Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon


Ending months of speculation, Illinois Lt. Governor Sheila Simon announced last summer that she would be challenging Republican incumbent and LGBT favorite Judy Baar Topinka for Illinois comptroller.


Simon, a Democrat, and daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon and Jeanne Hurley Simon (a former state assemblywoman) pledges a tradition of change and a commitment to reform in her campaign.


#Boom recently caught up with Simon at a reception for Democratic candidates at the Greenville, Ill. home of Travis Gorline where we chatted about the campaign, LGBT rights and the single issue that drives her.


votebranding2I guess the first question I’d like to ask is that your opponent, Judy Baar Topinka, enjoys a lot of support from the LGBT community. Why should LGBT voters pull the lever for Sheila Simon for comptroller in November?


I appreciate my opponents support for marriage equality but I’m someone who’s been there a long time, way before it was the cool thing to do. As a lawyer, I developed sort of a niche in my practice of representing LGBTQ folks who have to staple together a long list of documents that make up for what would be marriage – so lots of contacts in the community in Southern Illinois.


I remember a young woman coming into my office once and saying my landlord just found out that I’m gay and she told me she’s going to evict me, so I’m ready to sue her and do whatever we have to do to make a case out of this. This was before Illinois had amended the Human Rights Act, and I had to tell her, guess what, your landlord can do that in the state of Illinois. It’s still a horrible thing to remember telling her that.


But anyway, that’s just been a part of who I am. I represented children in the first/second-parent adoption case in Jackson County – which at the time, again, was early on. And that was one of those things where I had to say am I going to do what’s right for this family, which is already an existing family, just not legally recognized as such? And I had to think through it—and people are always asking me to run for something, right? And I thought this might stand in the way of running for something at some point, but I decided it’s the right thing to do. I’ve got to do this.


Now we look back and that all seems like an easy and reasonable thing, but at the time, it was a big deal. I was very nervous about what the judge would say so I wrote one of my best legal briefs in all of practice because I figured this is the case that’s going to have to get appealed to win it. And at the end, the judge said, “I don’t know why you want to have more children but you just got ‘em” to the second dad. So it was pretty wonderful.  


Why did you choose not to run again with Governor Quinn as his Lieutenant Governor? 


I think I can do more for the state as comptroller. So many of our problems boil down to where are we spending our money? How are we lining up our priorities? I think as comptroller – as the person who is paying all the bills for the state – I will have the best position to really engage people in being a part of making those decisions. Do we spend more money on education? Do we spend more money on health care? How much money should we have coming into our system? I think those are decisions that are better made if more people are engaged in them.



I think comptroller is one of those offices where a lot of folks aren’t entirely sure what the elected official does. So just real quick – what’s your elevator speech on what the comptroller does in Illinois?


The comptroller is the person who pays the bills for the state. The treasurer takes in the money and invests it; the comptroller is the person who pays the bills. And for the most part, it’s pretty ministerial, but there are exceptions. Right now, because we pay our bills so late as a state, sometimes the comptroller has the discretion to scoot someone up in line. Right now there’s no transparency in that at all. I want to change that. I want to say this should happen not too often, but sometimes there are circumstances that happen. We ought to outline that and let everyone know – put it on the website, let the home day care centers know when they might be able to get their payments scooted up, the local, small nursing home that serves disabled adults; the domestic violence shelter. All these are examples of places that have had to get their checks speeded up. I want to make sure that it happens on a basis that is objective, that people can see from the outside rather than what wheels did you have to grease to get this to happen. 


And transparency in government is an important issue in your campaign…


Yes. [My husband] Perry and I are leading by example. Every year we’ve released our income tax returns and a detailed statement on income and assets going way beyond the legal requirements. I have my senior staff do the same thing. They disclose their income and assets. I’m also working on changing the statement of record which is this two page form that reporters sometimes call “the none sheet” because it discloses no information. People answer the questions with none, none, not applicable. I think it’s not too much to ask to say if you are going to be making important decisions for the people of the state that we know where your interests are and where you have a potential conflict of interest. I don’t need to know how much money someone is making from their other job, but I ought to know who their other employer is.  


Let’s talk about marriage equality – how do you think everything is shaping up ahead of June 1 when same-sex marriage becomes legal across the state of Illinois?


It’s interesting because some counties are scooting ahead to do it quickly, which I applaud. We’ve run into a few problems with some counties who are not familiar with the law and are having some challenges. We’ve been able to connect some people up with Lambda Legal to make sure everyone can assert their rights and I think it’s going to be great. We’re looking forward to a wedding of some very close friends and we are ready to celebrate. It’s long overdue.


I read you performed a mock same-sex marriage at North Halsted Market Days last year?


SimoncapitoloYes!! Which was very much fun – this forum where we asked people if they were ready to commit themselves to the idea of marriage equality. It was kind of nice to get a little attention and have a little fun with it – complete with plastic rings and everything.


What do you think your father would make of all of the advancement in LGBT equality that is happening?


So here’s what I think dad would think. When he would talk to me and my little brother about lessons that he’d learned from his dad – and this was a story we heard over and over again – you know how you hear stories from your folks. So when dad was little, his dad was a Lutheran minister and spoke out against internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II. They lived in Oregon at the time, and so grandpa was Mr. Unpopular in the community. He did this in his Sunday sermons and he did it in his weekly Lutheran radio show. So dad was just a kid and didn’t understand this and tried to get his dad to change his mind. And grandpa said, no you have to do what’s right even when it isn’t popular. So dad later looked back at that and said wow, this is really an amazing thing. Here the United States Supreme Court decided it wrong in the Korematsu case but grandpa; the small, little-short-guy, Lutheran minister was right there when it counted. And dad said it was really what he was most proud of his dad for. So I think the idea that more people can have their rights recognized, have their families recognized [is a good thing.]


You can talk about the legal benefits and the tax benefits but what really matters to me is the societal recognition. Perry and I have been married for 26 years now, and it’s not easy all the time, right? It makes a difference to have people know that they should support us, that they need to offer a little help every once in a while. I want all families to have this.


If you had to pick one issue that was your defining reason for entering this race what would it be and why?


I think consistently for me for a long time the idea of educational equity. Right now we have a system in Illinois where the public education you get depends on the zip code you live in and that’s so wrong for our future and so wrong for so many kids in the state of Illinois. That motivates me on a day in and day out basis.



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