State lawmaker faces DuPage County official in GOP treasurer race

SHARE State lawmaker faces DuPage County official in GOP treasurer race

SPRINGFIELD — The GOP race to succeed incumbent Treasurer Dan Rutherford pits a longtime legislative leader against a little-known officeholder from DuPage County, which is one of the reddest counties in what otherwise has been a reliably blue state.

It’s a down-ticket battle between a man who has built up a healthy campaign fund after spending years trying to dislodge Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan versus a man who believes his background as a certified public accountant is what the cash-strapped state needs most.

Rep. Tom Cross, R-Oswego, who served 11 of his 21 years in the Legislature as House minority leader, will go head-to-head in next Tuesday’s Republican state treasurer primary against DuPage County Auditor Bob Grogan of Downers Grove, who’s been in office since 2008.

Although Cross has a long history at the Capitol, Grogan, 46, said that doesn’t make the former caucus leader qualified to be state treasurer.

Highlighting his own financial background as an auditor and certified public accountant, Grogan said the Republican primary comes down to the choice between a “politician and a practitioner.”

“If you need heart surgery, you don’t go to a podiatrist,” said Grogan, who also is a former president of United Way of the DuPage Area. “I’m going for the treasurer position because that’s what I’m qualified for. It’s not a consolation prize or a stepping-stone: It’s my vocation.”

But Cross, who holds a law degree from Cumberland Law School, said the office of treasurer had nothing to do with auditing.

“The state already has an auditor general: Bill Holland,” Cross, 55, said. “It’s not an auditor’s job.”

The treasurer’s office — which invests billions of dollars in state funds, manages the Bright Start college-savings plan and has been responsible for reuniting people with hundreds of millions of dollars in unclaimed assets — has been in Republican hands for 16 of the past 20 years.

The job of treasurer has been regarded as a bridge to even higher office. But those who have tried to make the leap — to governor, other statewide offices or the U.S. Senate — have had limited success.

A one-term treasurer in the early 1990s, Pat Quinn, failed in runs for secretary of state, U.S. Senate, lieutenant governor and governor. Quinn eventually was elected lieutenant governor in 2002 and became governor in 2009 when then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached and driven from office.

But others have not gone higher. Former three-term GOP treasurer and current Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, for example, failed in her 2006 gubernatorial bid. Similar electoral failure met former Democratic Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who lost to U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., in 2010.

Rutherford, a Republican, is not running for a second term, opting to run for governor in the GOP primary on Tuesday.

Cross, however, said he’s not concentrated on the job being a bridge to some other political stop.

“Any elected official not focusing on the job at hand is doing the public a disservice,” Cross said. “I plan to be an activist treasurer. I happen to think the treasurer’s office can be used in a stronger way. All else flows from financial issues so it’s incredibly critical that we fix these things. I want to be a part of that.”

Cross said that means making sure the General Assembly produces an “honestly” balanced budget. If legislators don’t, Cross said, he’d take the matter to court.

But Grogan said Cross already had his chance to fix the state’s financial situation.

“He talks about how balancing the budget is important, though it’s not the job of the treasurer,” Grogan said. “But he’s been in the legislature 20 years and he was unable to unseat Mike Madigan. No other Republican is more responsible for the current financial situation we’re in.”

Grogan’s own plans include speeding up the time it takes the state to return formerly unclaimed money—such as a forgotten security deposit on an apartment—to taxpayers through the I-Cash program.

With his better-known name, Cross has the been winning the battle for fundraising dollars.

State records show that at the end of December, Grogan had $21,087 in his campaign treasury and has raised $4,500 since. Cross, meanwhile, ended 2013 with $388,617 in his campaign fund and has raised $52,900 since the end of December.

“When people believe in what you’re trying to do and that what you do will have a difference, they want to be a part of that,” said Cross. He’s used his fundraising advantage to pay for a radio advertising campaign.

“I believe there’s a direct correlation of support — financial and otherwise,” Cross said.

But Grogan, who said he’s put about 40,000 miles on his car during his campaign, said Cross’ money didn’t mean more supporters, and it didn’t mean he was out of the race.

“One thing that unifies Republicans is that we try to do government with less money,” Grogan said. “But, candidates don’t seem to apply that to campaigns: ‘He who has the most money wins’ is not a Republican mantra.”

Grogan already has a following in DuPage County, where several county officials have endorsed him, including State’s Attorney Bob Berlin, County Clerk Gary King and Sheriff John Zaruba. Grogan is also backed by state Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon.

Cross, meanwhile, has been endorsed by two U.S. Reps. Aaron Schock and Randy Hultgren, both Illinois Republicans and former members of the Illinois House. More than 20 members of the state Legislature have backed Cross, who also is supported by the abortion-rights group, Personal PAC.

During his time in the Illinois House, Cross voted against a temporary income-tax hike and against the pension-reform package Gov. Pat Quinn enacted last December. Cross opposed abolishing the death penalty.

He voted for allowing licensed Illinois gun owners to carry their weapons in public places, allowing those with chronic or terminal health conditions to use marijuana to treat their symptoms and gay and lesbian couples to legally marry in Illinois.

On that latter legislation, Cross was one of only three House Republicans last year to vote in support same-sex marriage in Illinois.

“It’s an individual choice,” Cross said. “I know people who want to get married, but for me, it’s an overall issue: Do I respect personal freedom and personal liberties?”

Grogan, who is “more comfortable with the traditional definition of marriage,” said he’s frustrated that Cross’ vote has been an issue at all in the primary from occasional voters and reporters asking about it. Grogan said the issue doesn’t pertain to the treasurer’s office.

“I’m running for treasurer,” he said. “I’m running based on my qualifications; and if state of Illinois doesn’t think its financial officer should have a financial background. that’s probably an indication of why we’re in the financial mess we’re in.”

The winner will face Sen. Michael Frerichs, D-Champaign, in the November general election.

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