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Our View: ‘Al the Pal’ will be missed

Published: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 10:08 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 8:45 a.m. CDT

What did former U.S. Sen. Alan J. Dixon, who died Sunday at the age of 86, do for you?

For starters, open your purse or wallet and take a good look at your driver’s license.

Before Dixon was Illinois secretary of state from 1977 to 1981, licenses consisted of words on flimsy pieces of paper.

Upon taking office, Dixon declared, “I’m going to put a picture on your driver’s license so you’ll have an identification card,” he said in an interview with Sauk Valley Media.

“I’m going to issue another I.D. card for non-drivers,” he continued.

Dixon also established a personnel code to protect the office’s 3,000-plus employees.

Further, “I eliminated the chop shops,” he said.

And probably most important, for Illinoisans tired of changing their vehicle license plates once a year during cold weather, Dixon launched multiyear plates so the only annual change necessary was affixing a new license sticker.

Accolades for Dixon, a Democrat from Belleville, have mentioned his friendliness (“Al the Pal” was his nickname), his ability to work with Democrats and Republicans, and his firm desire to get things done for the people of Illinois.

He drew praise from Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat (“I lost a pal today, and Illinois lost a man who brought honor to public service”) and Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican (“We owe Alan a debt of gratitude for all he did for our state”).

Dixon mentioned his philosophy in a memoir, “The Gentleman from Illinois,” published last year. “Generally speaking, my political career was built on goodwill and accommodation,” he wrote.

His career in elective office was long: police magistrate, Illinois House, Illinois Senate, state treasurer, secretary of state, and U.S. Senate, where he served from 1981 until 1993.

Dixon lost his 1992 bid for re-election in a three-way Democratic primary. His vote in favor of the 1991 confirmation of President George H.W. Bush’s nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court probably contributed to his defeat.

He continued to serve the country into the mid-1990s as the appointed chairman of the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission. In that role, he is credited with preserving Scott Air Force Base, near Belleville.

One of his regrets, Dixon told Sauk Valley Media in 2011, was that his idea of creating a system of regional presidential primaries never came to fruition.

In the 1980s, Dixon proposed legislation to divide the country into five or six zones. Each zone would take a turn hosting the first primaries. Candidates would focus on one region at a time, such as the Midwest or the South, thus reducing travel costs and improving other efficiencies.

Dixon said the current long, haphazard primary trail is “ridiculous” because it emphasizes small states where “the extremes tend to gain traction quicker and better.” It’s also rough on the physical well-being of the candidates.

The plan was not adopted.

“In candor, I must say this, that it fell into the trap that most things congressional fall into, that is, we always did it this way,” Dixon said.

But he predicted that regional primaries, if ever adopted, would produce candidates that are more balanced – which fits right in with his moderate philosophy.

Since the 1980s, the state and nation have become more politically divided, and, as Dixon noted, “These aren’t good times to be a moderate.”

Democrat, Republican or independent, Illinoisans should honor the life and career of Alan Dixon. We join them in offering our condolences to his family.

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