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Jesse who? What to know about the latest GOP governor hopeful.

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Friday, September 10, 2021  |  Article  |  Steven R. Strahler

Jesse Sullivan is a down-home guy from downstate Petersburg—with a side trip to Silicon Valley.

A fourth Republican today declared his candidacy for Illinois governor. Jesse Sullivan, 37, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, may be more obscure than the other three, if that is possible. He joins businessman Gary Rabine from exurban Bull Valley and two downstaters, state Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia and former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo, who are competing to be nominated in the June 28 primary. Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, is seeking re-election.

 

Sullivan, CEO of Alter Global, did not return messages emailed to his campaign and company websites. His campaign has reported nearly $11 million in donations.

 

Regional Transportation Authority Chairman Kirk Dillard could become a fifth candidate. Weighing a run after two unsuccessful bids for governor, Dillard says he's talked with Sullivan and welcomes his interest in the Illinois Republican Party but adds: "For a Republican it is about being able to win a general election in a Democrat-controlled state by attracting critical suburban, Latinos, Asians and some Black voters. Importantly, should a Republican win, can they manage a government with thousands of union employees and work successfully with a Democrat-controlled General Assembly and Chicago’s mayor?"

 

Rauner-lite?

 

Sullivan is a political novice, running on fiscal issues, targeting the state's indebtedness, budget deficits, political corruption and loss of residents. Though he downplays ideological "wedge" issues, while touting his faith, he does take a whack at the culture wars, saying in a campaign video, "Rather than support our police, it's defund our police." In a comment to the Chicago Tribune, he skirted comparisons with Republican former Gov. Bruce Rauner's one-term flop: "I think we tried that experiment previously and it did not work.”

 

He resembles a (slightly) younger Tom Brady

 

In a TED-style talk at Stanford, you almost expect him to pick up a football or a Super Bowl trophy. Instead, he quotes John Ruskin—"Luxury can only be enjoyed by the ignorant"—in urging his listeners to travel overseas and "create a relationship with someone in extreme poverty. . . .It's not about us saving them in the developing world; it's about

them saving us." He's one of eight children from a farm family and is a father of four with another on the way, according to his campaign website. He does have a sports lineage of sorts: His grandfather, Bill, played for the St. Louis Browns. That was a baseball team.

 

A global view

 

Among Alter Global's 31 portfolio companies, all but two are outside the U.S. and none is in Illinois. Workit Health in Ann Arbor, Mich., is an online addiction treatment firm started by two women in long-term recovery. The company provides telehealth medication for opioid use disorder, offering care in places with limited treatment options. In Indianapolis, a tech apprenticeship school, Kenzie, uses income-share agreements to increase accessibility by deferring tuition bills until after graduation from programs ranging from six months to two years. Alter's holdings are in 18 locations, five in Africa and six in Asia. Crunchbase, a data provider, says that Alter has had one "exit"—a sale or public offering involving a company.

 

His downstate hometown of Petersburg is Lincoln Country

 

New Salem is about 10 miles away, and Petersburg's county, Menard, was carved out of Springfield's Sangamon. Edgar Lee Masters of "Spoon River Anthology," who lived in Petersburg for a while, is buried outside of town. A former mayor, B.G. Stephenson, is credited with founding Memorial Day and the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Civil War veterans. Between the TED talk and the campaign video, Sullivan has traded in a suit and tie for a plaid shirt. In a statement today, Rabine took a swipe at the juxtaposition: "While Jesse Sullivan has been partnered with Silicon Valley elites, I have been creating jobs for working families right here in Illinois."

 

His social gospel message isn't a recent development

 

He majored in theology and international studies at St. Louis University and according to his LinkedIn bio has been involved in Haitian relief and an organization serving wounded veterans. He earned a master's in global governance and diplomacy from Oxford University and an MBA from Stanford University. The LinkedIn profile says he was a strategic analyst a decade ago for the Department of Defense on counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.