This AG is a climate champ. It’s a wild race to replace her

Source: Josh Kurtz, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, March 16, 2018

Lisa Madigan was elected Illinois attorney general in 2002 at the age of 36, breaking out of the state Senate even faster than a colleague named Barack Obama.

Environmentalists at the time weren’t quite sure what to make of Madigan, a product of the fabled Cook County Democratic machine, whose father, Mike Madigan, was the long-serving and very powerful speaker of the Illinois House.

Sixteen years later, Mike Madigan is still the speaker, Lisa Madigan is stepping down as attorney general, and Illinois greens are sad that she’s leaving. And the wild but largely unheralded race to replace her includes a former governor, a former Miss America and the man who replaced Obama in the state Senate.

During her four terms as attorney general, Madigan has been a climate champion who has frequently done battle with the state’s powerful utilities, fought against hydraulic fracturing and taken legal aim against water pollution. Since President Trump took office, her national profile has been elevated, and she’s become part of the “blue wall” of Democratic state attorneys general who are fighting the administration’s regulatory rollbacks.

Illinois greens credit Madigan for listening to them and considering their views in all her negotiations and legal proceedings with polluters.

“She’s been in the position to bring environmental organizations to the table, and that was really important for us to make our case,” said Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council.

Madigan’s retirement announcement last September surprised everyone in Illinois politics. For years, she was considered a potential contender for governor or U.S. Senate, though she always said she was hesitant to run for governor while her father was still House speaker and state Democratic chairman. A fun fact: She is married to New Yorker cartoonist Pat Byrnes.

In a statement announcing her retirement, Madigan said she was proud of “enforcing the environmental laws, fighting for strong regulations to combat global climate change, and advocating for environmental justice for communities impacted by pollution.” She calculated that she had saved utility ratepayers $2.1 billion during her tenure.

‘Several qualified candidates’

Madigan’s decision to retire came fairly late in the election cycle, and candidates for governor have spent tens of millions of dollars ahead of next Tuesday’s primaries. As a result, the race for attorney general hasn’t gotten much publicity.

A poll taken in late February found that almost two-thirds of Republican voters were undecided about the two candidates in their race, while 39 percent of Democrats were undecided on their eight-way primary.

Leading the pack in the Democratic race, according to the poll, with 22 percent and 18 percent, respectively, were state Sen. Kwame Raoul — the man who replaced Obama in late 2004 — and former Gov. Pat Quinn. The other six contenders — state Rep. Scott Drury; Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering; Chicago Park District Board President Jesse Ruiz; and attorneys Sharon Fairley, Aaron Goldstein and Renato Mariotti — finished in single digits.

The poll of 472 Democrats, taken Feb. 19-25 by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, had a 4.5-percentage-point margin of error.

Environmentalists find themselves equally perplexed about this race. Leaders at the Sierra Club of Illinois chose not to endorse anyone in the Democratic primary for attorney general, even though they did in other races.

“We saw several qualified candidates and bold statements from all the candidates, who had a mix of related accomplishments,” said Jack Darin, the group’s executive director. “I think we’re excited that the Democratic nominee is someone who the people are going to be able to rally behind.”

Each of the candidates has promised aggressive action on environmental justice and enforcement — “testament,” Darin said, “to the legacy of Lisa Madigan.”

But some are talking about the environment more than others. Many of the candidates are emphasizing public safety, civil rights and consumer protections on the campaign trail. Drury and Quinn seem to be talking about green issues more consistently than their opponents.

Drury — who has had a perfect score from the Illinois Environmental Council on its last three scorecards — said he will be a tough environmental watchdog who will compensate for the lax enforcement record of the Illinois EPA under Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

“I firmly believe that people/companies change their conduct when they know or believe someone is watching over them,” he said in the Sierra Club’s voter guide on the attorney general race, which was released earlier this week.

“When I am Attorney General, those who seek to harm our environment will know that I am watching over them and will change their behavior accordingly,” he said. “This message will be reinforced through litigation against those who continue to do harm to our planet.”

In a state where the Democratic establishment often holds sway, Drury has tried to make his long-standing and singular opposition to Mike Madigan as House speaker a virtue in this campaign. But that may not be enough to catapult him to top-tier status.

The mighty Quinn?

In fact, nobody quite enjoys the outsider status that Quinn does — and this is a guy who spent six years as governor.

Quinn, who is 69, has had one of the most peripatetic careers in contemporary politics, and has lost more political races than he has won. He started in the 1970s as an aide to then-Gov. Dan Walker (D). His first elected office was as a commissioner on the Cook County Board of Tax Appeals, serving from 1982 to 1986. After losing a race for state treasurer, he briefly served as revenue director for the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington.

Along the way, Quinn helped create the Illinois Citizens Utility Board, which works to keep electricity rates low and make investor-owned utilities more accountable to the public.

He was elected state treasurer in 1990, then lost bids for secretary of state, U.S. Senate and lieutenant governor, and was finally elected lieutenant governor in 2002, on a ticket headed by Rod Blagojevich — though the two later had a falling out. When Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office in 2009 for attempting to sell Obama’s U.S. Senate seat, Quinn became governor. He won a full term in 2010 and then narrowly lost to Rauner in 2014.

But Quinn compiled a strong environmental record during his six years in the Illinois Executive Mansion. He convened annual statewide conferences on green building, created a state day to celebrate and defend rivers, and promoted rain gardens for water conservation. He also passed measures to promote solar and wind energy — including providing for the state Capitol to be powered by renewables.

“When he was governor, he was very green,” said Walling of the Illinois Environmental Council.

Today, Quinn calls environmental sustainability “the challenge of our time.”

But Raoul is criticizing Quinn’s overall record. He blames Quinn for losing to Rauner — and, indirectly, for the state’s current economic woes and environmental rollbacks.

“Quinn failed as governor, why would we make him attorney general?” a narrator asks in a TV ad Raoul started airing last week. More recently, he is airing a spot featuring a 30-year-old film clip of Washington, the late Chicago mayor, criticizing Quinn.

“I must have been blind or staggering,” Washington says in the ad. “I would never appoint Pat Quinn to do anything. Pat Quinn is a totally and completely undisciplined individual. He was dismissed. My only regret is that we hired him and kept him too long.”

The Quinn camp has hit back — tagging Raoul as a puppet of special interests.

“Kwame Raoul’s desperate attacks are to cover up the fact that he doesn’t want voters to know who’s funding his campaign — big tobacco, big utilities, big banks and even red-light camera operators,” said David Roeder, a Quinn spokesman. “With all those conflicts of interest, Raoul can’t be trusted to be on our side for attorney general.”

Campaign finance data compiled by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform found that Raoul has accepted far more money from the state’s electric and gas utilities than any of the other candidates for attorney general — almost $65,000.

“That’s always the question — can the candidate take those contributions and remain independent?” said Sarah Brune, the watchdog group’s executive director.

But Brune said those large utilities throw campaign cash around aggressively in Illinois, to candidates from both political parties, and that Raoul’s contributions from the tobacco industry are more concerning, because the industry is directly regulated by the attorney general.

Madigan, Brune said, refused to take contributions from regulated industries except in election years.

But Raoul has gotten kudos from environmental groups for his role as chief sponsor of legislation that would change the state’s standing laws, making it easier for citizens to challenge permits for large infrastructure projects. He scored 93 percent on the latest Illinois Environmental Council report card and had perfect scores in the previous two.

With endorsements from key labor unions, minority group leaders and the Cook County Democratic organization, Raoul may be the man to beat in next Tuesday’s primary. But Quinn, if nothing else, is well-known.

GOP race

The Republican race, meanwhile, is a lot less crowded. It features Erika Harold, who won the Miss America pageant in 2002 but lost a bid for Congress in 2014, and Gary Grasso, a member of the DuPage County Board.

Both are social conservatives who have talked about law and order and political corruption on the campaign trail. But neither has said much about environmental policy.

Harold has taken at least $33,000 in contributions from electric and gas utilities, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

The recent Southern Illinois University poll on the GOP primary found Harold with 18 percent, Grasso with 14 percent and 65 percent undecided. The poll of 259 registered Republicans had a 6-point error margin.

Harold has been endorsed by Rauner, the wealthy governor — who has contributed $300,000 to her campaign. But she has been on the defensive in recent days amid media reports that during a 2000 beauty pageant, she suggested that adoption by same-sex parents was less desirable than children being adopted by heterosexual parents who are known child abusers.