James R. Thompson
James Robert Thompson Jr. (born May 8, 1936), also known as Big Jim Thompson, was the 37th and longest-serving governor of the US state of Illinois, serving from 1977 to 1991. A Republican, Thompson was elected to four consecutive terms and held the office for 14 years. Many years after leaving public office, he served as a member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission).
James R. Thompson
|Chair of the Intelligence Oversight Board|
February 26, 1990 – January 20, 1993
|President||George H. W. Bush|
|Preceded by||Glenn W. Campbell|
|Succeeded by||William Crowe|
|37th Governor of Illinois|
January 10, 1977 – January 14, 1991
|Preceded by||Dan Walker|
|Succeeded by||Jim Edgar|
|Chair of the National Governors Association|
August 2, 1983 – July 31, 1984
|Preceded by||Scott Matheson|
|Succeeded by||John Carlin|
|United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois|
|Preceded by||William J. Bauer|
|Succeeded by||Samuel K. Skinner|
James Robert Thompson, Jr.
May 8, 1936
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Education||University of Illinois, Chicago|
Washington University (BA)
Northwestern University (JD)
Early life and career
Thompson was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Agnes Josephine (Swanson) and James Robert Thompson, a physician. His maternal grandparents were Swedish. Thompson graduated from North Park Academy (now North Park University), studied at the University of Illinois at Chicago Navy Pier campus, and at Washington University in St. Louis. He received his J.D. from Northwestern University in 1959.
Prior to becoming governor, he worked in the Cook County state's attorney's office, taught at Northwestern University's law school and was appointed by President Nixon to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. As a federal prosecutor in the early 1970s, he obtained a conviction against former Governor Otto Kerner, Jr., for his use of improper influence on behalf of the racetrack industry.
He tried and convicted many of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley's top aides, most notably Alderman Thomas E. Keane and County Clerk Matt Danaher, on various corruption charges. People like Keane and Danaher, the mayor's point man on patronage were also major figures in the Cook County Democratic Party's political machine. These high-profile cases gave Thompson the celebrity that fueled his run for governor in 1976.
To the chagrin of many, Thompson was bipartisan in his attacks on corruption in Cook County and Chicago. He not only prosecuted high-profile Democrats, but also prominent Republicans such as County Commissioner Floyd Fulle and former U.S. Senate candidate, William Rentschler. Organized crime in Chicago was harder for his unit to crack and there were few high-profile cases during his era.
Governor of Illinois
In the 1976 election, he won 65 percent of the vote over Democratic Secretary of State Michael Howlett, who had defeated incumbent Governor Dan Walker in the primary and who had the support of Chicago Mayor and Cook County Democratic Party chairman Richard J. Daley. Thompson was the first candidate for governor to receive over 3 million votes; his tally of 3,000,395 remains the largest number of votes ever cast for a candidate in an election for Governor of Illinois. His first term was for only two years because Illinois moved its gubernatorial election from presidential-election years to midterm-election years. Thompson was re-elected to a full four-year term in 1978 with 60 percent of the vote, defeating State Comptroller Michael Bakalis. In 1982, Thompson was very narrowly re-elected over former U.S. Senator Adlai E. Stevenson III. Thompson won the contest by only 5,074 votes. A rematch in 1986 was expected to be almost as close, but the Democrats were severely hamstrung when supporters of Lyndon LaRouche won the Democratic nominations for lieutenant governor and secretary of state. Stevenson refused to appear on the same ticket as the LaRouchites, and formed the Solidarity Party with the support of the regular state Democratic organization. With the Democrats badly split, Thompson skated to victory in the general election. Thompson was accused of hiding the sad shape that Illinois' economy and budget were in while campaigning, but once elected, calling for an emergency session of the Illinois legislature to address the crisis.
On November 12, 1980, Thompson, by his executive order, instituted a hiring freeze for all state agencies, boards, bureaus, and commissions under his control as governor. The order affected approximately 60,000 state positions.
These positions could only be filled if the candidates were first approved by an office created by Thompson, the Governor's Office of Personnel. Suit was brought and the Supreme Court held this political patronage practice unconstitutional as a violation of the First Amendment rights of low-level public employees in Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois, 497 U.S. 62 (1990).
In 1989, Governor Thompson agreed to establish a compounding, 3 percent cost-of-living increase for retirees from Illinois government jobs, including public school teachers. Years later, in an interview with a Chicago business magazine, Thompson said he never knew the cost might exceed $1 billion and likely would not have signed it if he had known. In recent years, the cumulative effect of the 3 percent annual increases has been recognized as one of the major causes of Illinois' public employee pension crisis.
In 1993, the State of Illinois Center in Chicago was renamed the James R. Thompson Center to honor the former governor.
Legal and lobbying career
After leaving public service, Thompson joined Winston & Strawn LLP, a major Chicago-based law firm. Thompson served as chairman of the executive committee from 1991 to 2006, as well as chairman and CEO of the firm from 1993 to 2006. He was senior chairman until January 31, 2015.
Winston & Strawn is the same firm that represented former Illinois governor George Ryan pro bono against federal charges relating to the "Licenses-for-Bribes" scandal during Ryan's tenure as Illinois Governor and Secretary of State. Thompson acted as Ryan's lawyer personally.
On April 17, 2006, Ryan was convicted on all 18 counts, which included racketeering, misusing state resources for political gain, and fraud. He was sentenced to 6½ years in federal prison and began serving his sentence on November 7, 2007. Ryan was released from federal prison on July 3, 2013.
Thompson is also a director and head of the Audit Committee for Hollinger International, the media company founded by Conrad Black (it was the subject of a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation).
Post-gubernatorial political activities
In 2002, he was appointed to serve on the 9/11 Commission, where he aggressively questioned Richard Clarke, the former chief counter-terrorism adviser on the United States National Security Council. The report of the commission was released on July 22, 2004.
During the 2008 presidential primary campaign, Thompson announced his support for former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani for the 2008 Republican nomination. He stressed that Giuliani was the only Republican in the field who could win Illinois.
James R. Thompson was inducted as a laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois and awarded the Order of Lincoln (the state's highest honor) by the governor of Illinois in 1991 in the area of Government.
- "James Thompson, Partner". Winston & Strawn LLP. Retrieved August 12, 2008.
- Ripley, Amanda (April 5, 2004). "Chief Accuser: How Credible Is Clarke?". TIME.
- "ILLINOIS SUPREME COURT SETS DATE FOR ARGUMENTS ON GUBERNATORIAL; RECOUNT". nytimes.com.
- "The Illinois Pension Disaster". Cite journal requires
- Kamin, Blair (November 18, 2017). "Fighting to save the Thompson Center with a movie camera". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 9, 2018.
- Bushey, Claire (February 24, 2015). "Thompson retiring from Winston & Strawn". Crains Chicago Business. Retrieved April 4, 2015.
- Davey, Monica (May 28, 2008). "Ex-Governor, Now in Prison, Sees Case End". New York Times. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
- "Laureates by Year - The Lincoln Academy of Illinois". The Lincoln Academy of Illinois. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
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|Party political offices|
| Republican nominee for Governor of Illinois
1976, 1978, 1982, 1986
| Chair of the Republican Governors Association
| Governor of Illinois
| Chair of the National Governors Association
| Chair of the Intelligence Oversight Board