Jesse White: Candidate Profile

  • Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White shows off Illinois' new license plate design, left, during a news conference Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in Chicago. Illinois is starting a program to replace older license plates that officials say won't cost the budget-strapped state any additional money. White said the program will start next year and will be paid for within the agency's current budget . (Andy Grimm/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

    Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White shows off Illinois' new license plate design, left, during a news conference Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in Chicago. Illinois is starting a program to replace older license plates that officials say won't cost the budget-strapped state any additional money. White said the program will start next year and will be paid for within the agency's current budget . (Andy Grimm/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

Updated 10/30/2018 10:20 AM


City: Chicago



Twitter: @JesseWhite2018

Facebook: Citizens for Jesse White; Jesse White SOS

Party: Democrat

Office sought: Illinois Secretary of State

Age: 84

Family: Not married; two daughters

Occupation: Illinois Secretary of State

Education: B.S. from Alabama State College (now Alabama State University)

Civic involvement: Jesse White Tumbling Team; U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division; Illinois National Guard and Reserve

Elected offices held: Illinois Secretary of State; Cook County Recorder of Deeds; Illinois State Representative

Question and Answer:

How would you streamline your office's duties to save the state money?

Due to our efforts to streamline operations, use technology and expand online transactions, the overall number of employees in my office has decreased and is approximately 500 fewer than the Edgar and Ryan administrations, with approximately 3,600 employees today. Yet we continue to add new responsibilities -- many through our initiatives and some new laws mandated by the General Assembly. We are doing more with less, and we have been successful due to creatively streamlining operations and the use of new innovations in technology.

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My administration is committed to continue using taxpayer dollars wisely. In fact, during the last nine years of my tenure, the General Revenue Fund portion of my office's Fiscal Year 2019 budget is nearly $2.4 million less than my office's GRF portion in Fiscal Year 2010. We are always looking for new and creative ways to improve customer service while saving the state money.

Describe technological efficiencies developed over the past four years. What more can be done?

We have improved customer service through streamlined operations and the innovative use of technology which expands online transactions. As a result, wait times are shorter than ever at facilities as more customers utilize technology-based transactions that the office has developed to better serve the public. In 2017, internet transactions with the office accounted for nearly $270 million, an increase of approximately 500 percent in 10 years.

I want to upgrade the mandatory insurance program. Next year, through legislation I initiated and system upgrades, we will establish and implement an electronic vehicle insurance policy verification program. This will better ensure motorists have and maintain automobile insurance policies. The process will be automated and streamlined so that twice each year at random intervals all motorists will be checked against the system to verify they have automobile insurance.

What functions should the Secretary of State's Office perform that it isn't right now?

The Illinois Secretary of State's office is the most diverse and largest of its kind in the nation. The office is responsible for issuing driver's license and ID cards, license plates, regulating securities and registering businesses, maintaining the lobbyist database and the Organ/Tissue Donor Registry and providing security throughout the Capitol Complex in Springfield. We are also the state librarian and the state archivist. All of these functions are important and we remain vigilant in our efforts to improve customer service.


That said, my top three priorities as Secretary of State have been to make the roads of Illinois as safe as possible, to eliminate the culture of corruption that had been part of the history of the office and to use technology to make the process more efficient and faster for our customers. We have accomplished much in these areas, but it requires constant attention and vigilance to maintain a high level of service.

As the incumbent, what makes you the stronger candidate?

My record as secretary of state and the accomplishments we have achieved while in office. Wait times in Driver Services facilities are shorter than ever. The culture of the office, once beset by scandal and corruption, has been overhauled and changed to one that vigorously pursues and roots out any form of wrongdoing or unethical behavior. The roads of Illinois are among the safest in the nation. Since we established our state's nationally recognized Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program, teen driving deaths in Illinois have dropped by more than 50 percent. Our innovative BAIID program was one of the first of its kind in the nation, and drunk driving deaths have been cut in half during my tenure. National studies highlight Illinois as a national leader in traffic safety as a result. I am proud of these accomplishments as well as many others that my administration has achieved.

What should Illinois be doing to make the roads safer?

We have made great strides in improving road safety in Illinois. Our state is considered a leader in traffic safety. We implemented one of the most comprehensive Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device (BAIID) programs in the nation. Our Graduated Driver License (GDL) program is considered among the country's best. As a result, DUI and teen driving fatalities have been cut in half. We were one of the first states to pass a complete ban on texting while driving and expanded it further this year by making a first offense a moving violation that goes on a driver's permanent record.

I am proposing legislation that would require judges to indicate the reason they are rescinding a statutory summary suspension. This would bring more accountability in dealing with DUI penalties.

Illinois rolled out new license plates in the last year. How well did that go, and could things have been done differently?

The license plate replacement program has gone smoothly. More than 3.2 million newly-designed license plates have been issued in less than two years. This is a cost-efficient, forward-thinking program designed to replace the oldest plates with the new plates at no additional cost to Illinois taxpayers. The purpose of the program is to ensure -- now and in the future -- that older license plates are appropriately replaced with the ultimate goal being no license plate on the road will be more than 10 years old. License plates' reflectivity diminishes with age, which impacts law enforcement's ability to quickly and accurately identify license plate numbers. This is a long-term solution that does not require a complete replating overhaul, which would have cost around $60 million.

Should fees be raised to pay for infrastructure upgrades? If so, which ones and by how much?

No, fees associated with the Secretary of State's office should not be raised. I believe people already pay enough.

What other issues, if any, are important to you as a candidate for this office?

The top three issues to me as Secretary of State are making the roads of Illinois as safe as possible, the elimination of the culture of corruption that had been part of the history of the office and using technology and streamlining operations to make the process more efficient and faster for our customers.

Beyond these issues, I would highlight the Organ and Tissue Donor program and my role as the State Librarian.

Through our continuous efforts to promote organ and tissue donation, the latest of which was passing a new law to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to join the Organ and Tissue Donor Registry, the registry has grown to more than 6.5 million.

And as the State Librarian, we provide support to local libraries throughout the state to ensure they receive the assistance and financial resources they need and richly deserve to serve their communities. A library is the cornerstone of a community. It is a place where people can gather to read, conduct research, learn, work on a resume, or just a safe place to go for a child that is waiting for a working parent to come home. We must do everything we can to support their mission. My opponent has said publicly that he wants to cut funding to libraries. I am 100 percent opposed to this idea.

In addition, here a few questions meant to provide more personal insight into you as a person:

What's the hardest decision you ever had to make?

In 2009, many people wanted me to sign my name to appoint Roland Burris as the United States Senator replacing President Obama. Because then-Governor Rod Blagojevich had been arrested for trying to sell the very same senate seat, I committed myself publicly that if Blagojevich were to try to appoint someone, I would not co-sign. And I did not. What made the decision particularly difficult was the enormous social pressure that was placed on me. At that point in time there were no African-Americans serving in the U.S. Senate. There were many that felt strongly that I should sign my name to the appointment made by Blagojevich, but I remained true to my commitment and did not do so.

Who is your hero?

My parents and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Each amendment in the Bill of Rights is important, but which one of those 10 is most precious to you?

The First Amendment. Free speech, freedom to assemble and the freedom of the press are sacrosanct to me. In that regard, I try to maintain as open an office as possible in providing information to the news media.

What lesson of youth has been most important to you as an adult?

My parents instilled in me many values that I hold dear. But one that stands out is to commit yourself to being the best you can be at what you are doing and finish what you start. I have said before, while serving in the U.S. Army's 101s Airborne Division I often jumped out of perfectly good airplanes. When you jump, it is never half way. It is all the way. And that is how I live my life.

Think back to a time you failed at something. What did you learn from it?

In retrospect, I wish I had agreed to donate my brother's organs after he passed away in the 1980s. But due to the grief of the moment, and the fact I knew little then about the Organ and Tissue Donor program, my family and I declined to donate his organs when asked by a representative of Gift of Hope. In the 1990s, my sister Doris was in dire need of a kidney and there was not a match within the family. Because of the Organ and Tissue Donor program, my sister received a lifesaving kidney and got a second chance at life. Through the generosity of someone else, my sister Doris lived another 27 years, passing away earlier this year. This lit a fire in me that continues to burn bright. That is why I do everything in my power to encourage people to register to become an organ and tissue donor and I'm proud to say our registry is now over 6.5 million.

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