Netsch was Illinois' first female nominee for governor and the Illinois controller in the 1990s. She died this morning at age 86 from complications from ALS:
She was one of the first female law professors in the United States. A liberal Democrat, she defeated the Machine-backed incumbent state Sen. Danny O’Brien to win a seat in the Illinois Senate in 1972 that she held for 18 years. Elected comptroller in 1990, she was the first woman elected to statewide office in Illinois and, four years later, the first to run with the backing of a major political party for governor, losing to incumbent Gov. Jim Edgar.
Netsch said she “never ran as a woman” but always argued, “More women are needed to make a difference in public policy.”
“She paved the way for others,” President Barack Obama wrote in a letter read at the event by former senior presidential adviser David Axelrod. “The unwavering grace and integrity [Netsch] has shown throughout decades of public service are an inspiration to us all. Dawn’s legacy will live forever in our hearts and the history books.”
I volunteered for her 1994 gubernatorial campaign against Jim Edgar. I remember the campaign, especially how excited we were to work for her. We didn't even come close in the general election—Edgar got re-elected with 34% of the vote—but we thought we made a difference. We might have; Edgar and his successor, George Ryan, were moderate Republicans who resisted the creeping Christianism of their parties.
She will be missed. If Illinois native Hillary Clinton gets nominated for president in 2016, she can, in part, thank Netsch for the example.