Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland knows he has a tough fight on his hands in his hopes to unseat longtime Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.
"I see two major obstacles to my candidacy, the first being that the secretary of state's race will be fighting to gain even a fraction of the coverage of the governor's race," Helland told Prairie State Wire. "The second is the undeniable fact that Jesse White has enormous name recognition. He has been in the office for nearly 20 years now."
White, 83, and the state's 37th secretary of state since first elected in 1998, also served two terms as Cook County recorder of deeds following 16 years in the General Assembly. White has been re-elected with ease, including a record-breaking fifth win in 2014, taking nearly two-thirds of the vote to defeat Republican challenger Mike Webster.
Secretary of State Jesse White
"I do not have anything against the man personally, but I do think that we need some new blood and fresh ideas in the office," Helland said.
The office oversees driver licensing and maintains state records.
Helland was re-elected to his current post in November after defeating incumbent Democrat John Bates in 2014. Before becoming state’s attorney, Helland was a prosecutor in the Kankakee County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Helland grew up in rural Grundy County, graduating from Milton Pope and Seneca High School, according to his biography on Grundy County's website. He worked at Eagles Country Market in Morris through high school and part of college. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of St. Francis in Joliet, graduating magna cum laude, and a doctorate from the John Marshall Law School in Chicago, also graduating magna cum laude. He passed the Illinois bar in 2003 and joined the Kankakee office in 2004.
Helland has also been an adjunct professor of criminal justice and political science at the University of St. Francis, teaching criminal law, criminal procedure, diversity in criminal justice, state and local politics and juvenile law.
He most recently campaigned on promises to use his "energy and dedication to continue to make sure that Grundy County is a safe place to live, work, and raise a family," according to his campaign website. The same source also cites Helland's almost 12 years of prosecution experience as an asset and "a major reason" the first mental health court was established in Grundy County.
Helland said he intends to use his knowledge, experience and skills to improve the secretary of state's office "and bring it into the 21st century."
"For example, we can streamline the office, make it more user-friendly for citizens, and most importantly we can save people both time and money," Helland said. "Imagine if your whole DMV experience could be done using an app on your phone. It’s time for the State of Illinois to work for the people again, and I believe modernizing the secretary of state's offices throughout the state can accomplish that."
Helland said he is looking forward to bringing his message to voters.
"We are going to work hard, visit as many areas throughout the state as possible, and share our vision for a better Illinois," he said.
The electorate is more than ready for change, Helland said.
"You’d be hard-pressed to find an Illinois citizen that believes things are going well in this state," he said. "Our debt is out of control, corruption is still rampant, and our largest city, Chicago, is constantly portrayed on the news as a war zone. I want to help change that; I want to make Illinois the first-class state that it should be. I want to provide an Illinois that my daughter is proud to live in when she is an adult."