Sheila Simon proud of, not intimidated by, legendary father

2010-12-26T01:00:00Z Sheila Simon proud of, not intimidated by, legendary fatherBY ROB CROW THE SOUTHERN The Southern
December 26, 2010 1:00 am  • 

At Sheila Simon's home is a framed drawing. Done when she was 7 years old, the drawing contains Simon's memories from the January 1969 inauguration of her father, Paul, as lieutenant governor.

Simon still looks at the drawing from time to time, and what sticks out most are the number of words she wrote on it that are horribly misspelled.

"It was my recollection of the words that they said, and it was, ‘I, Paul Simon, do solemnly swear to take the yoth of office,' which is what it sounds like," she recalled, laughing. "And I have a little drawing of a podium and some folding chairs. That was my focus at the last inauguration I was at."

In just more than two weeks, on Jan. 10, Simon's focus will be slightly different, as she is inaugurated as Illinois' 46th lieutenant governor.

The day would be special enough for Simon, but stepping into an office once occupied by her father brings special meaning.

"It's an absolute thrill," she said.

Paul's past

Elected to the post in 1968, Paul Simon served as lieutenant governor from 1969-73. At that time, the governor and lieutenant governor were not elected on a joint ticket, and Simon, a Democrat, served under a Republican, Gov. Richard Ogilvie. It was the only time Illinois elected a governor and lieutenant governor from differing parties.

As part of a Constitutional Convention during the Ogilvie-Simon regime, it was written into the state Constitution that the governor and lieutenant governor must run as a joint ticket and be elected together, making it impossible to now elect an opposite-party ticket.

"The two of them had a good, professional relationship, even though Paul Simon was gearing up to run against Ogilvie in the next gubernatorial election," said Mike Lawrence, former executive director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

"At that time, the lieutenant governor could act as governor when the governor was out of state. Paul was urged by Democrats to take major actions when Ogilvie was out of state, and Paul refused to do that. That speaks to the relationship they had, even though they disagreed on some major issues."

The Simon legacy

Paul Simon later served as a congressman and U.S. senator before joining the Public Policy Institute that now bears his name. His wife, Jeanne, was also heavily involved in politics, and met Paul as they were both representatives in the Illinois House.

Even as Illinois' political reputation has taken a dive over the last decade or so, the Simon name has still held up.

SIU President Glenn Poshard, a former congressman, still refers to Paul Simon as his mentor.

"When you look at the legacy of Paul, 95 percent of the people know one thing about Paul: He was honest to a fault," Poshard said. "Maybe 5 percent know of all the things he got done, but if you go out on the street and ask a Southern Illinoisan today what they remember about Paul Simon, they're going to tell you, he was an honest man."

Added Lawrence: "Even people who are cynical about Illinois politics view Paul as someone who was extraordinary."

At nearly every campaign stop this year, Sheila said someone would come up and mention her father to her, and the first trait they always mentioned was his honesty.

"For me to be an aspiring Illinois politician, and to get daily lessons on the campaign trail that honesty is the No. 1 thing, that's great to me," Sheila Simon said. "That's outstanding."

Creating her own name

When she assumes office, some will undoubtedly compare Sheila to her father. And in some aspects, those who know the family feel it's a fair comparison.

"I am confident that Sheila will conduct herself with utmost integrity in the lieutenant governor's office," Lawrence said. "In that respect, she will reaffirm the reputation of Paul and Jeanne Simon."

As for her performance in office, however, and what sort of impact she will have on the state, it remains to be seen how Sheila Simon will fare.

Sheila knows that the comparisons are inevitable, and to some degree, she welcomes them. But she's also eager to show the state that she is her own person.

"I think people expect some of those good things from me - that level of honesty and straightforwardness," she said. "And that's a good expectation to have. I don't know if I can be the statesman and the leader by dad was. I'm me; I'm different. But to have that as a standard is a really useful thing."

Both Paul and Jeanne Simon have passed away, and Sheila said she hasn't thought about what her parents would tell her before next month's inauguration. But those who have worked with and known the Simons have a good idea of what the family feelings would be.

"Paul would be thrilled," Lawrence said, "and Jeanne would be ecstatic."



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