Friday, April 02, 2010

There's Always Some Good Democrat Trying to Ruin Things for Bad Republicans

Cynthia Grant Bowman. Dawn Clark Netsch: A Political Life. Evanston, Il.: Northwestern University Pres, 2010.

Dawn Clark Netsch was an Illinois public servant with a long career in politics and government. She was the top of her graduating class at Northwestern University Law School as well as the only female graduating there in 1952. She became active in the Committee on Illinois Government that fought the Democratic Party “machine”. She was an aide to Governor Otto Kerner, taught law at Northwestern, was a Delegate to the 1970 Constitutional Convention was elected to the State Senate in 1972 against a “machine” candidate, won reelection against a “machine” opponent, and served until 1990 when she was elected State Comptroller, becoming the first female Illinois executive office holder. She ran for, and lost, for Governor in 1994.

Netsch was born in Cincinnati in 1926 to a family that owned a building material business that faltered during the Depression. The family moved into a smaller house. The family business later failed.

As a child, she was upset to see some white children throwing stones at Black children. This created a lasting impression for her to fight for racial justice.

In Cincinnati then, there was the Republican Party and the Charterites Party, and no Democratic Party. The Charterites argued for moving to a city manager governance and that City Council be elected with voters selecting first and second choice candidates to provide minority representation. Dawn volunteered for the Charterites while in junior high during when they helped create a new city charter. This was the seed for her to later challenge the Daley machine in Chicago.

As an undergraduate at Northwestern, Dawn wrote for the school newspaper and fought against campus racial segregation. Black students were not allowed to live in on-campus housing. A poll of students found 72% would not accept a Black roommate and 42% would not live in the same residential house with a Black. The movement, though, led to one interacting house being created.

Dawn graduated from Northwestern in 1948 and was Phi Beta Kappa. The League of Women Voters hired her for secretarial work. She volunteered for the Adlai Stevenson for Governor campaign.

Dawn worked with Volunteers for Stevenson in the 1952 Presidential campaign. After working two years for a law firm she became a Clerk to Judge Julius Hoffman in 1954. Dawn became active with the Committee on Illinois Government (CIG). This group fought patronage and machine politics. It called for disclosing political contributions, more civil service, and reforms in several areas of government. Dawn worked on researching and writing about mental health reform. In 1958, Dawn was Treasurer of CIG.

When Otto Kerner was elected Governor, Dawn has hired as an assistant for examining legislation. She often had to negotiate with powerful Senate Republican leader W. Russell Arrington on crafting final legislation. Arrington often defended banking interests. Dawn also reviewed bills for vetoes. She discovered there were bills the Governor supported that had other provisions he didn’t like. This led to Dawn researching the idea of an amendatory veto which ultimately was created in 1970.

Dawn married Walter Netsch in 1963. In 1967, she was appointed by Governor Kerner to the Constitution Study Commission. A Convention was called. She was elected as a delegate. Her support for creating the amendatory veto and reduction veto, which reduces budget amounts, were successful.

IN 1972, she challenged incumbent Daniel O’Brien for State Senator. O’Brien was also the 43rd Ward Democratic Committeeman and part of the Mayor Richard Daley political machine. The district included part of the high income Gold Coast as well as the low income Cabrina Green housing project and working class areas of Lincoln Park, Old Town, DePaul, and Lakeview. She recruited over 2,000 volunteers for her campaign. She was a narrow victory. Daley’s candidates, though, won most of their races against other anti-machine candidates,

Dawn and seven other Independent Democrats blocked the election of Democrat Cecil Parker as Senate President. Dawn demanded independents be placed on committees, with staff. A compromise was reached where independents were placed on committees and one became Assistant Majority Leader. This group grew to nine members and worked with the Black Caucus on reform measures.

A 1977 stalemate over electing a Senate President last five weeks and a historic 186 ballots, the most ballots even on any matter in the Illinois legislature. A compromise was reached were some independent s received desired positions. Sen. Richard Daley, Jr.’s Judiciary Committee was divided into two committees, one chaired by Daley and the other chaired by Dawn, a leading critic of Daley. Dawn and Daley worked together on crafting mental health policies. They mended fences and Dawn supported Daley for Cook County’s State’s Attorney.

Dawn’s legislative victories included allowing government programs to use less expensive generic drugs. Dawn also worked on ethics and campaign finance bills that did not pass. Dawn fought unsuccessfully for the merit selection of judges. She did get a voluntary Code of Fair Practices passed where candidates could sing and promise not to misstate race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or national origin in campaign statements.

Dawn chaired the Senate Revenue Committee. She successfully fought to reform rape laws to include male and female assaults and to increase penalties when children are victims. She worked for Family and Medical Leave and for gay rights. She fought for the unsuccessful Equal Rights Amendment.

Dawn fought with Major Jane Byrne and supported Richard Daley Jr.’s attempt to oust her. Harold Washington won the three candidate primary.

Dawn was elected Comptroller in 1989. She had the support of independent and regular Democrats. At first she wanted to run for Attorney General but Roland Burris dropped out of the Governor’s race to run for Attorney General. She then switched to the Comptroller’s race. Critics noted as a Constitutional Convention Delegate, Dawn had argued the Comptroller be appointed rather than elected. Her Republican opponent Sue Suten used ads against her on her opposition to the death penalty.

When Dawn became Comptroller, she found an office left by Roland Burris with decades old computers and a policy of delaying payments when funds were insufficient. She was upset to find a fiscal office engaged in partisan politics. She had her office work with local governments on improving their audits. She had the computers upgraded as they were slow to process cash and once had it so there was only $8 available for the entire state government.

Dawn ran for Governor. Emily’s List helped with fundraising. She proposed increasing corporate and income taxes to better fund education. Her opponents jumped on attacking her for proposing to raise taxes. She won the Democratic Primary but lost the general election to incumbent Jim Edgar. Her campaign had troubles raising funds against a well funded opponent. Edgar received 64% to her 34%.


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