credit rating and the highest unfunded pension debt. That’s still the case.

WHY? Nobody wants to be Illinois’ treasurer for life, although Judy Baar Topinka (R), now the comptroller, kept the job for 12 years (1994-2006) before losing to Governor Rod Blagojevich in 2006. The job offers some visibility, and has been a steppingstone to higher office.

A few prior occupants moved on. Bill Scott (R), who served from 1962-66, became state attorney general (1968-81), but lost a 1980 senate primary; Democrat Adlai Stevenson (1966-70) became U.S, Senator in 1970, but lost races for governor in 1982 and 1986; his successor, Al Dixon (D), served 1970-76, was elected Secretary of State in 1976, and won Stevenson’s senate seat in 1980, but lost to Carol Moseley Braun in 1992.

Of late, the office has been a flame-out. Current incumbent Dan Rutherford (R), elected in 2010, was the odds-on favorite to win the 2014 Republican governor nomination until allegations surfaced that he harassed office employees, That’s poison in a Republican primary. Despite having raised $2 million, Rutherford got a dismal 7.5 percent of the vote. And the in-office “investigation” Rutherford promised has gone nowhere.

Democrat Jerry Cosentino (1978-82, 1986-90) lost bids for Secretary of State to Jim Edgar (R) in 1982 and to George Ryan (R) in 1990. Democrat Pat Quinn (1990-94), now governor, lost to Ryan in 1994. Democrat Alexi Giannulias (2006-10) lost the 2010 U.S. Senate race to Mark Kirk (R). .

NOBODY: The 2014 contestants are State Representative Tom Cross (R-97), of Oswego in south suburban KendallCounty, and State Senator Mike Frerichs (D-52), of Champaign-Urbana. Cross, who recently resigned as House Republican leader, has been in Springfield since 1992; Frerichs has been a senator since 2006.

Neither is well-known. Frerichs disparages Cross as a “22-year Springfield  insider,” which is ludicrous. Being Speaker Mike Madigan’s (D) counterpart in the Illinois House made Cross irrelevant and inconsequential, mired in a 47-71 minority. That’s why he’s bailing to run for treasurer. Frerichs is a close ally of Democratic Senate President John Cullerton, who cleared out the field in 2013 and got Frerichs slated for treasurer.

“We (Democrats) need geographic diversity,” said Frerichs, a Downstater. Normally, Democratic statewide tickets are packed with Chicagoans. In 2010, of  seven statewide contenders, the only Downstater was Sheila Simon for lieutenant governor. In 2014, the Democrats’ ticket includes non-Chicagoans Frerichs, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, of Springfield, and Simon, of Carbondale, for comptroller. Frerichs’ problem is that he is utterly unknown north of I-80, had $1.3 million cash-on-had (as of June 30), and has no especial appeal to Chicago minorities. He cannot win if  Quinn loses to Bruce Rauner (R) by more than 200,000 votes.  NEW HERE

UH-OH. “It’s stumbling and bumbling,” said former Republican state chairman Jack Dorgan of the Frerichs campaign. “He’s (Frerichs) doing a great job of losing.”

Among Frerichs’ miscues: When he announced his candidacy, Frerichs’ website posted a video of the senator demanding the end of “free, lifetime health care for state legislators.” But he is on record voting against that ban. Oops. Frerichs wants to make the treasurer’s investments more Illinois-centric, and slammed “overseas” investments. The office’s only overseas investments are in Israeli-issued government bonds. Oops. There goes the Jewish vote. Frerichs touts the fact that he is “a prepared and experienced finance official,” having been ChampaignCounty auditor for 4 years. Cross’s campaign is preparing a slew of negative TV ads which will accuse Frerichs of “bad math” as county auditor, of “$3 million in bad investments,” of creating $2.5 million in new unfunded liability, of being dismissed by the county board as the agent for the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, of hiring his past campaign chairman as a county supervisor of assessments (who later resigned), and of backing a “no-show” replacement for himself as auditor when he won the senate seat in 2006.

“He (Frerichs) has enough baggage to sink a battleship,” joked Dorgan.

Now Frerichs in embroiled in a controversy about whether he paid the property taxes on his senate and political offices, which are housed separately in the same building in Champaign. Oops. First he said that it was the Department of Revenue’s fault, then he said the bill was sent to the wrong address, and then his aide told this columnist that the lease didn’t require the tenant (Frerichs) to pay the taxes. Cross will have fun with this miscue.

To date, Frerichs has not defined himself. Cross’s supposed torrent of negative ads will soon solve that problem. Not to worry, said Frerichs’ aide. “Cross hasn’t got the money.”

STAY PUT: The incumbent is Dan Rutherford (R), an astute and ideologically moderate Republican who won the office in 2010 by a surprising  161,049-vote margin, while Bill Brady (R) was losing the governorship to Pat Quinn (D) by 31,834 votes. Rutherford, a Pontiac state senator, amassed 1,811,293 votes, more than senate winner Mark Kirk’s 1,778,698 and Brady’s 1,713,385.

Of course, Rutherford’s opponent was a pushover: black south suburban Cook County/Will County state representative Robin Kelly, had no Downstate appeal, minimal appeal to white suburbanites, and was outspent 3-1 by Rutherford, Kelly moved on to win Jesse Jackson Jr.’s congressional seat in 2013. Had Rutherford sought re-election, he would have been a cinch – and no alleged scandals would have surfaced.

If Cross expects to win in 2014, he must replicate Rutherford’s 2010 gameplan. In 2010, Brady won the 95 Downstate counties by 354,146 votes, the six collar counties by 114,583 votes, but lost CookCounty (Chicago and suburbs) by 500,553 votes. By contrast, Rutherford lost CookCounty by 387,353 votes. While Brady got under 20 percent in Chicago, Rutherford got nearly 30 percent; while Brady got under 40 percent in the suburbs, Rutherford got nearly 50 percent. If Cross does not lose CookCounty by more than 400,000, he’s a winner.

PLAN NO. Cross has a plan, which Frerichs derides as “Plan No.” Frerichs said that the state’s “vital services” cannot be cut. “Public policy requires that we put some (state) money where people need it.” Adds Frerichs: The job “is not just about numbers. We must have compassion for the needs of the people.” He attributed the state’s fiscal woes to the 2008 “global monetary collapse.” In other words, blame George Bush, not the Democrats who have controlled state government since 2002, not Quinn, and certainly not legislators like himself. “Idiotic,” responds Cross. “The treasurer’s job is not to invest money where he thinks ‘it will do the most good.’ His job is to get the highest rate of return.” Frerichs, said Cross, “is really liberal. He doesn’t understand that the way to spend more money on education is to borrow less money, and to spend less money on the interest.”

Cross promises to fulfill his “fiduciary duty” to balance the state budget. “I will sue the General Assembly if necessary to force them to fund every program, and stop the deficit spending. I will have a ‘integrity unit’ that will expose bureaucrats who lie about the state’s finances. In March 2013, the state was charged with ‘securities fraud’ by the Securities and Exchange Commission for misleading bond investors. I will issue an annual report card highlighting state debt and legislative complicity.”

CLEAN UP THE MESS. While Cross is running a macro-campaign, blaming Democrats, Frerichs is running a micro-campaign, claiming Rutherford’s office is filled with “political patronage hiring. I will bring reform,” noting that Rutherford has been accused of hiring the pals or offspring of Republican politicians as interns.

My prediction: Cross wins.

Russ Stewart is a political analyst for the Chicago Daily Observer

E-mail Russ@russstewart.com or visit his website at www.russstewart.com.

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