Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White expected to win fifth term

By Mary Cirincione

With 25 percent of precincts reporting, Chicago media outlets have called the Illinois Secretary of State race in favor of Jesse White, a stalwart of the Democratic Party in Illinois. White, who has won four previous elections for secretary of state, defeated Republican Mike Webster in an apparent landslide victory with 76 percent of the vote.

“I’m honored that the people of the state of Illinois appreciate the professional manner in which we’ve been able to run the office of the secretary of state,” White said in an interview at his Tuesday night victory party at Chicago’s John Barleycorn bar. White also took time to thank his supporters and his dedicated staff for “years of service.”

In truth, White had little to worry about leading up to Tuesday’s election. He received 2.5 million votes in 2010, claiming a record-setting 70 percent of total votes cast.

Underlining his confidence he would win again, White’s stated agenda for a fifth term contained only one item: combat distracted driving.

Since being elected as secretary of state 16 years ago, White has made significant headway related to improving road safety in Illinois. He worked with state representatives to pass legislation cracking down on drunken driving, requiring motorists with prior DUI convictions to have devices similar to breathalyzers installed in their vehicles to prevent them from driving under the influence.

“We’ve been able to make the roads of Illinois safer, especially with our young drivers,” White said Tuesday. “And with our efforts to curtail drunk driving, there has been a 45 percent reduction in loss of life by repeat offenders.  Gas and alcohol–the two should never meet.”

Teen driving safety, another issue close to White’s heart, has seen record improvement since 2008 when he worked to overhaul Illinois’ graduated driver licensing program. Seventy-one Illinois teens died in driving-related incidents in 2013, compared with 155 deaths in 2007. “There’s been a 55 percent reduction in loss of life,” White told supporters. “We’ve been able to save a lot of lives.”

White’s efforts to streamline driver licensing protocols and make some forms available online has also resulted in shorter wait times for Illinois drivers.

Now 79, White says this term will be his last—but residents may recall that the secretary said the same thing following his 2010 win. But even without a fifth term, White holds the record for longest-serving secretary of state in Illinois history.

A former minor league baseball player, White has consistently promoted athletics as a means for keeping Chicago youth safe and out of trouble. He founded the Jesse White Tumbling Team in 1959, an acrobatic and gymnastic program for teens.