Giannoulias, Brady tout depth of experience

SPRINGFIELD — For the first time since 1998, the Illinois secretary’s seat will be open in the general election.

The nominees for the post are former State Treasurer and Chicago Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and longtime State Assemblyman Dan Brady, a Bloomington Deputy House Minority Leader.

Giannoulias is attempting to re-enter the national political landscape with about 59,000 votes for the first time since losing in the 2010 US Senate race to Republican Mark Kirk. Brady has been with the home since 2001, having served two terms as the McLean County coroner from 1992 to 2000, and is a partner in a Bloomington funeral home.

They are vying to replace outgoing Secretary of State Jesse White, who has held the post since 1999 and is known for consistently outperforming the rest of the Democratic statewide field throughout his tenure. Both men praised White, who supported fellow Democrat Giannoulias but also spoke highly of Brady.

Brady, meanwhile, was recently endorsed by Republican Jim Edgar, the former governor and secretary of state.

The two candidates each participated in interviews recently organized by the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors, with questions from representatives from the State Journal Registry and Capitol News Illinois.

Both candidates have a long list of policies they would like to implement if elected, with a strong focus on modernizing the office and moving many of its functions online.

Giannoulias said he would try to create a mobile app and by providing many online services he would reduce foot traffic in facilities “between 50 and 70 percent”. This would allow the office to retrain some driver service staff to act as “office advocates” to help individuals through the system, particularly seniors and those with disabilities.

“People pay a time tax in Illinois. It takes too long for them to access government services,” Giannoulias said.

He would also seek to implement a “skip-the-line” program to allow ride-hailing attendees to pre-register, arrive at a specific time, and go to the front of the line. He also explored digital IDs and driver’s licenses, built kiosks in driver’s facilities and pop-up offices in libraries and community colleges. He would also consider implementing online eye testing if it turns out it can be done safely.

Brady has his own long list of initiatives, including moving things online, using libraries and community colleges as satellite locations, maximizing staff training and skills, and improving the usability of the SOS website.

A focus has been an electronic lien and conveyance program that has been written into state law for years but has atrophied without proper implementation. Giannoulias also wants to implement this.

“We’re talking about streamlining things that can be done in hours … as opposed to, as I said, several weeks to months that currently take,” Brady said, later adding, “What we’re missing here is someone who does take the bull by the horns and complete the project.”

Brady said he would also try to fully staff the dispatch facilities, which he says has not been done due to recent “internal decisions”.

“I would change that by being secretary of state, by … prioritizing these service facilities and looking at where we have other staff that can interact, respond and serve the public in the facilities,” he said.

He would prioritize facilities with the heaviest traffic. The plan also calls for “cross-training” for driver and vehicle service personnel to reduce wait times.

The office itself has more than 4,000 employees and touches on many aspects of state government beyond driving services, including managing the Capitol Complex in Springfield, maintaining a police force, monitoring securities fraud, registering lobbyists and serving as the state librarian.

Brady said some of the best ideas for improving operations probably come from these employees.

With similar focus areas such as modernizing the office and reducing wait times, each candidate cited their own experiences as the reason they were best suited for the office.

“I’m not running for this office because I want to use it as a stepping stone to another political office. I’m running because I’ve always been, and always will be, a public servant,” Brady said.

Brady said he has worked on budgets and other issues across the aisle, working with Secretary White to address distracted driving and implement training programs for senior drivers. His experience with private sector funeral homes and his time as a McLean County coroner also support his credentials, he said.

Giannoulias, meanwhile, says his stint as state treasurer will stand him in good stead as he seeks national office again. So will be his time in business, he said.

“I will tell you that I previously managed a national office, I think this experience is important and relevant. It’s the management of a large office and modernization will be at the forefront of everything we do in this office,” he said.

His accomplishments as Treasurer include implementing a low-interest loan program for first-time homebuyers and later defending his administration of the Bright Start college savings program, for which he came under scrutiny in his 2010 Senate campaign. While one fund lost money, he said, it improved fee structures for the college savings program and increased enrollment.

Since leaving office, Giannoulias has been appointed chair of the Illinois Community College Board by Governor Pat Quinn and has served on the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the Chicago Public Library Board, and various nonprofit boards.

From 2012 to 2018, he was “private wealth manager” at Bank of New York Mellon, a role he said was essentially “getting new business done.” He said his clients are “families and individuals.”

His LinkedIn account also lists him as the CEO of Annoula Ventures, which he described as a private investment vehicle.

“I started a small fund where we invest in tech startups and other companies,” he said, noting that he’s invested in Cameo, an online company that allows celebrities to sell short video messages.

Now, he said, he’s more of an investor than an owner and only maintains passive investments, including shares in Cameo Inc. and 14 other companies in which he has interests, including family trusts. His statement of economic interest also mentions investments in cryptocurrency and a recent bitcoin sale.

“Even though these are just passive investments, the first thing I would do, even during the transition period, is to get a legal opinion and make sure the inspector general looks at everything I have,” he said, noting he would do everything divest what is determined to raise a red flag.

Brady’s declaration of economic interest mentions only his earnings as a state official and his partnership at the Kibler-Brady-Ruestman Memorial Home in Bloomington.

While the two candidates shared a focus on modernization, they diverged on the issue of lowering fees. Brady has proposed a temporary $50 reduction in license registration fees due to rising inflation, but he had yet to table a bill to that effect.

He was among lawmakers who voted bipartisanally in 2019 to increase royalties to help fund a $45 billion infrastructure plan. Of the $50 increase, $49 would go to the road fund to be spent on transportation infrastructure.

He suggested some administrative changes that could be enacted to mitigate the impact on the Secretary of State’s office if fees were reduced, but did not say how he would offset the road fund cuts.

Giannoulias, meanwhile, called it “irresponsible budgeting” to suspend fees regardless of a person’s income without identifying funding alternatives. But he said he would consider a program that would lower fees for those on lower incomes, assuming there was a budget bypass.

Another difference was that Giannoulias stumped for a law that would ban the use of automatic license plate reader cameras in Illinois to track people coming into the state for abortion services. That’s not a practice specifically allowed under state law regulating cameras, though Giannoulias said it’s not specifically forbidden either.

Brady said he didn’t think it was necessary, and he claimed his opponent spends too much time on social issues.

Giannoulias countered that voters deserve to know where a candidate stands on such issues.

Brady has admitted he voted for Donald Trump for president but said he was a supporter of John Kasich in a previous primary. He said he supports the Illinois Republican ticket in general and believes Joe Biden was rightly elected president. Otherwise, he says, voters talk to him about the office’s problems — not GOP gubernatorial nominee Darren Bailey and Trump.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service that covers the state government and is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is primarily funded by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.