Corruption, opioid epidemic priorities for GOP attorney general candidates
On the surface, the only things Illinois attorney general candidates running in the March 20 Republican primary share are membership in the GOP and law degrees from prestigious universities. Yet, when it comes to issues such as political malfeasance and opioid abuse, they aren't far apart.
A litigator for 39 years and a graduate of Fordham University School of Law, Gary Grasso, 66, was Burr Ridge mayor from 2005 to 2012 and is a member of the DuPage County Board.
Urbana native Erika Harold, 37, is a litigator with a downstate firm and a former Miss America who used pageant scholarship money to graduate debt-free from Harvard Law School in 2007.
Harold, who has never held public office, says she is a constitutionalist who wants to see civil liberties protected and due process respected. She says her experience negotiating complicated legal settlements makes her the right candidate for the office.
"The next attorney general has to be someone who can bring people together through innovative ideas, through a unique personal story and through a break from some of the politics of the past," she said during an interview with the Daily Herald.
Grasso describes himself as a fiscal and social conservative whose nearly 40 years practicing law and his public service make him the best attorney general candidate.
"We're in a time where you need the right experience, and I have the right experience," said Grasso during his Daily Herald interview.
The winner of the Republican primary will take on the Democratic nominee in November to replace departing attorney general Lisa Madigan, who is not seeking another term.
If elected, Grasso said he would evaluate the 11 divisions in the attorney general's office to look for ways to consolidate and streamline services, including the "cross-utilization of staff."
"It's the nature of government to not run as lean as it should," he said. "I'm confidant that after 16 years of the current administration there will be areas where I will be able to redirect resources."
Both candidates say they will make combating political corruption and curbing the opioid epidemic priorities if they are elected in November.
Harold said the attorney general's office can help stem corruption in part by devoting more resources to the office's public access counselor, who works to ensure compliance with the Freedom of Information and Open Meetings acts. Protecting public access, Harold said, "empowers citizens, watchdog groups and the media to ensure government is operating in a transparent way."
Grasso believes political corruption -- in addition to economic woes and taxes -- has contributed to residents' leaving Illinois.
"We are in dire straits in this state," he said.
Grasso pointed to controversies over what some say are unfair property tax assessments that benefit the politically connected. Under his leadership, Grasso said, the attorney general's office would investigate "the clout-based, corrupt property tax assessment system" and share that information with the state and U.S. attorneys.
Both candidates say the attorney general should take a lead in combating opioid abuse by filing or joining in lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies and establishing ways to track distribution of pills to prevent individuals from what Harold calls "doctor shopping."
However, "forcing each state's attorney to file a lawsuit isn't the best way to address it," she said. "The office should be more proactive in making sure we're not duplicating resources."