March 06, 2013
Dawn Clark Netsch: Not just another politician but woman that made a difference
By: John Presta
Dawn Clark Netsch was the first woman elected to statewide office (Illinois state comptroller) and the first woman to win a major party nomination for governor, although she lost to Republican Jim Edgar who once ridiculed her property her tax-swap proposal — higher state income taxes offset by lower property taxes — to fund education. In spite of this issue not gaining ground to this day, it was just one of many issue that Dawn Clark Netsch made a "difference." Netsch may have been ahead of her time.
Dawn Clark Netsch died Tuesday at the age of 86 of Lou Gehrig's disease, but she never gave up the fight and never stopped working. According to wikipedia, Netsch was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Netsch graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Northwestern University in Evanston in 1948. She graduated #1 in her class from the university's law school in 1952 and has been a faculty member since 1965. She worked on Adlai Stevenson's 1952 presidential campaign and then at the Washington, D.C., law firm of Covington & Burling. Returning to Chicago, she was in private practice from 1957 to 1961 and then joined the staff of Gov. Ott Kerner.
In 1970, she was elected to be a delegate at the Illinois Constitutional Convention which took place later that year. In 1972, she was elected to the State Senate as a Democrat, first representing the 13th district, then the 4th district.
In 1990, she ran for and won the Democratic party's nomination for Illinois State Comptroller and went on to win the general election, beating Republican Sue Suter 54% to 46%.
Four years later, in 1994, she won an upset victory in the Democratic primary for Illinois governor, beating Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris and Cook County Board President Richard Phelan, winning by more than 10 points ahead of Burris. Netsch had been behind in the polls a few weeks earlier.
During the primary, she aired a campaign ad showing her playing (and winning) a game of eight-ball pool, reflecting a lifelong hobby of hers and also playing on her reputation as a "straight shooter." The effectiveness of this ad, in contrast to the far more flashy ones aired by her much better funded opponents, was seen as contributing to her surge in the polls in the final weeks of the primary campaign.
Netsch's campaign slogan was "Not just another pretty face." She proposed increasing the state income tax rate from 3% to 4.25% to pay for educational funding and reduce property taxes, a plan which was attacked by her Republican opponent, Governor Jim Edgar. Netsch, a liberal who lacked strong support of the Cook County Democratic machine, was unable to overcome Edgar's popularity in a year where the Republican party romped nationally, and received only 34% of the vote.
Late last year, she was assigned to a task force to monitor a new state campaign finance law, she gave it her all according to Cindi Canary, another member of the task force.
Also, last year, Dawn Clark Netsch worked on a task force for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to reform the city of Chicago ethics ordinance and many of the task force proposals were adopted by the Chicago City Council.
Dawn Clark Netsch told WMAQ-TV upon learning of the diagnosis of Lou Gehrig's disease, that it is “a tough one.’’ She says she’s talking about her disease because it might get more people thinking about ALS.
That is just the kind of person that she personified. Helping others. Making a "difference."
The outpouring of affection came from the political world, as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said that "Dawn Clark Netsch is without a doubt one of the most important women in Illinois political history."
"Her fighting spirit and unending pursuit for equality among the disenfranchised will remain a guiding principal for all who follow in her footsteps. Whether she was fighting for public education funding in Illinois; advocating that gay and lesbian couples be granted equal rights under the law; or promoting a woman's right to choose—Dawn's tenacity and conviction improved the lives of everyone in the state of Illinois," continued Preckwinkle.
"I am honored to have had Dawn serve as an honorary co-chair for my transition team. Her wisdom and tireless actions helped to create the foundation of a more efficient and effective County government. Though her voice will be deeply missed, we will be well-served by looking at her legacy as a roadmap for future progress. I extend my heartfelt condolences to her family and loved ones," said Preckwinkle in her statement.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel also weighed on his friend. "Few have carried forward the fight for equality, opportunity and justice for longer in our City and State than Dawn Clark Netsch."
"For decades, Dawn was a powerful and plain-spoken voice for those whose voices were not heard in our city and state. She refused to allow underrepresented residents of our city and state, whether they were women, immigrants, or gays and lesbians, be denied a seat at the table," continued the mayor. "Their struggle was Dawn’s struggle and because of it, our city and state are more equal and just. During her recent service on the City’s Ethics Task Force, I saw first-hand her commitment to a government that is accountable and responsive to all people. Whether she was fighting for equal rights, a fair, open, and accountable government, or painful illness at the end of her life, Dawn was a fighter until the end. We will honor her life by carrying forward her fight for greater equality and opportunity for all in the months and years to come."
Governor Pat Quinn said of Netsch that "I join with everyone in Illinois to mourn the passing of a great public servant. Dawn Clark Netsch was a strong advocate for education and a pioneer for equal rights for all people. As the first woman elected to a statewide constitutional office in Illinois, Comptroller Netsch blazed a trail for women in public office."
"As an elected delegate to the Illinois constitutional convention in 1970, she spearheaded the movement to modernize our constitution. I witnessed firsthand her dedication to honest government when we served together as state treasurer and comptroller," the governor continued.
"Most importantly, Dawn was a straight shooter, and not just at playing pool. She always told the people of Illinois what they needed to know. Throughout her life, Dawn Clark Netsch taught us all about the right way to move forward in our democracy. We are all better off because of her purposeful life," the governor said in his statement.