SPRINGFIELD - In a wide-ranging interview with the Daily Herald last week, 27-year-old lieutenant governor hopeful Jason Plummer tackled a variety of issues, including Scott Lee Cohen, his possible Republican running mates and whether he has any skeletons that might be uncovered that could embarrass himself and the party.
Here's an edited transcript of that interview.
Q: During the primary election, you said you would refuse to take a paycheck if elected lieutenant governor. Do you plan to follow through with that promise?
A: I'm still planning it. It's a philosophical thing with me. We've been struggling in the country with economic turmoil and in Illinois for a decade ... We've had an opportunity to wrap our arms around this problem for a long time, and I haven't seen any policy leadership come out of Springfield to address the pressing issues we're struggling with. One reason that could be the case is a lot folks in Springfield - meaning elected officials and so on and so forth - aren't feeling the pain.
They can vote themselves pay increases. They've still got great pensions and great health care benefits and a great office. They aren't struggling like a lot of other folks are with property tax bills and mortgage bills and a lot of those things. We really need to create an environment where they have the empathy and the urgency to address these issues ... I think the folks in Springfield shouldn't be the first in line for a paycheck, I think they should be last in line for a paycheck.
Q: You have some big ideas for the office of lieutenant governor. For an office that has few official duties other than wait for the governor to die, how would you enact these big ideas?
A: What they do in most states is take the office of lieutenant governor and work hand in hand with the governor and focus on issues where the state is struggling ... What I've argued is we should elevate the office and focus the influence and resources of the office on these particular issues. The most pressing issue we're facing right now is job creation or actually the lack thereof.
Q: Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan proposed a constitutional amendment Wednesday that would abolish the lieutenant governor's office beginning in 2015. What do you think about this?
A: If that happens, that would make me the last lieutenant governor, wouldn't it? Here's what I would say. The office of lieutenant governor is only as large as the vision of the person in the office. Once again, a constitutional amendment is a perfect example of the lack of long-term thinking in Springfield, Illinois. Instead of abolishing the office, they should take it and focus it on the issues where we're struggling. If it works in 45 or 46 other states, why can't it work in Illinois? Abolishing the office is just a short-term, knee-jerk response to avoiding answering the tougher questions. Instead of abolishing the office of lieutenant governor, why aren't they taking a priority and addressing the issues we're really struggling with? Getting rid of the lieutenant governor would be just one more job lost under Mike Madigan's long reign in Illinois. The lieutenant governor would join the hundreds of thousands of other people who have lost jobs since he's been speaker.
Q: Have you talked with state Sens. Bill Brady or Kirk Dillard - the two Republicans still waiting for votes to be counted to determine your party's nominee for governor?
A: Yes, both of them. Well, obviously, they're both very, very busy with what's going in that race. They both kind of just called to keep me up to date and congratulate me and keep me up to date with what their plans were and the process they were expecting to go through.
Q: Is it difficult to campaign without knowing your running mate?
A: There's two gentlemen that are looking to be governor, but they're very similar on the issues, and I'm very similar to them on the issues. So, really, either way, we're going to have a great candidate. It's not like we're going to have to mesh two polar opposites together. All three of us are very similar. We're opposed to tax increases. We want to change the business climate in the state. We want to address the culture of corruption in Springfield. They're pretty serious issues, and we're all on the same page on the issues.
Q: Because embattled former Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen is dropping out of the race, the Democratic Party will be handpicking a candidate you'll be debating as the general election nears. What are your thoughts?
A: Politics shouldn't be this personal grudge match, vendetta thing. Politics, in my opinion, is a way to have a positive impact on a lot of a people and a positive impact on the state. The Democrats might be trying to handpick somebody who complements Pat Quinn or who they think takes advantage of something that's wrong with our ticket or whatever. But at the end of the day, it comes down to ideas, and it comes down to a vision. Either way, you're going to have a Republican who's against tax increases, a Republican who's for creating high-quality jobs for the people of the state, a Republican who's independent and who's willing to address the culture of corruption in Springfield versus a hand-picked insider who's going to be for tax increases and is going to be for the same policies that have wrecked the state for the last decade. You know, I don't know what they're going to try to take advantage of because in the battle of ideas, I know our ideas win out.
Q: Since the whole Scott Lee Cohen debacle surfaced, there is obviously more scrutiny on you. Is there anything that could come to light that would damage your reputation?
A: No. I mean, I don't think so. I've been to dozens of counties, dozens of events, I've met with dozens of reporters and newspapers and radio stations. I've been out there. People have asked me tough questions, and I've been there to answer the tough questions. I called you back. I'm willing to talk to anybody. I don't think there's anything in my past. I'm proud of what I've done. I'm proud of what my family's done. Like I said, that other situation (regarding Scott Lee Cohen) is unfortunate. If anyone's taking pleasure in what's going on over there, there's something wrong with them.
Q: Have you ever been arrested?
Q: Have you ever done illegal drugs?
Q: What did you do at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign?
A: I was a finance major in the School of Business.
Q: Were you in any fraternities?
Q: While in college you crusaded against bringing radical political activist Bill Ayers to campus. Could you speak about that?
A: I don't know if "crusade" is the right word. I was basically the vice president of the student body, vice president of the student Senate. It came to us that student money and taxpayer money was funding speeches by Bill Ayers. They bought him down from Chicago. They were feeding him, and they were housing him. He was giving speeches to students. I don't really care who they bring in to speak. They brought a lot of very interesting folks to speak. But what Bill Ayers had done and the fact he had never shown any remorse for it really rubbed me the wrong way. Considering his background, I didn't think taxpayer money or student money should be going to funding him when the taxpayers and the students didn't really have a say in him coming there.
What we did was push a piece of legislation through the Senate and it passed that basically reformatted the way they selected their speakers so taxpayers and the students had a little more say of who their money would sponsor.
Q: You're only 27 years old. What would you say to some people who say you're too young to be a heartbeat away from the governor's seat?
A: Someone who's saying that probably hasn't met me and probably doesn't know much about me. There's a difference between age and experience. What they're looking for in a lieutenant governor, what they're looking for in a governor, what they're looking for in a state rep or state senator is someone who will represent their ideas, someone who's going to fight for them, someone who's going to show leadership. That's what I've always done.
We've had a tradition of younger folks being elected here in Illinois. Look when Dan Hynes was elected statewide (as the comptroller). Look when Alexi Giannoulias was elected statewide (as treasurer). I would argue that at my point right now I'm far more experienced than them on leadership in the issues we need to address ... For the thousands and thousands of people in the state that are unemployed, I don't think they care how old the person is in Springfield that's fighting to get them a job. That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to bring my leadership experience from a lot of things I've been involved in, including the military. I'm going to bring my business experience, and that's what I'm going to do. I got out in front of more audiences and more people than any other statewide candidate this year. We worked very, very hard. We crisscrossed the state. If you look at our election results, we earned more votes than anyone but Judy Baar Topinka and Mark Kirk.
Q: What attracted you to the office of lieutenant governor in the first place? Why not run for state representative or state senator?
A: I think that the lieutenant governor's office in Illinois has been an underutilized asset for far too long. There's an opportunity here to take the office and elevate it. Suddenly, you've got a statewide office that you can use to address job creation - a statewide office you can use to address the statewide issues I've been talking about. That's really what attracted me to it. I thought it was wrong we had a state office that basically had 30 employees and a good-sized budget and it wasn't being utilized.
Q: If the Republican ticket is elected in November, what's the first thing you will do as lieutenant governor?
A: Well, I mean, I don't know the exact first thing I'd do. But I can tell you this: The first issue we would address is job creation. Job creation is what I'm passionate about. I know I keep going back to job creation, but look at what I said on the campaign trail. If you look at the natural resources this state offers, the coal in the ground, the agriculture soil, the human resources. We have a large educated work force. We have a wonderful public university system, geographic resources. Anything that goes by river or by rail crosses through Illinois. We're as blessed as any state in the union. We're in essence the bottom two in every economic and job creation category, and I think that's shameful. The only thing I've been passionate in talking about is job creation. I'm not looking for a career in Springfield. I'm not looking for newspaper headlines. I'm not looking for anything. I'm looking to get in there to work hard to burn both ends of the candlestick and change the environment in Illinois.
Q: What's the formula to create a job in Illinois?
A: Create an environment where you open your arms to capital and investment. The capital and investment will build businesses, and the businesses will create quality jobs. Right now, we have a terrible tax environment, a terrible regulatory environment, a terrible tort environment. Those things all make it a very hostile state for capital and investment, and then we sit around and wonder why we don't have any jobs or growth.