An Interview With Jim Dodge, Candidate for Illinois Comptroller

-By Warner Todd Huston

The Illinois Primary is coming on fast and furious and voting day, February 2, will be on us before we know it. In fact, it’ll be on us before most voters even understand it’s happening. Because of the urgency of the coming election, I have been able to snag a few interviews with various candidates and will endeavor to get a few more in before the Feb 2 primary. Here is one I did just before Christmas with Comptroller candidate Jim Dodge.

Jim Dodge is currently a trustee on the Orland Park Township Board serving in that position for the past 13 years. In Orland he chairs committees such as the Finance/IT and Recreation board as well as the Public Works and Economic Development boards. He was once vice-chair of the Cook County chapter of Ill. Young Republicans and in 1994 was elected Chairman of the Orland Township Republican Organization. His full bio can be seen here: His campaign website is /

I began with the sort of question that can sometimes throw a candidate off guard. Some may recall that in 1980 Teddy Kennedy was asked this question and he so badly muffed it that it is thought it materially hurt his chances to beat out Jimmy Carter for the Democrat Party nomination for president then. The question is “why do you want to run for this position?” I must say, Dodge answered the question well.

Dodge first said that he felt he had the energy to run as well as the finance experience, but what he said about the position itself was well thought out.

Specifically about Comptroller… if you think about the role, you know it’s constitutionally mandated, it’s obviously an important piece in the state finances right now as we can see with Dan Hynes being able to stop Pat Quinn in his tracks with more short-term borrowing. But there’s also what I guess I’d call sort of the moral authority of the office to really get to a point where we have some real transparency versus what I call Illinois transparency. So there’s two sides to the job that I think is going to be critical as we go forward now as we start next year.

As Dodge brought up the transparency issue, I mentioned that DuPage County has done an excellent job with that by posting its finances and spending online for all its voters to see. I asked Dodge if he thought that such an effort was only something the state legislature could affect or if he felt that the Comptroller’s office might take a hand in it beyond the legislators?

You know, I don’t think it’s a legislative issue. I would argue that by law and by definition every penny that Illinois spends and raises is documented somewhere, so then the question becomes well how do you get that online or in an easy to access place or format for the public which is a matter of simply doing it, right? There’s a state law for requiring companies that do more than $50,00 worth of business with the state of Illinois and there are directions with the state board of elections that would require their employees to track their contributions. And if you go to the Comptroller’s website and search for political contributions and look for, say, IBM and IBM Corp. Then you search for IBM on the state board of elections you’d actually get four different answers. The information and the content is all there but they’ve never put it together in such a way that it’s meaningful in terms of transparency so someone can clearly say, “Oh, I get it.” So my argument is this: the information’s all there but the will and the skill to make it readily available so you have true transparency and you can tie — if there is something to tie — contributions from an organization or people who work for an organization and what they’re doing with the state. That’s not there yet, so we have Illinois transparency and not real transparency.

Dodge repeated his “moral authority argument” when describing how important he felt the Comptroller’s job was. “It’s an important job,” he told me, “not so much to be regarded as the chief fiscal control officer but its that moral authority that you bring to the table and say, ‘no’ we’re not going to borrow another half a billion dollars to solve a short term problem in the absence of a plan where paying it back will take even longer.” Dodge said that like every real citizen with bills to pay at home, he is disgusted with the spending “binge” this state has been indulging and would like to place himself in a position to yell STOP.

… it kind of feels like the state’s been on this binge and when the electric bill or the mortgage comes due and you take the money out against your credit card you just can’t do that forever.

One of the major charges his opponents are raising against him is that Dodge has presided over some hikes in property taxes in his role as Orland Park Trustee. Dodge feels that is a false charge and has quite a lot to say on the issue.

Well, two things. In terms of the property tax bill, obviously total property tax bills for Orland Park have gone up. A lot of it is school boards and fire districts. But if you look at the property tax rate in Orland Park it is one of the lowest property tax rates in the south western suburbs. Now we have a double “A” bond rating, one of the highest municipal bond ratings in the state of Illinois. Relatively few towns, literally in the entire state, have a better bond rating than we do.

Dodge reported to me that he and the other board members aren’t just raising taxes and going on as if nothing else need be done, either.

We just reduced our city employee head count by roughly 10% over where we were a year ago in terms of early retirements and quite frankly, we’re having a tough budget year like every municipality in Illinois so we went to all of our unions and bargaining units and our employees who are not in bargaining units and we said here are the numbers, here’s the situation, we would love to be able to keep everybody’s job because of how difficult this economic time is but we have to close this budget gap. And one of the unions that didn’t want to agree in a reduction in pay raises, or soft furloughs, or an increase in contributions in medical was AFSCME. And so we came to these tough decisions because we had to cut back, we offered early retirements and we made some hard choices and we cut back.

So in terms of property taxes being an issue that rumor could only have been stated by someone who really doesn’t know the first thing about municipal finance. Frankly when you have a tough year you have to make hard choices. And let me tell ya, we sincerely tried to work with every single one of our employees. You know, you don’t want to send people out into this storm if you don’t have to. But we said it very simply, we pay the same number of people less so we can get through this, or we pay less people the same. And some of our bargaining units said, “no, we’re not dealing,” so there you go… and oh, by the way and as you know, AFSCME did endorse Judy Baar Topinka.

Dodge reminded me that with Public Act 960006 the Comptroller’s office had recently been made the chairman of the state pensions system and that the Comptroller also sits on the Illinois State Investment Board in an oversight role, so the Comptroller could have a lot to say about how state funds are invested in order to fund the pensions. Because of this rather new role for the Comptroller, Dodge feels this is another reason the unions are supporting his opponent, Topinka. Dodge thinks that the unions must assume Topinka will be pliant for them.

…(with the comptroller overseeing) the investment policy and the expected rates of return for a number of state pensions which as you know if you say that you’re going to make 6%, or 7% or 8% that has a direct and very significant impact on the amount of money the state legislature then has to use to fund pensions. So, being a little bit of a wise guy with a fellow south-sider, you tell ME why AFSCME endorsed Judy?

Dodge said that he thinks that another one of the duties of the Comptroller is being mishandled and that is the way the SEA reports (Service Effort and Accomplishments) are being handled. The SEAs are forms that all the state’s municipalities have to fill out and hand in to the Comptroller’s office. He says that his familiarity with the reports because his job in Orland Park has shown him that many of the questions on the paper work don’t make much sense. Dodge pledged that he’d change these reports to better reflect the financial condition of the municipalities so that the info they submit will be more useful to the state and any one that is trying to track what the true financial condition of these municipalities really is. He also told me that he doesn’t think anyone is even doing anything will all this paperwork anyway and he’d change that, too.

And I gotta tell you as a municipal official that the bigger issue is that I don’t think anyone’s doing anything with the information. I barely recognize Orland Park in this paperwork we have to submit. What I mean by recognize is I don’t recognize Orland’s financial picture from the numbers that are being requested. So given my background in finance and economics as well as what I’ve been doing with the village I’d like to think that I could bring some close scrutiny to say if it’s useful let’s make it better and keep doing it, if it’s useless let’s save an awful lot of government entities in the state of Illinois from filling out useless forms for the Comptroller’s office.

Dodge said that things like this will form a major part of his effort to improve and reform the office. His experience in local government, he told me, will be a great qualification to do this. “If it’s working, let’s do it better and if it’s not working let’s stop doing it. And you certainly won’t get that with a career insider like Judy.”

I also asked Jim Dodge about another one of the issues that his opponents are beating him up over. I asked why he donated money to the campaign of local Orland Park Democrat, Dan McLaughlin. He says that the charge is nonsense because candidates for Orland Park Board do not run on party affiliation and that he and McLaughlin have been working closely together for more than a decade so donating money to his campaign doesn’t mean that he, Dodge, is a Democrat supporter.

(In Orland) We run without party affiliation. Which is one of the reasons why Bill Kelly has been trying to make hay out of the fact that I have given money to Dan McLaughlin’s Mayor’s campaign fund. I did so because one, he’s a friend, and two we might sit down with Dan and find out he’d make a better Republican than Judy Baar Topinka any day because he’s a conservative Democrat. So Dan and I have run together as independents. Trust me, everyone in Orland Park knows that I’m a Republican and Dan’s a Democrat. Everyone knows that we are two smart, business guys doing conservative things because we love our hometown. At the local municipal level, everybody runs as independents but nobody in Orland Park has any illusions that I’m not a Democrat or Dan’s not a Republican.

I’m guessing that this is coming from Bill Kelly. I am someone that has been involved for 20 years, I’m a staunch Republican and have been elected as a Republican. But I’ve been doing things and working with Democrats which is something I think Illinois wants to see happen. People want effectiveness not the partisan bickering. The kind of accusations that Bill is raising absolutely comes from someone that… it’s a naive view of someone that only wants to throw stones.

To prove Democrat McLaughlin’s bona fides as a conservative Democrat, Dodge gave me the details of another of their recent run ins with Orland’s unions when the township’s board ended up voting against video gambling. He told me that he and McLaughlin both immediately opposed video gambling but the unions were hot to get it approved.

So the night we cast the vote against video gambling, Dan and I were against it from the minute it was brought up. We were against it for two good reasons, both of us. One, we both thought it was profoundly bad social policy for our town and two we thought it was really bad financial policy to take an important thing like the capital bill, something that everyone could agree that Orland needs, and tie it to gambling. We already cut jobs so that is all to the good but to fund the rest with such an unstable revenue stream as gambling, that makes for bad math and makes no sense to us.

Well that night we had 200 at least — our cops counted them — 200 people in our meeting and a lot of them were union guys that said supporting video gambling was about jobs and supporting families. And we really stuck to our guns. There’s two questions here. You have the capital bill and video gambling, you have the capital bill and jobs and we pointed out that in any given year, next year in our budget Orland Park is going to spend millions on capital improvements. The supporters of video gambling were reminding us that we only got $1 million of the $31 billion that the state was going to spend and that is a reason why we should go for gambling.

But according to the revenue projection we got, gamblers would have to lose 1.5 billion dollars. And Dan and I then went on to say that that’s money not being spent on cars, refrigerators, televisions, home improvements or with your family and it’s money taken right out of the economy. And that is the sort of stuff you do in a municipal position and that’s why I don’t have a problem working with Dan. Yeah he’s a Democrat, I’m a Republican and we ran together in April, and we fight like hell to get our candidates elected in November and we’ve had that working relationship for two decades.

Dodge also went on to tell me of how proud he was in rebuilding his town’s struggling retail sector. Orland’s main retail sector is surrounded by Will County, Dodge told me, and with Cook County’s higher sales taxes it was a tough job to improve his town’s retail sector. Dodge said that his city is spending millions of its own dollars in road rebuilding projects in order to get shoppers to Orland Square Mall and other retail outlets. All this experience, he said, is why he is the best candidate for the Comptroller’s office.

I asked for a closing statement and here is what he said:

If you look at the three candidates for this race I really do believe that Jim Dodge is the only choice. I don’t think Judy Baar is right for the Republican Party and I don’t think that she’s electable in November given her past. And if you look at Bill Kelly, frankly, you’d be hard pressed after talking to him studying his record or lack thereof, a wafer thin resume, and his YouTube videos that his campaign is anything other than a publicity stunt. And so, with that said the main point of the Republican primary is for Republicans to give their candidate a fair hearing pay attention to the details and the facts and think which one of these candidates fits with me and my views and who can win in November? 2010 can be a great year for Republicans if we choose the right candidate, if we pick someone that has the social and fiscal and business sense and the strength to say “no” to a legislature that is bankrupting the state. If you put that together that is Jim Dodge.

So there you have it. My interview with Jim Dodge, candidate for the GOP nomination for Comptroller.

His campaign website is /

Next time we’ll talk to Randy Hultgren, candidate for the 14th Congressional District.
“The only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.”
–Samuel Johnson

Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago based freelance writer, has been writing opinion editorials and social criticism since early 2001 and is featured on many websites such as Andrew Breitbart’s,,,,,, Human Events Magazine,, and the New Media Journal, among many, many others. Additionally, he has been a frequent guest on talk-radio programs to discuss his opinion editorials and current events and is currently the co-host of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Conservatism” heard on BlogTalkRadio. Warner is also the editor of the Cook County Page for

He has also written for several history magazines and appears in the new book “Americans on Politics, Policy and Pop Culture” which can be purchased on He is also the owner and operator of Feel free to contact him with any comments or questions : EMAIL Warner Todd Huston

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