The Libertarian Party of Illinois, a party with few elected officials across Illinois, is running a candidate for secretary of state.
His name is Jesse White.
If that rings a bell, it's the same name as current Secretary of State Jesse White, a Democrat. He is not seeking reelection.
The Democratic White is the longest-serving secretary of state in Illinois history, having served six consecutive terms since 1999. Prior to that, he was the Cook County recorder of deeds and a state representative.
The Libertarian White is a man from downstate Illinois who has never held elected office and who was selected at the party's convention in October.
Why are the Libertarians putting forward a candidate with the same name as the current secretary of state?
“Total coincidence,” said Steve Suess, the chair of the Libertarian Party of Illinois.
There is a history of name-based politics in Illinois, such as in 2002, when political unknown Jesse L. Jackson ran against U.S. Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., an incumbent and son of famous civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.
“When people see that we’re running a candidate named Jesse White, we’re gonna get accusations that we’re trying to defraud voters,” said Suess. “But Jesse is a serious candidate.”
The Democrat Jesse White's office declined to comment on the Libertarian White's run.
In Illinois, the secretary of state’s office is best known for overseeing driver licensing and vehicle registration, though the office is also responsible for keeping the state’s records, laws, archives and library.
White (the Libertarian one) has not formally announced his policy positions for the campaign.
“Jesse is still putting together a campaign team,” said Suess. “We’re excited to introduce Libertarian ideas to streamline the secretary of state’s office.”
Other Libertarian candidates include Bill Redpath, who is running for U.S. Senate and Scott Schluter, who’s running for governor.
The national party made headlines in the lead up to that presidential election for some of its members' distaste for driver's licenses. At a 2016 Libertarian debate, Johnson was booed for saying he supported driver’s licenses as a matter of policy. The other candidates on stage were cheered for saying driver’s licenses shouldn’t exist.
When asked if the Libertarian Party has a position on driver’s licensing, Suess said that its members hold a range of views on the subject.
“I think it makes sense to have some sort of proficiency test to operate a motor vehicle,” said Suess, speaking for himself. He added the “serious reforms” are needed to the bureaucracy of the secretary of state’s office.
“We’re relying on driver’s licenses too much, like when you talk about REAL ID,” said Suess. REAL ID is a federal program that requires certain security features on driver’s licenses used as identification for things like flights.
The Libertarian Party of Illinois raised about $155,000 overall in the lead-up to the 2018 election. Most of that came from individual donors, with about a third of its support coming from the Libertarian National Committee, according to records from the Federal Election Commission. Since January 2021, it has raised about $38,000.
“We are a political committee,” said Suess. “We do support our candidates.”
There are at least nine Libertarian elected officials around the state. The party website lists four township trustees, a school board member, the village president of Paw Paw, the city treasurer of Harvey and a member of the Kankakee County Board. The DeKalb City Clerk is also a Libertarian, though he isn't listed on their website.
The Libertarian Party has been the nation's third-largest political party since the turn of the millennium. In Illinois, the Libertarian candidate for president has earned the third-highest vote count in every election. Their most successful election was 2016, when 3.8% of voters chose Gary Johnson. In every other election since 2000, the party has received fewer than 70,000 votes.
This story has been updated to correct the year Gary Johnson was booed during a presidential debate and to the number of elected Libertarians in Illinois.
This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: Jesse White running to replace secretary of state with the same name