Experience, ideology focus of Illinois attorney general race
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The quest to be the next Illinois attorney general is focusing on experience, ideology and gumption.
Democrat Kwame Raoul touts his legal and policymaking experience and says Republican Erika Harold is too rigid in her conservative views to effectively manage the post of chief law enforcement officer. Harold says she has the independence and initiative to take on public corruption and insists that her political viewpoints won’t impede her defense of current law.
The job sees little turnover. Democratic incumbent Lisa Madigan — only the sixth person elected to the post since 1960 — chose not to seek a fifth term.
Raoul, 54, a state senator from Chicago and former assistant state’s attorney, emphasizes that Harold “has never been a prosecutor,” an interesting tag given that it’s the very criticism former DuPage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett, a Republican, used repeatedly in his 2002 race against Madigan before she vanquished him and three subsequent opponents.
The 38-year-old Harold from Urbana was Miss America 2003. Scholarship winnings paid for Harvard Law School and she established herself as a litigator in complex commercial and constitutional law. An unsuccessful candidate for Congress in 2014, she remains a potential GOP star and posits herself as an able corruption-fighter in a state notorious for public fraud. A Chicago Tribune endorsement declared that she, and not Raoul, would be better at rooting it out.
Harold, who dismisses Raoul’s criticism about her lack of prosecutorial experience, calls Illinois corruption “a bipartisan problem” and vows to give taxpayers “a fair playing field and a sense of confidence in their government.”
Raoul said he “would not shy away whatsoever from investigating and prosecuting public corruption where something is brought to my attention.”
But the conservative Harold is outspoken on social issues unpopular in Democrat-heavy Illinois. She opposes abortion and has advocated for abstinence education. She encourages abstinence along with the anti-bullying message she’s championed since adopting it as her Miss America platform.
Behind the attorney general’s badge, however, Harold says her duty to current law outweighs personal views, maintaining she’d “defend the constitutionality of any Illinois law that’s challenged.”
Raoul counters, “The attorney general has always weighed in on policymaking, oftentimes leading on legislation. ... It’s not simply an office of prosecuting the law.”
Harold contends she wouldn’t even speak up on legislative issues that do jibe with her position on, for example, abortion.
“My focus would be on legal reforms or processes ... where people expect the attorney general to take a legal role,” she said.
Each totes a formidable agenda. Raoul, who boasts a variety of legal experience and was appointed to the General Assembly in 2004 to replace the U.S. Senate-bound Barack Obama, said today’s attorney general must “protect us from the overreach of the federal government” on issues like a Muslim travel ban and immigrant-family separation.
He wants to enhance the attorney general’s attack on online sexual predators and has sponsored laws to curb the flow of illegal guns, but said “we can’t ‘gun-law’ our way out of this problem.” A pilot program he helped establish for ”trauma recovery centers ” to treat victims of violence who might otherwise become perpetrators has begun at hospitals in Peoria and the Chicago area .
Harold wants to combat opioid abuse in part through a statewide database that shows every up-to-the-minute addiction-recovery program opening to quickly get people into treatment.
Some referrals would come from expanded diversion courts, where judges find addiction or mental-health treatment options for qualified criminal defendants, Harold said. That idea is part of her plan for criminal justice reform, an agenda of educating the incarcerated and easing ex-convicts’ re-entry aligned with Prison Fellowship , whose board she serves on.
Harold, victimized by racial and sexual harassment as a young high school student, also shares Raoul’s desire to help young people. She’s been criticized for statements she made as a teenage beauty pageant contestant about same-sex couples fostering children and last week, The Associated Press reported that as Miss America in 2003 , she told a newspaper that victims of sexual harassment often wander into promiscuity, a comment critics derided as victim-shaming but which Harold’s campaign said was not intended as blame.
“I’ve been working to protect young people from violence and harassment and trying to empower them with the skills necessary to stand up for themselves,” she said.
Libertarian Bubba Harsy is also on the ballot. His campaign phone number is disconnected and he did not reply to an emailed inquiry.