Candidate interview: Anna Valencia running for secretary of state

By Jerry Nowicki Capitol News Illinois

Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia, a candidate for secretary of state, is pictured at the Illinois Democratic County Chairs’ Association event in Springfield last year. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Jerry Nowicki)

This story is part of Capitol News Illinois’ coverage of the race for secretary of state ahead of the Tuesday, June 28 primary. We’re reaching out to the candidates this week to discuss their policy positions and plans for the office should they be elected.
Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia has frequently employed a quip during her race for the Democratic nomination for secretary of state: Outgoing Secretary Jesse White’s shoes can’t be filled, but they should be replaced by high heels.
She’s been endorsed by White, who has been secretary of state since 1999, as well as Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the state’s two U.S. senators, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, all of whom are Democrats.
She participated in a Zoom interview with Capitol News Illinois Tuesday while recovering from COVID-19, outlining her plan to create a civics corps, work with lawmakers to tighten ethics laws, modernize the office and more.
“I grew up in Granite City, so I did not grow up in a wealthy zip code,” she said. “And I had the opportunity as a sophomore in high school to job shadow then-state Sen. Evelyn Bowles in my area. And I knew nothing about government or that this was even a pathway for me.”
She said she knew then that she wanted to make a difference.
“And there are so many young people across the state that don’t get that access, that if you’re not a donor’s kid, or you’re not connected in any way, there’s no way to even understand that dynamic or that you can be part of a change in your own community,” she said.
The Illinois Civics Corps would be a public-private partnership looking to engage youth in an extension of an existing paid internship program. She’d look to build it with input from young people, educators and community activists.
Valencia is also endorsed by abortion rights organizations like Planned Parenthood of Illinois Action and the Personal PAC, as well as a long list of state legislators.
But while she has the endorsements of the Illinois Education Association and the Associated Firefighters of Illinois, former state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias has received greater support from labor unions such as the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees International Union among others. Notably, however, the powerful AFL/CIO federation of labor unions has remained neutral.
Giannoulias has also had the money lead in a contentious campaign between him and Valencia, with each taking shots at the other’s purported ethical shortfalls, as covered by the Chicago Tribune.
Valencia’s been on defense regarding potential conflicts of interest stemming from her husband Reyahd Kazmi’s career as a lobbyist. He lobbies the city of Chicago for high-profile clients such as Monterrey Security, and he’s also registered with the secretary of state to lobby lawmakers and the governor.
Valencia said she and her husband will release tax returns every year should she be elected, and they would also not participate in individual stock transactions, and she’s denied impropriety. She’d also like to strengthen ethics laws.
“I think that we should have more full disclosures, a statement of economic interest,” she said, also advocating for stronger revolving door prohibitions between lobbying and being a member of the General Assembly.
Valencia frequently points to her experience as Chicago City Clerk, which she said was also an administrative and operational role.
There, she oversaw the city’s City Key program, which allows Chicagoans to apply for a free city ID card that does not replace a driver’s license but can be used with certain banking and housing organizations in Chicago, among other uses.
It’s a program that she said she will consider scaling to a statewide level.
“So think of undocumented communities, homeless, domestic violence survivors, veterans, LGBTQ youth, a lot of these folks have a hard time getting the documentation they need, (to receive an ID) or it could be the barrier is the fee,” she said.
“And so what we created was a, not only a government ID, but we integrated the library card, the CTA transit card, in a prescription discount card, all in one government ID and it’s free,” she said.
The ID allows its holder to self-identify gender and has a place to list medical conditions, but it cannot be used for driving or for any federal purposes.
Valencia said she believes she’d be successful working with lawmakers because she worked with them in 2019 to pass a bill that prohibited the state from suspending licenses for unpaid fees, and she previously worked on Illinois Senate staff and for U.S. Sen Durbin. She also worked with the Chicago City Council to get things done, she said.
“So I already have those relationships,” she said.
She said she’d also look to increase the impact of library grants overseen by the secretary of state’s office, which amount to about $109 million for the current fiscal year. To do so, she said she’d seek federal funding and private foundation support.
She said she’d also look to expand driving facilities to have more mobile availability and flexible hours, while looking to expand online services to ensure each Illinoisan has an individualized portal where they can interact with the office. She’d also look to create a mobile app.
The full conversation with Valencia is available on the Capitol News Illinois Capitol Cast podcast.