In 1998, Jesse White was elected to lead an Illinois Secretary of State’s office that was mired in scandal.
Four years earlier, a truck driver who had paid a bribe to obtain an Illinois license caused a crash that killed six children near Milwaukee. That led to an FBI investigation into a licenses-for-bribes scandal dubbed “Operation Safe Road” – and in the weeks after White’s election, people began pleading guilty. The corruption probe eventually led to the downfall of White’s predecessor, former Gov. George Ryan, who was sentenced to prison after a single term as governor.
In the 21 years since, White has brought drastic changes for the better. The scandals are over. Use of technology has decreased wait times at offices. Stronger DUI laws, reforms in teen driving guidelines and truck driver licensing practices have made the roads safer for all. The expanded organ and tissue donor program has grown to more than 5 million people and saved lives.
White has shown integrity many times as well, including in 2009, when he refused to certify Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s appointment of Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate in the wake of revelations the governor had tried to auction off the seat to the highest bidder.
Voters have recognized White’s service and character time and again, handing him landslide victories in six statewide elections. Amazingly, he has received more than 60 percent of the vote in each of his five re-election bids.
A Chicago Democrat, White became the first African-American elected secretary of state in 1998. Now in the first year of his sixth consecutive term, he has held the post longer than anyone in state history. He still works daily for the people of Illinois, leading a state agency that provides more direct public service than any other.
White was a student at Alabama State College in Montgomery in the 1950s, he attended a church where Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor, and participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott organized by King and Rosa Parks. He served 16 years in the General Assembly
There are few politicians with a biography as inspiring as Jesse White, who has taken Illinois from the nadir of Operation Safe Road to truly providing safe roads for citizens.
We are joining with newspapers throughout our state for the calling on the Illinois House, Senate and Gov. J.B. Prtizker to declare a statewide “Jesse White Day.” The Honorable Jesse White is truly an Illinois treasure, and the time is right to recognize his remarkable service to our state.