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Post Illinois Governor Dan Walker, 1922-2015
Created by John Eipper on 04/30/15 12:38 PM

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Illinois Governor Dan Walker, 1922-2015 (David Duggan, USA, 04/30/15 12:38 pm)

The Illinois media outlets are abuzz today over the death of Dan Walker, the "progressive" Democratic governor of the Prairie State from 1973-77, at age 92.

In the 1972 Nixon landslide, Walker beat the incumbent Republican governor, Richard Ogilvie, who had the bad sense to institute an income tax to cure Illinois' chronic "revenue shortfalls." After beating Paul Simon, later Illinois' senator, in the primary, Walker logged 1,000 miles walking around the state in jeans and hiking boots, sporting a red bandana around his neck, flogging two issues: paring the 2% state income tax by eliminating $500 million in waste, and stopping the "Crosstown Expressway," which would have diverted traffic from the heavily traveled I-90-94 connecting Milwaukee to Chicago and points East from Chicago's Loop. Anyone who has traveled this route knows what a bottleneck it is, but the populist in Dan realized that Chicago voters living along the proposed bypass (generally Cicero Avenue, six miles west of downtown) did not want to be displaced.

On election night in 1972, he announced that "the Crosstown is dead." In a sense, that pronouncement sealed his political doom, as it set Mayor Richard J. Daley ("Boss" in columnist Mike Royko's biography) unalterably against him. Walker had earlier earned Daley's enmity by authoring the "Walker Report" on the demonstrations during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, claiming that the violence was caused by a "police riot," and not the hippies led by Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and the others later tried as the "Chicago 7." Boss Daley might be willing to forgive one transgression, but the second was personal.

Walker was an Annapolis graduate, and with my father attended Northwestern University School of Law on the GI Bill. With their wives, Walker and my father were part of a group of World War II veterans who got together for dinner and bridge parties. After graduation, Walker clerked for Chief Justice Fred Vinson of the US Supreme Court, and my father returned to the Marine Corps and was in the first class of Marines to study the then brand-new Uniform Code of Military Justice and graduate from JAG school at Newport RI. (Before then, Marines relied on Navy JAG officers.) Walker was not in my father's class JAG, but they had a chance encounter in the DC area (my father was briefly at the Pentagon on his way to Lejeune). Walker had his JAG insignia.

After Walker's election, Daley worked tirelessly to unseat him and ran the very popular Illinois Secretary of State, Michael J. Howlett against him in the 1976 primary. Howlett won going away, and Dan had a lame-duck period of nearly 10 months before leaving the Governor's mansion. During that time, he came to Northwestern Law to address the school, during the same week that Howlett's Republican opponent, James R. Thompson, also addressed the class. Thompson, a 1959 NULS graduate and later professor there, became the longest-serving governor (14 years) in Illinois history. As US Attorney for the Chicago area, Thompson had been responsible for prosecuting former Gov. Otto Kerner for tax evasion and mail fraud in selling race-track dates for stock in the race-track company. Kerner was a 1940 NULS grad. Walker was introduced by his son, Charlie, who had started at NULS the day I did. Is there a theme?

Walker's post-political career may not have been happy. He divorced his wife and married into the wealthy Butler family (of OakBrook fame), becoming involved in banks that she owned, and started the Jiffy-Lube oil change chain. In the mid-1980s, he was indicted for bank fraud because he received a handshake loan from a bank borrower. Represented by Tom Foran, the US Attorney who had prosecuted the Chicago 7, Walker pled guilty before trial. The judge, Ann Williams, the first black woman on the federal bench in Chicago, sentenced him to seven years and Walker began serving the sentence in Duluth MN, not exactly a country club. My father, who probably agreed with Dan on absolutely nothing, began to correspond with him. Dan was very grateful. Somewhere I may have those letters among my father's archives. In those days, the rule was that you served one-third your sentence and were released on parole, unless your offense was "public corruption," where you did the full term. The government never got to address whether Walker's post-political offense was public corruption, as Judge Williams ordered Walker released after 18 months. Federal judges have limited authority to alter sentences post imposition, but in this case, the government did not object. In later commentary, the Attorney General has conceded that the "borrower from a borrower" offense was a violation of regulations but not federal statutory law.

After release, Dan returned to California, where he had been raised, and worked as a paralegal. He was unsuccessful in regaining his law license, and evidently didn't offer enough for the Clinton Library to receive a pardon. In this millennium, he published several books, including one on the early history of Christianity, a faith which he publicly espoused. Commenting on the Daley-Walker split, Walker's assistant Vincent deGrazia said that when Daley looks at Walker he sees the Church of England and the English oppression of the Irish. Dan had raised his children Catholic. Charlie went to Loyola Academy, in Chicago's northern suburbs. RIP.

JE comments:  Dan Walker is the first Illinois governor I remember as a child growing up across the Mississippi in Missouri.  Cross the bridge, and you were greeted with Welcome to Illinois, Dan Walker, Governor.  Wasn't the campaign trek a play on his surname?

David Duggan's reflections on Illinois politics are invariably brilliant.

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