Four years ago, we said that then-state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, had the education and experience necessary to be an effective state treasurer.
But we backed his GOP opponent in large part because we worried that, as a member of the party in power in Springfield, Frerichs would be too cozy with Democratic leaders on critical fiscal issues.
Treasurer Frerichs assuaged those concerns by building an impressive record of fiscal responsibility and bipartisanship that has paid dividends for taxpayers, disabled Illinoisans, college-bound students and their parents, and others.
His legislative success is particularly impressive given the political dysfunction crippling our state government. Among the achievements made by the only Downstater to hold statewide office in Illinois is winning the power to responsibly expand the state's investment portfolio. Illinoisans should have expected good returns on their investments in the recent bull market, Frerichs told us. But his use of that expanded investment authority clearly contributed to boosting the state's return by 450 percent, from $4 million a month to $22 million a month.
Frerichs also has helped Illinoisans save by taking Illinois' once-troubled college savings program from one of the worst in the nation to one of the best, and creating a program that allows families of people living with disabilities to put money away for their longtime care without their loved ones losing the benefits needed to pay for the care they require now.
Also under Frerichs' leadership, more life insurance benefits are getting into the hands of heirs after the policy owner dies. And under his direction, the office has set records in returning unclaimed property to Illinoisans.
Jim Dodge, Republican candidate for treasurer, acknowledges that Frerichs' office has made some progress. But, he told our editorial board, it's not enough.
“Illinois is broke. We are in a financial crisis," he said. He's right. He's also right that the reason for our awful financial fix is "bad financial decision-making in Springfield.”
But he picked the wrong target for changing that in Frerichs. Indeed, we disagree with Dodge's assessment that in his first term Frerichs has focused too little on the performance, and too much on the politics of the state's portfolio.
We suspect, however, that the fiscally conservative Dodge is not alone in thinking that the treasurer's office should focus only on increasing investments, not on creating programs or using the office's power to effect change: for example by providing direct deposits that boost agriculture, or using investments to persuade companies to add people of color and women to their boards. Those who share Dodge's views will find a good alternative in this GOP graduate of DePaul University and University of Chicago, former clerk and current a trustee on the village board of Orland Park.
As for voters who, like us, support combining the treasurer and comptroller's office, both Dodge and Frerichs back such a merger. Frerichs, who voted for it in the Senate, has already begun brainstorming ways to address concerns over oversight, security and fiscal responsibility. Whichever candidate is elected, we trust he will use the treasurer's considerable bully pulpit and knowledge of the office to get the change into voters hands carefully, and quickly.
Dodge is a good choice, but he's offered no good reason to get rid of an incumbent who clearly has earned a second term.
Frerichs is endorsed.