By Jamey Dunn
Doug Whitley, president and chief executive officer of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, announced today that he plans to retire from the chamber next year.
Whitley once considered a run for governor, but he said his political aspirations are behind him now. He said he had no interest in running for public office. “I am not a candidate for office. I flirted with that four years ago. I never announced. I flirted with it, that is out of my system.”
He became president and CEO of the chamber in 2001. He was a key player in the push for worker’s compensation reform and the battle against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s unpopular gross receipts tax proposal. While Whitley was one of many who helped spur debate over recent changes to worker's compensation rules, the chamber was neutral on the legislation that Gov. Pat Quinn signed in 2011. Whitley drew some heat and union protesters when he invited Republican Gov. Scott Walker to speak at a chamber event in Springfield last year. Walker advocated for and signed legislation limiting worker’s collective bargaining rights in his state. After Illinois' income tax rate increase in 2011, Wisconsin began running an ad campaign encouraging businesses to “Escape to Wisconsin.”
Whitley said he is proudest of his role in “restoring the reputation of the Illinois chamber as the voice for business in our state.” When he stepped into the job, the position had been open for more than a year, and he said the chamber had lost its focus. He is also proud of pushing back against Blagojevich on the receipts tax and a hike in worker’s compensation fees.
Before coming to the chamber, Whitley was president of Ameritech Illinois. He also served as the director of the Illinois Department of Revenue under former Gov. Jim Edgar. He was president of the Taxpayers Federation of Illinois for 14 years and got his start in the political sphere as a legislative staffer.
Whitley will leave his post at the chamber in June 2014. “It will be good for the Illinois chamber to have a new leader with a fresh perspective when the next gubernatorial administration starts, whether Gov. Pat Quinn is re-elected or we have a new governor,” Whitley said. The chamber plans to conduct a nationwide search to find his replacement. Whitley said that the one of the biggest challenges that his replacement will face is “the failure of our elected officials to be laser-focused on the question of unemployment.”
He added, “If we had 700,000 more people working, some of the government’s budget problems would begin to take care of themselves.”
Whitley, an often outspoken observer of Illinois politics, said he will miss providing commentary on the action. He said that he does not plan to resign to a life of leisure, and he hopes to find a new job and remain in Illinois after he leaves the chamber. “I don’t play golf, and I don’t own a hammock,” he said.