By: Mark Glennon*
There’s a referendum of sorts on the ballot next month and it’s huge. It will capture the fundamental direction in which Illinoisans want to take the state. It’s simple and direct, and presents a choice that couldn’t be more stark.
It’s the election for Comptroller: Leslie Munger versus Susana Mendoza.
Before we get the the bigger implications of the race, the office itself is important. It’s not just that the Comptroller has the job of picking, to some extent, which bills to pay. That’s a horrible job now, like the triage a battlefield doctor has to do when there are more people dying than can be helped. On that, Munger has been outstanding, and she was right to put legislator pay in with the rest of the unpaid bills.
What most don’t know is that the Comptroller automatically has a seat on the board of ISBI, the Illinois State Board of Investments. ISBI manages over $15 billion of state pension investments and other money. It has been getting well-earned, national recognition for cost saving reforms.
Some of ISBI’s new directors have formed a majority and cut out wasteful, politically chosen hedge fund managers — middlemen, basically. Other states are starting to follow. Munger is among those reformers, who’ve had to overcome opposition from Machine types on the board. Mendoza, it’s safe to assume, would go with her fellow Democrats who are now the minority on the board and re-re-politicize money management the way ISBI did before.
But most voters will never know any of that. Instead, the election will be a broader indication of who Illinoisans want to run the state, based on the candidates’ general backgrounds and reasons for being in government. The verdict on that is more important.
Mendoza is a Machine pure play. Her professional career is entirely in Chicago Democratic politics. She’s now Chicago’s City Clerk, and previously, served six terms representing Chicago in Mike Madigan’s Illinois House of Representatives. Before that, she worked for the Chicago Department of Planning and Development. She has no private sector or other experience.
I trust that every reader here knows what that career implies. Her agenda is the agenda of the Cook County Democratic Machine. She owes every job she has held to them and will cross them on no major issue. And does anybody think a career solely in Chicago and Illinois politics qualifies somebody for a major financial position?
Munger is a pure play, too. If you designed an ideal candidate from scratch — a newcomer to take Illinois off the path to destruction — it would be her twin. After a Northwestern MBA and a successful career in the private sector, she entered politics just two years ago. She understands money and knows a broken financial model when she sees it. She has run her office and conducted her campaigns with integrity and grace.
Under her, the Comptroller’s office has been a deluge of financial information, not just about the state but local governments as well. Check out her data sites if you never have. It’s all there — good, bad, embarrassing or not. They have become indispensable for those of us who write about our fiscal crisis.
I got to know Munger personally two years ago when she ran for state rep in the district next to mine. She’s the real thing. Smart as hell and impeccably honest. She ran for office because she was horrified to see the state going down the sewer and heartbroken to see her son leave for a better job opportunity elsewhere. She’s not in it for ego, money or a career. In fact, I don’t think she even likes politics.
Mendoza has tried to paint Munger as a puppet for Governor Rauner and says Munger plays politics with state bills. But even the Democratically leaning Chicago Sun-Times editorial board says that’s not so. In their endorsement of Munger today, they wrote that if that were true, “we would say dump her. But we see no evidence at all. On the contrary, Munger has run the office of comptroller with integrity.”
I occasionally hear people say it might be best to let Illinois go down in flames. The Machine and the model of government it supports are unfit to survive, so they should perish, the thinking goes.
If Illinois doesn’t reelect Leslie Munger, those voices will be validated.
*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints. Opinions expressed are his own.