Attorney General Lisa Madigan startled a stateful of pols last year when she announced she wouldn’t run for re-election. “As I look ahead, I believe that the end of my fourth term as attorney general will be the right time for me to seek a new challenge,” she said in September.
Her decision sent Democrats scrambling into and out of races up and down the ballot. Sensing opportunity at arguably the second-most-important job in state government, eight Democrats are running to take her place on the November general election ballot.
At different times we’ve been appreciative and critical of Madigan. Owing to her father Michael Madigan’s role as state House speaker, she has avoided conflicts of interest by running the office primarily as a consumer protection bureau. That’s too narrow and politically safe a mission in a state rife with public corruption, violent crime and patent injustices such as the inequitable property assessment system overseen by her father’s political ally, Joseph Berrios.
A more activist attorney general on some days would wield the legal powers of the state’s highest law enforcement office and on other days would use the bully pulpit — to hold other public officials accountable, to rally state and county resources to fight violence, and when necessary to urge federal authorities to intervene in situations where a state attorney general lacks the ability or tools to right wrongs.
Which of the aspirational Democrats is likeliest to be that activist A.G.? The list includes state Rep. Scott Drury, fellow former federal prosecutor Sharon Fairley, public defender Aaron Goldstein, former Gov. Pat Quinn, state Sen. Kwame Raoul, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, cable news commentator and also former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti and former Chicago Board of Education Vice President Jesse Ruiz.
It’s an accomplished group. We admire Drury’s willingness — at great risk to his political future — to challenge Speaker Madigan’s tight control of his caucus. If only Springfield had more Drurys and fewer lackeys. We also respect Ruiz’s broad public service and the increasingly vocal and independent role he played on the school board before he was removed by the mayor. We appreciate Raoul’s thoughtful work in Springfield; it was he who revived efforts to create tougher penalties for repeat gun offenders. We’re impressed with Goldstein, a fierce advocate for those most disadvantaged by the justice system.
But one candidate stands out. We endorse Fairley, who impressed us in her short tenure as chief administrator to Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which replaced a plodding and toothless police oversight agency that almost never found an officer guilty of misconduct. Fairley also has served as general counsel for the city of Chicago’s inspector general, a role that immersed her in investigations of wrongdoing throughout city government.
Attorneys and administrators who’ve worked with Fairley tell us that being at the center of controversy and fending off political interference has thickened her skin and strengthened her independence. She fought City Hall. She fought police officials. She fought public corruption. She fought for transparency. And no politician owns her.
That’s what Illinois residents need in their next attorney general — a fearless and tested change agent who comes to the job with calluses from dealing with politics, but without debilitating conflicts of interest. She has a stellar academic and career record. One former colleague tells us Fairley can be impatient. Good.
We like Fairley, we like her agenda, and we think she’s sufficiently driven to get it done. Fairley says she’ll create a government integrity bureau to root out state and local corruption, and will follow evidence no matter the clout obstructing her path. She has pledged to reject contributions from entities with matters under the jurisdiction of the attorney general; Raoul, by contrast, accepted money from tobacco interests that care deeply about government legislation and litigation settlements.
Evaluating these candidates, we’re focused on one trait in particular: With all the challenges facing Illinois, its people need a truly independent attorney general. So our endorsement goes to Fairley.