Illustration by Mell Montezuma

For the past two decades, every driver and state ID holder in Illinois has become all too familiar with the name emblazoned on their license or ID card: Jesse White, Secretary of State. First elected to the role in 1998, White, who turns eighty-eight next week, announced in 2019 that he would not be seeking reelection for what would be his sixth term. Four Democrats and two Republicans have announced candidacies for the role. The Weekly reached out to the three highest profile Democratic candidates—Anna Valencia, Alexi Giannoulias, and David Moore—with a short questionnaire aimed at helping inform readers ahead of the primary. Only Moore responded by press time, though the story has been updated with answers from Giannoulias, and some information about Valencia’s campaign is also included below.

Illinois’ Secretary of State has a wide variety of duties and responsibilities, including maintaining state records and laws, overseeing the state’s libraries, providing license and registration services for drivers, and administering the registration of corporations and lobbyists. For many, if not most residents, their primary interaction with the Secretary of State will be through their local Driver Services office (often called the DMV, even though Illinois doesn’t have a Department of Motor Vehicles) as they get their driver’s licenses and pay for license plates.

The Weekly asked candidates about their backgrounds and how they will improve the efficiency of services, modernize the department, make services more accessible to disenfranchised communities, address road safety, and fight corruption. An excerpt of Giannoulias and Moore’s answers are included below, along with information about Valencia’s platform based on other sources.

David Moore, 56, is the 17th Ward Alderperson, a position he’s held since 2015. The ward encompasses portions of Auburn Gresham, Chicago Lawn, Englewood, Marquette Park, and West Englewood. He’s been endorsed by Rep. Danny Davis and former Alderperson Dick Simpson.

Alexi Giannoulias, 46, is the founder and CEO of Annoula Ventures and served as the Illinois Treasurer from 2007 to 2011. He’s received endorsements from U.S. Reps Jesús “Chuy” García and Bobby Rush, among various other lawmakers and alderpersons. Giannoulias ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010 and narrowly lost to Republican Mark Kirk. He has worked in the finance industry at Broadway Bank and for BNY Mellon Wealth Management.

Anna Valencia, 37, is the Chicago City Clerk. She was appointed to the office in 2017 by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel and won the election for the office in 2019. Valencia has endorsements from Jesse White himself, Governor J.B. Pritzker, Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, to name a few. Prior to being City Clerk, Valencia worked on the campaigns of Mike Quigley, Dick Durbin, and Emanuel.

How does your background make you a good candidate for this position?

Moore: I possess a rare combination of corporate experience, political savvy, passion and track record for representing constituent interests. I graduated Western Illinois University with a dual major in accounting and operations management and earned [a masters] with emphasis in government studies at Loyola University-Chicago.

Prior to my election as alderman of my home ward, I established a successful accounting career in the private sector at several Fortune 500 companies, as well as with Chicago’s Department of Aviation and Chicago Housing Authority. My background in nearly every aspect of government management and cost-benefit analysis would be invaluable to a hands-on approach to fostering accountability and transparency throughout the office.

Giannoulias: I was elected the youngest State Treasurer in the nation, inspired to run by my friend, President Barack Obama. I ran as an independent Democrat and pursued an agenda focused on curbing ethical abuses, creating jobs and safely investing taxpayer dollars to improve Illinoisans’ financial futures. As Treasurer, I led by example: ending pay-to-play politics on Day 1; extending the state’s loan-deposit program; requiring state banks and savings and loans to sign community investment pledge beyond state and federal requirements; and standing up to big banks by threatening to pull the state’s $8B investment portfolio from Wells Fargo when it attempted to shut down the Hartmarx suit factory, saving 1,000 union jobs.

My vision for Secretary of State is to create a brighter future for Illinois, which starts with protecting voter rights and increasing registration opportunities, modernizing the office to reduce wait times and strengthening ethics laws to curb corruption.

Illinoisians love to complain about long lines at DMV offices, which make it difficult to access services. Do you have any plans to improve efficiency and decrease waiting times?

Moore: I was the first candidate to propose digital license plates because of their multifaceted potential for positive impact. For one, they eliminate the need for in-person renewal, registration and titling—all of which means a cost savings to Illinois residents. I would also increase convenience through satellite offices in library branches, mobile units and other options as appropriate.

Giannoulias: I have proposed a comprehensive office modernization plan aimed at eliminating the Time Tax, or the amount of time people waste waiting in line at facilities to obtain government services or filling out forms. This takes time away from work, school, or with family, which we cannot afford. My “Skip the Line” program would help cut down wait times at facilities by allowing Illinoisans to make in-person appointments online or over the phone. After checking in at a facility, they would head to the front of the line. This will make it easier and more efficient for customers as well as employees.

Valencia has stated that she would create an online DMV portal and phone app that would allow residents to conduct transactions online, though she did not specify how it would be different from the currently available online services.

How will you modernize the department to keep up with current technology?

Moore: I would first audit activities to see where we’re spending money, which are used most frequently, could be improved if online, would give the biggest bang for the buck. If it happens to be driver services, then spend there and make sure we get the most effective use of those dollars.

I absolutely agree the current Secretary of State mainframe system is antiquated—slower, less secure, relying on outdated computer languages—compared to current alternatives. But change done right can take 3-5 years, after thorough cost-benefit analysis, planning, testing, user training and consideration of fail-safe measures. I have heard during this campaign references to successful programs initiated long before actual implementation, to “blockchains” and other buzzwords that may apply to crypto currencies but not necessarily to needs in the public sector.

To me, “modernize” must be viewed broadly, to incorporate practical applications with more immediate benefits. For example, the digital plates mentioned above would replace the current metal ones that have not changed in more than a century. The word “Stolen” displayed on the new plates could help reduce the carjacking epidemic, by increasing the potential for quicker identification and arrest. Additionally, they help decrease the number of uninsured drivers.

Giannoulias: As Secretary of State, my number one priority would be to modernize the office and improve the customer experience. The Secretary of State’s office acts as a retail operation and should treat constituents like the paying customers that they are. As discussed above, my “Skip the Line” program will allow Illinoisans to jump to the front of the line upon arrival instead of waiting up to several hours in line for services.

Additionally, digital driver’s licenses will make it easier for Illinoisans to access their identification on their phones and update their information without having to make an in person visit. Meanwhile, with a Secretary of State app people can upload documents and receive notifications about renewals to avoid penalties. Finally, assigning office advocates will help people navigate a visit to their local facility and speed up the process, especially for seniors, people with disabilities, and non-English speakers.

Valencia has said that she’ll implement blockchain solutions, increase the number of Maker Labs in libraries, turn state buildings into WiFi beacons, and create a one-stop shop online portal for all Secretary of State services.

What is your plan to make the office’s services more accessible to disenfranchised communities, such as people who are homeless, undocumented, or live far away from the closest DMV services?

Moore: I believe this highly automated office must address the “digital divide” that negatively affects service delivery to senior, economically disadvantaged and rural populations without adequate internet, for whom even phone and in-person access may be limited. Regardless of the growing acceptance of electronically conducted business, there will continue to be those who require or want person-to-person communication. The library and mobile satellite branches mentioned above could provide greater accessibility for a range of diverse needs.

Giannoulias: I plan to launch pop-up and mobile offices in high-need areas around the state that will bring services closer to people that need them as well as help alleviate congestion at other facilities across the state.

As the state’s librarian, I want to make it easier for public libraries to license e-books and other digital materials through my License to Read program, which aims to make more learning materials accessible to the public, particularly in underserved areas.

I’m also committed to expanding voter registration opportunities by making a technical change to the state’s Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) system to eliminate the extra steps a voter needs to take when registering at a Secretary of State facility. Finally, I will also work to pass legislation to allow sixteen and seventeen-year-olds to pre-register to vote so they automatically become registered when they turn eighteen.

Valencia wants to make the online services available in multiple languages for non-English speakers. She also wants to set up self-service DMV kiosks so people have more options to access services. As City Clerk, Valencia also spearheaded the initiative for a Municipal ID that undocumented people, among others, would be eligible for, and which eventually turned into the CityKey program.

Given the recent increase in traffic accidents, injuries, and deaths, what is your plan to address road safety?

Moore: Recent statistics indicate at least 3,000 lives lost in one year due to drivers using electronics, eating, grooming, [and] focusing attention on passengers or pets. Illinois law prohibits and has fines and criminal penalties for distracted driving, as outlined in a brochure published by the Secretary of State. However, these focus on cell phones rather than six other hazardous common behaviors listed. And while police enforcement has been shown to reduce cell phone communications, Illinois is among most other states that simply do not have the resources to make that a priority.

I have proposed creating Youth Engagement Offices in all 122 of the state’s motor vehicle facilities, which could include education about techniques for dealing with [distracted driving], as well as the physical, penal, financial and other consequences that could affect future circumstances. I believe there should be a component involving parents, who can be key to setting good examples and enforcing safety habits. I would also advocate for more comprehensive education about distracted driving, not just when obtaining a license, but through broadcast, online and other media campaigns—even on billboards or public transportation.

Giannoulias: Illinois is a leader when it comes to some specific traffic safety initiatives, but we can do more to encourage safe driving, especially when it comes to distracted driving, sleep-deprived driving and driving under the influence. In addition, transportation is directly linked to the public’s health, safety and well-being and it’s crucial that we expand transit networks across the state of Illinois, particularly bike and rail infrastructure. The Secretary of State should support educating and informing the public around the importance of those projects to better protect riders and pedestrians.

I believe strongly in lessening the economic burdens that working people face in our state. Public transit as well as biking and walking infrastructure lowers the cost of living and pollution in areas where the population is well served. Our approach must ensure that enforcement of transportation-related laws do not negatively impact lower income and minority communities.

Valencia plans to set up a Road Safety Advisory Panel, which will include Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to make recommendations around how to prevent driving under the influence, speeding, and distracted driving. She also wants to enhance penalties for drunk driving and expand the state’s Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device program.

Each candidate has talked about fighting corruption. What is your platform around ethics and mitigating corruption?

Moore: The most important aspects of the Secretary of State’s office are trust, integrity and safety. The office […] certifies the incorporation of businesses and nonprofit groups, oversees lobbyists, financial advisors and regulates the ethics of state workers, elected officials and candidates running for office. While this diverse portfolio highlights the importance of the office, it also creates many opportunities for wrongdoing.

As Secretary of State, I will work to implement a comprehensive approach to rooting out waste, fraud and corruption. I also will work to promote transparency and accountability:

  • Expand the authority of the Inspector General by designating integrity officers in every region of the state to work with audit review committee members in all twenty departments within the Secretary of State’s office to ensure the efficiency and integrity of the office.
  • Redefine the definitions of “person” and “entity” to include spouses and immediate family members in the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act as it relates to ethical standards and disclosure of economic interests for elected officials.
  • Strengthen the disclosure requirements of the annual statement of financial interest by listing all of the entities for which a spouse acting as a lobbyist or consultant doing business relating to governmental bodies or contracts does work.
  • Keep the politics and business of the Secretary of State’s office separate to ensure workers are evaluated for the quality of their performance and not political donations and/or quotas.
  • Enforce and/or increase fines for failure to disclose conflicts of interest so that any breach of trust is taken seriously.

Giannoulias: Illinoisans are sick and tired of the corruption and self-dealing that has permeated state politics. The Secretary of State is the keeper of lobbyist registrations and statements of economic interest that public officials are required to file. Toughening ethics laws, increasing transparency and cracking down on unethical behavior among politicians and lobbyists will go a long way toward curbing corruption in Illinois. I will strengthen our ethics laws by banning elected officials from serving as lobbyists, extending the revolving-door ban on elected officials from lobbying after they leave office, expanding the authority of the inspector general and increasing disclosure of lobbyist activities at the state level. I’m the only candidate in the race who has put forth a comprehensive plan, which has been praised by good-government advocates.

Valencia wants to strengthen reporting requirements on statements of economic interest, ban legislators from using campaign funds for criminal defense attorneys, and strengthen the Secretary of State’s Inspector General office.

Update, June 21, 2022: This story was updated with answers from Alexi Giannoulias.

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Adam Przybyl is the Weekly’s managing editor. He last wrote about Archer Heights and Avalon Park for Best of the South Side 2019.

 

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