By Jamey Dunn
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon kicked off her campaign for state comptroller with a series of evens throughout the state today.
Simon announced in February that she would not run for lieutenant governor again. At the time she said, “I want to serve the people of Illinois in a role where I can have an even greater impact.” Since then, political observers have speculated about which constitutional office she would seek.
“Because I want to shine a light on corruption, blow the whistle on waste and be the fiscal watchdog that we so desperately need, I am running for comptroller,” Simon said today.
Simon has served as a prosecutor and worked as a law professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She served on Carbondale’s city council and made an unsuccessful bid for mayor of the city against incumbent Brad Cole in 2007. She served on an ethics commission chosen by Gov. Pat Quinn to make reform recommendations after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office.
Quinn picked Simon as his running mate after Scott Lee Cohen, a pawnshop owner with a checkered past, was pressured off the ticket. Cohen won the primary as a relatively unknown candidate, but allegations of drug use and domestic violence sunk his hopes of being a candidate in the general election. The state Democratic State Central Committee voted in Simon, the daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, as his replacement. In her role as lieutenant governor, Simon has focused on education policy, college affordability, rural issues and recently concealed carry of firearms.
Quinn will pick his running mate for his current bid for governor. Under a new law, all the candidates will pair up with their choice for lieutenant governor and run as pairs in the primary. The law, which will be used for the first time this race, came after the Cohen fiasco.
Simon could face a primary challenge: Will County Auditor Duffy Blackburn has voiced interest in the comptroller’s office. If Simon makes it through the primary, she will likely face a difficult race against incumbent Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, who has also served as a legislature and the state’s treasurer. Topinka unsuccessfully challenged Blagojevich for the governor’s office in 2006. So far, Topinka has Simon outgunned on fundraising with $805,000 to Simon’s $272,000 at the end of the second quarter.
Though Simon lacks solid financial experience on her resume, she says there is more to the job of handling the state’s checkbook than being a whiz with numbers. “It’s time for a comptroller who provides not just accounting but accountability,” Simon said. “Voters need someone they can trust. That’s why I’ve held myself to a higher standard. I don’t accept contributions from state contractors, state employees or their spouses, and I don’t take contributions from my own staff.” Simon said she would adhere to the same policies as comptroller.