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Schaumburg: The joke that is the Lt. Gov.'s office

Published: Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010 12:21 a.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010 5:06 p.m. CDT

Chances are pretty good that most of you never had heard of Scott Lee Cohen before Tuesday’s primary election.

Of course, given the dismal voter turnout statewide, most of you probably hadn’t heard of Cohen even after Tuesday’s election.

Thursday changed all that, however, when Cohen – who was voted the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor Tuesday – was called out by Gov. Pat Quinn and juicy allegations from his divorce file surfaced.

Among the allegations made by Cohen’s ex-wife is that Cohen was violent toward her and that the violence was fueled by abuse of anabolic steroids. She sought an order of protection from him in 2005 after she filed for divorce.

On top of that, Cohen was arrested in 2005 on domestic battery charges for allegedly pushing his then-girlfriend’s head against a wall and holding a knife to her throat. Those charges were dropped after the woman failed to appear for a court date.

In less than a week, Cohen went from being a no-name pawnbroker running for state office to winning the Democratic lieutenant governor primary to defending himself from serious accusations of domestic battery.

And you thought Illinois politics couldn’t get any crazier?

Quinn was going to have a fight on his hands, regardless, to retain the governor’s office. With Cohen as his “running mate,” Quinn’s fight is that much tougher. Quinn is the one who wants to raise the state income tax, in case you haven’t been paying attention.

The entire incident makes a joke of the lieutenant governor’s office, but how the office is set up and how someone is elected into it also is to blame for that.

The office carries little political power and assigned duties other than pet projects the office holder chooses to pursue. In that regard, it’s kind of like the first lady in the White House.

Yet, this person is one heartbeat – or, in Illinois, one criminal indictment – away from becoming the state’s top leader. But how we go about putting that person in office doesn’t make sense.

Voters select each party’s lieutenant governor nominee in the primary. That “winner” is then assigned to be the running mate for the party’s nominee for governor, and the two run as a ticket. That would be the equivalent of holding primaries across the country to elect each party’s vice president nominee.

There are two solutions: Change the state Constitution so it allows gubernatorial candidates to choose their own lieutenant governor running mates; or allow voters to vote for lieutenant governor in the general election, which was the law until 1970’s overhaul of the Illinois Constitution.

In the latter instance, you run the risk of having separate parties voted into the governor’s office and lieutenant governor’s office, which happened in 1968. But would it really matter, since the lieutenant governor’s office has little to no political sway, also a result of the 1970 overhaul? There is one scenario in which it would matter, and that’s if the governor was unable to fulfill his or her duties. Then, the lieutenant governor takes over (see Quinn).

I say the fix is that a governor and lieutenant governor run together in the primary, so that voters vote for tickets and not individuals for each office.

Seems too simple for Illinois government, however.

• •  •

“Keeping Tabs” this week looks at Northern Illinois University’s response to our Freedom of Information Act request for information regarding the review panel charged with investigating Police Chief Donald Grady.

We wanted to know who the panel interviewed as part of its investigation, so we asked for all records, correspondence, information, transcripts, witness lists and memos regarding or mentioning the review panel.

What we received from the university was engagement records for the panel members – essentially, hiring forms – and two days’ worth of interviewing schedules that were blank. No names.

The university cited the exemption that allows records in the possession of any public body created in the course of administrative enforcement proceedings to be withheld, particularly because providing us the list would unavoidably disclose the identity of a confidential source, confidential information furnished only by the confidential source, or persons who file complaints with or provide information to administrative, investigative, law enforcement, or penal agencies.

We have the right to request a review of this decision by the state’s Public Access Counselor, and we will be requested that review.

News Editor Kate Schott has more on this in a story that appears on the front page of today’s Daily Chronicle and online at Daily-Chronicle.com.

• • •

I wanted to say, “Thanks,” to Dee Coover and Kathy Keyes over at the DeKalb Public Library for Thursday’s tour.

The library is a beautiful building – it’s on the National Register of Historic Places – and, at first blush, Coover and Co. appear to be making the most of a very cramped space.

The library offers books, magazine, newspapers, DVD rental, Internet access and more. And if you live in DeKalb, as Coover points out, it’s free to you. You’ve already paid for it through property taxes.

• • •

If you didn’t visit my From the Editor’s Desk blog this week at Daily-Chronicle.com, you missed discussion on newspaper endorsements, the primary election, NIU basketball and the guilty pleasures on your iPod.

Come check it out.

• Jason Schaumburg is editor of the Daily Chronicle. E-mail him at jschaumburg@daily-chronicle.com. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DC_Editor and check out his blog, From the Editor’s Desk, at Daily-Chronicle.com/blogs.

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