Four weeks after the Feb. 2 primary elections, state Rep. Art L. Turner (D-9) is back on the campaign trail, so to speak. This time he is courting Democratic Party Central Committee members.
The committee must find a replacement candidate for the lieutenant governor position, which was put back in play after Scott Lee Cohen’s fall from grace as the Democratic nominee.
Cohen won the nomination but resigned under pressure after allegations surfaced of domestic abuse against a woman, who later was arrested for prostitution. Cohen also admitted to being in arrears for child support as well as using steroids. Now party officials must pick a new running mate for Gov. Pat Quinn.
Turner is among a reported 70 individuals vying for the post or being championed for it, according to House Speaker Mike Madigan’s spokesperson, Steve Brown. He said the committee has scheduled a March 15 meeting to select a replacement. But he noted the meeting could happen sooner.
Turner has reached out to the 38-member Central Democratic Committee outlining his credentials. He noted that Madigan supported his candidacy early on and expects that support to continue.
However, Turner also believes he is the best man for the job, that his 30 years’ experience in the General Assembly is what is needed to restore the rift between both legislative and executive branches. The rift, he explained began under then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who at one time stopped speaking to then-Lt. Governor Quinn.
“The legislative branch and the executive branch have not been communicating,” Turner said. “I think it is important that we have someone in that position who can help restore communications between them.”
Turner says his longevity in the General Assembly has cultivated great working relationships with members of both chambers and both political parties.
“No one is there who can’t work with Art Turner – Democrat, Republican, white, black, male or female,” he said, adding that he also has good rapport with Gov. Quinn.
The lieutenant governor’s office has been vacant, with little notice, since Quinn became governor after Blagojevich’s impeachment in 2009. That absence has prompted some political pundits to call for the office to be eliminated.
Turner disagrees. The office oversees tourism and the state’s waterways, which is being threatened by the Asian carp. The infestation could impact the state’s $8 billion sports and commercial fishing industry.
“It is not a do-nothing position,” Turner said. “I think it is a pretty important position and someone should be in charge of trying to correct that issue.”
Also, many who hold the lt. governor’s office have used it to advocate for certain issues impacting those who have been disenfranchised by the government.
Then-Lt. Gov. Quinn promoted veterans issues. Former Lt. Governor Corinne Wood promoted rural health and rural education while Neil Hartigan advocated for senior citizen issues.
Turner plans to promote volunteerism and youth issues. He wants to focus on anti-violence programs, school funding and higher education.
“I’m not taking anything away from the programs that have been started, but I would like to add to that,” he said.
While some in the black community contend Turner should be next in line for the post, state law dictates party officials fill any openings on the ballot. In a six-way race, Turner got 22 percent of the vote while Cohen received 26 percent.
Turner noted that if the state had an open election where voters didn’t declare a party, then the candidate next in line would fill the vacancy.
“The way our party system is set up … [filling] vacancies should be done within the party,” Turner said. “I don’t necessarily agree that it has to be the number two person [but] in this case, they happen to have a number two guy who is the best qualified.”
When asked if Quinn’s preference for Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth to be his running mate signaled an unwillingness to consider an African American for the post, Turner said it did not. However, he noted that Duckworth has not indicated an interest in the job.
“After it is all said and done, I don’t see anybody out there who can match the credentials I have, the ability to take this office and help move the entire Democratic platform forward,” he said.