SPRINGFIELD - A recent poll indicating that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is the Democratic frontrunner for governor has some leading tort reform advocates saying they are a bit nervous.
Madigan, who was elected in 2002, has seen her political star rise in recent months. She gained national attention for her leading role in securing an $8.4 billion multi-state settlement to end claims of predatory lending practices by Countrywide Financial Corp.
More recently, she grabbed headlines when she called on then-Gov. Rob Blagojevich to resign after he was arrested for allegedly trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama. After Blagojevich rejected calls for his resignation, Madigan unsuccessfully sought to have the state Supreme Court oust the governor.
Calling Madigan "earnest yet unimaginative," Dan Proft, a longtime Illinois Republican strategist, said the attorney general is "a product of Chicago machine politics" who won statewide office largely because she is the daughter of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.
"She is a prototypical cautious, incrementalist politician who chases headlines with respect to crafting a policy agenda rather than offer fresh thinking on public sector systems or areas of the law that are in need of reform," said Proft, political commentator for Chicago's Don Wade & Roma Morning Show on WLS-AM 890.
Madigan's ties to trial lawyers would likely keep her from enacting legal reforms in the state, Proft said.
"Were Lisa Madigan to be governor, Illinois would continue to be home to three of the top five 'judicial hellholes' in the country," he said. "Madigan would be a tool to protect the status quo while offering superficial or rhetorical reforms that the Chicago Democrats in charge could abide."
Proft, however, conceded that given Madigan's name recognition and campaign war chest she would be a formidable candidate.
Madigan, who was just narrowly elected in 2002 with 50.4 percent support, was re-elected resoundingly in 2006 with more than 74 percent of the vote in her race against Tazewell County State's Attorney Stewart "Stu" Umholtz.
A Zogby International poll earlier this month indicates that Madigan has a double-digit lead over Gov. Pat Quinn, who was elevated to governor after Blagojevich was removed from office.
Based on the responses of 644 likely voters, Madigan leads with 41 percent support, compared to Quinn's 29.5 percent, in the Democratic-leaning state.
On the Republican side, DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett has a significant lead over state Sen. Bill Brady and Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Doug Whitley.
To unseat the apparently popular attorney general, Proft said the "right message and the right messenger" would have to enter the race.
"The challenge for Republicans or even other Democrats is to use her inherent advantages against her, to expose her as someone who will take marching orders from dad, who will pursue the same wrongheaded fiscal policies that have turned Illinois into a banana republic and who is not serious about challenging the political status quo in Chicago or Springfield," he said.
But not all proponents of tort reform are as jittery about the possibility of a Madigan governorship. Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League, said Madigan has not been the foe of legal reforms that some thought she'd be.
"Lisa Madigan has been a fair and highly competent Attorney General," Murnane said. "While some of us in the civil justice reform movement were anxious about her, she has not lived up to our fears, thankfully."
Murnane said while most Republican candidates would "likely be more in line with our goals for civil justice reform" in the state, he said Madigan is "less threatening than most of the other Democrats whose names are mentioned" as possible gubernatorial candidates.
"We don't expect her to be an advocate for reform," Murnane said. "The question is will she be fair, and we're optimistic that she will if she's elected."
Madigan holds a bachelor's degree from Georgetown University and a law degree from Loyola University.
In May, she was considered by The New York Times to be among the 17 most likely women to become the first female U.S. president if then-Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York failed to win her party's nomination and the general election.