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Clayborne Could Make Gubernatorial Race Really Interesting PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Written by Rich Miller   
Sunday, 02 August 2009 06:12
James Clayborne

While fellow Democrats Governor Pat Quinn and Comptroller Dan Hynes were hurling insults at each other several days ago about the state budget, I picked up the phone and called Illinois Senate Majority Leader James Clayborne.

"Are the rumors true?" I asked. Was Clayborne really thinking about running for governor in the Democratic primary?

Over the previous several days, quite a few people had said they'd spoken with Clayborne, and all claimed that he sounded like a candidate to them.

But Clayborne would only say that he was still just talking to people, mulling it over, and considering his options. No decision yet.

Clayborne has floated his name for statewide office on more than one occasion. Four years ago, for instance, he indicated that he might run for lieutenant governor. We'll see if he pulls the trigger this time. But it's an interesting proposition.

On paper, Clayborne would be a fascinating candidate, especially if he is the only African American in the contest.

Senator Clayborne is not the sort of Democrat that Chicago media types are accustomed to seeing. He's a Downstate attorney with a pretty solid pro-business voting record who is also regularly endorsed by organized labor.

He's pro-gun, but he's also pro-choice. He ran and lost for Senate president last year, and the campaign exposed some rifts with his fellow black senators, partly over his strong rating from the National Rifle Association.

Gun-owner rights are not usually very popular with Democratic primary voters, particularly with Chicago's African Americans. Pro-gun southern white Glenn Poshard was able to win the Democratic nomination in 1998, although that issue was used against him in the fall by Republican George Ryan. Just about every likely Republican nominee strongly favors the NRA's view of things, so that issue might not hurt Clayborne as much as it did Poshard if he manages to win the primary.

Clayborne's record on guns would set up an interesting choice for Chicago-area black voters. African-American talk-radio hosts did, however, warm to Clayborne during his race for the Senate presidency last year. He's known to be a solid friend of utility companies, which will also test his popularity with black voters.

During last year's presidential primary, exit polling showed African Americans were about a quarter of the primary vote - and 93 percent voted for Barack Obama. If Clayborne runs against two white, Chicago-based candidates who split that vote, his gun stance and geography might help him pick up some Downstate white voters - although his skin color may give some of those folks an interesting choice as well.

Clayborne's fundraising during the Senate-president race wasn't bad. He raised about $580,000, compared to ultimate victor John Cullerton's million dollars or so. Clayborne raised $113,000 during the first six months of this year, but had over $650,000 in the bank.

Clayborne will have some trouble explaining why he tried to move a bill this year that would have called for a referendum to consolidate a school his son attends with another school. Clayborne introduced the legislation after his son was reportedly expelled for what appeared to be a minor infraction (allegedly waving around part of a broken pair of scissors).

Questions about whether he used his office for personal revenge with that bill would go directly to his gubernatorial temperament. After all, we don't need another governor who put revenge at the top of his "to do" list. Clayborne has denied any revenge motive, saying that if he really wanted payback he would've pushed through the consolidation without a referendum.

Unlike Comptroller Hynes, Clayborne supported a tax increase to balance the state budget. The legislation Clayborne backed included an expansion of the state sales tax to an array of services, plus an income-tax hike. Quinn initially supported that bill, then said he was for a different tax-hike plan.

Hynes has repeatedly slammed Quinn for proposing a tax hike during an economic meltdown, and that's part of what the two men were whacking each other for when I called Clayborne. Hynes can differentiate himself against both Quinn and Clayborne on this issue, but supporting big cuts to government programs and services hasn't exactly been a popular issue in statewide Democratic primaries.

This could be a lot of fun.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and TheCapitolFaxBlog.com.

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