Wednesday, April 29, 2015
RIP Former Illinois Governor Dan Walker
The only truly populist governor ever elected Illinois governor during my life time died today at the age of 92. The one-term Democratic governor, Dan Walker, always had a special place in my heart for no other reason than he took on the Chicago Daley Machine and beat it. Walker shocked the nation when he ran against Daley's handpicked candidate, Paul Simon, in the 1972 Illinois primary and narrowly defeated him. He went on to defeat Republican incumbent Gov. Richard Ogilvie, who had angered many voters by enacting a state income tax. Although from Cook County, Walker appealed to many downstate voters with his anti-Daley message and good government message. He was nicknamed Bandanna Dan after he walked nearly 1,200 miles across the state wearing his trademark red bandanna campaigning as an outsider, reform candidate.
Walker fought the Daley machine as well as Republicans during his one term as governor. He was proud of the fact that he enacted executive orders ending pay to play practices common before and after his tenure as Illinois' governor. Walker retells in his autobiography how he turned down several offers during his term as governor from business insiders to participate in IPOs that could have made him a lot of money, a corrupt practice he says is commonplace among elected officials across the country to enrich them. Just ask Mitch Daniels. The decorated veteran and Naval Academy graduate had a very successful career as an attorney and businessman prior to his foray into politics, having once served as general counsel to Montgomery Ward back in the days when it was one of the nation's largest retail giants. Although once touted as a potential Democratic presidential candidate, Walker's four years of warring with Daley and a corrupt legislature took its toll on him. Daley's handpicked candidate, Secretary of State Michael Howlett, beat him in the 1976 primary but would go on to lose the general to Republican James R. Thompson, a former federal prosecutor who ran against a candidate he said looked and talked just like Mayor Daley.
Walker enjoyed more business success after leaving the governor's office. He started a chain of quick oil change stores that he sold for a handsome profit to Jiffy Lube. He and his wife also purchased a savings and loan, which proved to be his downfall. One of Gov. Thompson's handpicked federal prosecutors in Chicago indicted Walker for bank fraud when his savings and loan failed like many after the inflation-driven, high interest rate years of the Carter administration led to a sharp downturn in real estate investments. Walker borrowed $45,000 from a contractor friend who was one of Walker's fellow classmates at the Naval Academy who had also borrowed a few hundred thousand dollars from his savings and loan. The federal prosecutor threatened to prosecute both Walker and his wife. Walker agreed to plead guilty in a plea deal that he understood would involve no jail time. When he appeared for sentencing, the U.S. Attorney pulled a switcheroo and demanded the maximum sentence and the judge sent him to prison for seven years. His sentence was shocking given the amount of fraud that went on across the nation during that S&L debacle that cost taxpayers dearly. Walker was one of the very few bank executives at the time to be sent to prison. Walker's S&L failure cost taxpayers nothing. President George H.W. Bush's son, Neil, committed the same crime as a director at the failed Silverado Savings & Loan on whose board he served. Federal prosecutors in his case said he violated only federal regulations and no criminal laws. Yes, Walker was selectively prosecuted--punishment for being the political maverick he was.