Race for Illinois State Treasurer heating up

January 27, 2010 2:19:46 PM PST
The race for Illinois Treasurer is heating up. Alexi Giannoulias is vacating the seat in his bid for the US Senate, but his position could still have an influence. Giannoulias's top aide is running to fill her boss's seat in the treasurer's office. She is telling voters that what she's learned during the past three years makes her the best choice for the job, but her opponent is using that experience against her.

Robin Kelly currently holds the top non-elected job in the state treasurer's office: chief of staff. The former state repetitive from the south suburbs is running on her record and experience.

"I had legislation helping small businesses with tax incentives and things like that instead of just the big businesses that come to the state of Illinois," said Kelly.

But it's her time under Alexi Giannoulias that is taking criticism. The treasurer's job is to manage the state's investments. During Giannoulias's term, the "Bright Start" college savings program lost what was first reported as $85 million. The final number has edged closer to $150 million in losses.

Kelly, who holds a PhD in political science, calls the program successful, citing 10,000 new enrollees. She said the impact of losses has been exaggerated.

"Yes, there was money lost. We've worked very hard with the attorney general to get a good settlement, and again that was one fund out of 21," said Kelly.

Kelly's primary opponent, Justin Oberman, calls her explanation "unacceptable."

"Saying you only lost one fund is like saying you only lost one game and that's the Super Bowl. It just doesn't count," Oberman said.

Oberman says he would like to see the Bright Start program overhauled. As treasurer, he would also focus on creating new jobs. The Democrat, who once worked in George W. Bush's administration, says he helped create and manage the transportation security administration after Sept. 11, 2001, and knows how to manage in both the public and private sectors.

"The treasurer is uniquely positioned to work with investors to bring additional investment dollars into the State of Illinois and put people back to work," said Oberman. "The government's broke. The government's not going to be able to create any jobs. Unless we can attract more investors here, we're not going to be able to get our unemployment rate down."

On the Republican side, State Senator Dan Rutherford is running unopposed for the seat. Senator Rutherford's district is in downstate Pontiac.