Illinois Republican Gov. Edgar to Retire, Forgoing Challenge for Senate Seat
By Edward Walsh
CHICAGO, Aug. 20 Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar (R) announced today that he will leave public office at the end of his term in January 1999, setting up what is likely to be a wild scramble to succeed him and a spirited Republican primary for the right to challenge Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.) in the 1998 general election.
With his wife, Brenda, and their two children nearby, Edgar made the announcement at a crowded news conference in Springfield.
"It has been a very, very difficult decision," he said. "However, after 30 years in state government, I have concluded it is time for Brenda and me to begin a new chapter in our life."
Edgar, 51, would have been favored to win reelection to a third term and was considered the GOP's strongest potential challenger to Moseley-Braun, a race that many state and national Republican leaders had urged him to make. His decision to leave politics opened opportunities for other Republicans in both of those contests. But Edgar today also announced his support for two of those whose decisions on whether to run for the Senate or governor hinged in part on what he decided about his own future.
He said state Attorney General Jim Ryan is establishing an exploratory committee for a Senate race, adding that if Ryan decides to enter the contest he will have the governor's support. Edgar also said he will support Illinois Secretary of State George Ryan to succeed him. With Edgar retiring, George Ryan is widely regarded as a likely gubernatorial candidate next year.
Edgar announced his decision four days after a federal jury in Springfield convicted one of his top campaign contributors and a former manager in the Illinois Department of Public Aid on fraud and bribery charges. The case stemmed from charges that Management Services of Illinois provided gifts and other bribes to state employees in return for renegotiation of a contract with the state for computer services that prosecutors charged bilked taxpayers of more than $7 million. The firm and some of its officials have donated more than $270,000 in cash and computer services to Edgar's gubernatorial campaigns.
Edgar was not accused of wrongdoing in the case, but the trial and Saturday's verdict cast a cloud over his administration. But he said today that the trial and verdict had no effect on his decision to leave public office. His staff also provided polling data showing that Edgar has a 68 percent statewide favorable rating.
Saying he was confident he could have won reelection but had always planned to serve only two terms, Edgar said: "I always thought, I want to go out on top. Some people in politics, I think, stay too long. Sometimes if you don't go out on top, they throw you out. I didn't think I was going to get thrown out."
Edgar's decision not to run for the Senate removed Moseley-Braun's most formidable potential Republican opponent. Just before today's announcement, Edgar said he called Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) to inform him of the decision. So far, Peter Fitzgerald, a wealthy state senator, is the only announced GOP candidate. But Al Salvi, another wealthy state senator who lost to Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) in 1996, is also considering another run.
In the gubernatorial contest, two Democrats, Rep. Glenn Poshard and former U.S. associate attorney general John R. Schmidt, are seeking their party's nomination. Edgar made his announcement on the last day in office for the U.S. attorney here, James B. Burns, whose resignation is widely regarded as a prelude to a run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. In addition, former Democratic state attorney general Roland W. Burris is exploring a race.
Edgar kept his decision secret to the last and said he finally made up his mind only hours before this afternoon's announcement. His staff prepared three speeches, announcing for reelection, announcing a run for the Senate and announcing his retirement from politics. His wife said she thought he would run for the Senate and "was very surprised with this choice."
Edgar said that while in office he will continue to push for an overhaul of the state's school financing system, which he called "fundamentally unfair." His first attempt to overhaul the system failed earlier this year when the measure was bottled up by the president of the Republican-controlled Illinois Senate.
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