Meet Corinne Wood, Illinois' likely next Governor.

by Norm Winick

Corinne Wood is Illinois' Lady-In-Waiting. As an ever-developing scandal engulfs Governor George Ryan, the likelihood that Lieutenant Governor Wood will step into the big office increases almost daily.

The Lieutenant Governor normally toils in obscurity with few official responsibilities. Two of them within recent memory have resigned the office, noting the boredom. (One, Bob Kustra, retracted his resignation when Governor James Edgar developed heart problems).

Wood is not like the others. Ryan, it was speculated, picked the former State Representative from Lake Forest to balance his ticket by adding a pro-choice candidate as he reached out for the moderate vote. It worked. The pair were elected despite rumblings of scandals within Ryan's secretary of state office in the past.

Ryan, as Republicans will lament, has turned into more of a Democrat than most Democrats in the state. He supports gay rights, has raised all sorts of taxes and fees, and has increased spending for almost every state agency.

Wood doesn't mind.

In her small Springfield office a the end of the hall on the second floor of the Capitol building, she talked about her situation. "I do not expect to become Governor but any Lieutenant Governor has to be prepared, no matter what circumstances arise. That's what the constitution provides. As a qualified Lieutenant Governor, I am qualified to be Governor. I've got legislative experience; I've worked, years ago, in the executive branch; I've been in the private sector. These are all skill builders.''

She's been filling in a lot for Ryan lately; he's been limiting his personal appearances. People on her staff are involved with the budget process. She has a legislative liaison who meets with the Governor's counterpart to discuss legislation. She doesn't want to be caught out of the loop.

On most issues, she's in concert with Ryan -- against, often, many other Republicans. ''I am in agreement with the Governor that unlawful use of a gun should be a felony. I, like him, am willing to work out a compromise but the opponents at this time are not. The Governor and I share a philosophy of governing that when you are in public service it's important to build a consensus. We need people from both parties to get together and bring things together. The Governor and I both believe in that. We can find a common ground.''

In general, Wood agrees with Ryan on most issues other than choice. She's for it, he's not.

She also doesn't agree with many observers that Ryan has become more liberal as he's been Governor. ''What we're seeing in the first year is someone responding to the citizens of Illinois. He supported the assault weapons ban when he was in the legislature in the 1980s. He has a strong record on gun control; it just went unnoticed. The majority of the people want to do something about senseless gun violence. As public officials, we need to listen more to the people and less to the special interest groups like the N.R.A. Most people want less access to guns for children, gang members and the like. I support the second amendment but we obviously are doing something wrong.''

For an individual to get a state job is still generally perceived as playing the patronage game. She says that's changed. ''The Rutan decree (U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawing patronage.) has done a lot to eliminate unqualified persons from getting jobs. The key for any Illinois citizen is to get the best people working for you.'' She also says the state has addressed the ''pinstripe patronage'' concerns that plagued the last two Governors. ''We have a new procurement code. Services over $20,000 have to be brought up as requests for proposals. Although the intent of the new code is good, it does add a lot of red tape.''

She says she's joined with all the other statewide officials, Democrats and Republicans, in support of adding sexual orientation to anti-discrimination statutes.

On her own, and as a breast cancer survivor, she's been active in what she calls ''women's and family health issues.'' ''We have been able to accomplish a lot. I have been instrumental in getting increased funding for breast cancer research. We have made tremendous progress in terms of funding.'' Responding to a concern that increased funding for women's health issues might detract from research on men's issues, such as prostate cancer, she responded, ''Anytime you spend research money on cancer, it benefits all sorts of cancer research. By increasing the dollars spent on cancer research, it raises awareness in the public about early examinations and detection.''

She is a supporter of mandatory sentences and the truth-in-sentencing legislation, both, she acknowledges, have contributed to Illinois enormous prison population. She also says the state has been playing catch-up with prison construction but to ultimately address the problem there must be some sort of rehabilitation within the Department of Corrections. ''The majority of prisoners are there for drug abuse. If we're going to incarcerate people for drug use, we need to help them so they don't come back. We need more substance abuse programs for inmates. We need to address that; we need more parole officers to keep them clean; we need more 'halfway' houses to ease inmates back into the community.''

She also says that ''the majority of people in prison for violent crimes are victims of abuse themselves. We need programs to deal with researching the effects of child and sexual abuse.''

''One of the bills I passed as a legislator put stricter penalties on persons dealing drugs around senior housing. We had seniors afraid to go outside.:

She's also tough on tobacco. ''In Illinois, it's illegal to purchase tobacco products if you're under 18 but it's not illegal to use or possess them. I've tried to change that with no success. The fastest growing segment of smokers is teenagers. Most people addicted to tobacco started before they were 18 but it's not illegal for them to smoke. What kind of message is that sending? I haven't given up on the fight yet but I couldn't get it through the senate. Now, I'm working with municipalities to get them to make it illegal for teens to smoke. Several have already done so. My goal is not to punish teens; it is to educate them. I'm suggesting penalties like community service. This is real coalition-building.''

While she admits the drug war is losing, she wouldn't end it but she would change it. ''We need to direct our resources at why people get involved with drug activity. You'll probably find a correlation between substance abuse and people coming from non-healthy families. If certain kids are at risk, we need to identify them. Not only does that child benefit, society benefits.''

She agrees with Ryan's death penalty moratorium and also agrees in the death penalty. As a self-described ''recovering attorney,'' she admits that the judicial system is not foolproof. Our system is set up to err on the side of the positive. The last thing you want is a false negative --an innocent person jailed or, worse, executed. There have been overzealous prosecutors and inadequate defense attorneys who have corrupted the system and we need to address that. We also have an opportunity to use more technology such as DNA testing.''

As Lieutenant Governor, Wood has been active in trying to get moire federal dollars for Illinois specifically for a 20-year $2.2 billion Illinois Rivers 2020 project to clean up the Illinois River and its tributaries. She also heads the Illinois Main Street program and is researching ways to attract more diversified agriculture to the state. ''A majority of new dairy farms are going to Indiana; we should get our share.'

Though she disputes the analogy, Corinne Wood sees herself as a social activist with visions of higher office -- not unlike Hillary Clinton.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online April 8, 2000

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